America was in shock when it was revealed more than 17 years ago that John F. Kennedy Jr. and wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy had gone missing after their plane disappeared on the way to Martha’s Vineyard.
For The Real Housewives of New York City star Carole Radziwill, the moment is forever seared into her memory.
Radziwill, who was married to JFK Jr.’s cousin, Anthony Radziwill, until his death in 1999, spoke out about that night in a rare interview featured in “JFK Jr.’s Tragic Final Flight,” a special episode of How It Really Happened with Hill Harper. The reality star says that just before Kennedy, Bessette Kennedy, and her sister Lauren Bessette took off on July 16, 1999, at 8:38 p.m., Bessette Kennedy called Radziwill from the plane.
“Carolyn called me from the plane right before they were taking off,” she says. “I don’t remember anything really important from that conversation. I certainly didn’t think it would be the last time I would speak to my friend.”
But there is one moment in the otherwise everyday conversation that still sticks out to Radziwill.
“I remember at the end, she said, ‘I love you,’ ” she recalls. “For some reason, I didn’t say I love you back, and that always stuck with me.”
Bessette Kennedy promised to call Radziwill again when they landed — but the plane Kennedy was piloting crashed into the Atlantic just before 10 p.m. It was a couple hours, however, before friends, family and the authorities realized something was amiss.
Radziwill says the phone at the house where they were staying rang at midnight, and she immediately woke with a sinking feeling in her stomach. On the other end was Kennedy’s friend “Pinky,” who was waiting for the trio at the airport. He asked if they were at the house with Radziwill.
“I just bolted out of bed,” Radziwill says. “I thought, I need to figure out this story and solve it someway. I need to figure out where they are, because they’re somewhere. One call led to another to another.”
After hours of calls, including many to the airport where the plane had been scheduled to land, Radziwill called the Coast Guard to report the plane as missing.
“I said, ‘My cousin is missing,’ ” she recalls. “He took the name and there was a little bit of a gasp on the other end of the phone.”
A search and rescue mission began early that morning, which led to the discovery of the plane’s debris, and eventually, on July 21, five days after the crash, their bodies.
For Radziwill, it was a year filled with tragedy: Her husband, Anthony, died less than a month after the crash following a years-long battle with cancer.
“JFK Jr.’s Tragic Final Flight,” part of the series How It Really Happened with Hill Harper, airs on Friday, March 10 at 9 p.m. ET on HLN.