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Kennedy family had JFK’s first casket dropped into sea

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- It was the Kennedy family that insisted that the polished bronze casket used to carry President Kennedy's body from Dallas to Washington be dumped into the ocean, newly released documents say.

Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a mahogany coffin, and there have been lingering questions about what ever happened to the casket used in Texas after Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963."What I would like to have done is take it to sea," Robert Kennedy, the president's brother, told an official of the General Services Administration in February 1966.

Despite concerns that the casket was government property, Kennedy told GSA Administrator Lawson Knott Jr. that he believed it belonged to the family "and we can get rid of it any way we want to," according to a memo recounting their telephone conversation.

About two weeks later, on Feb. 18, 1966, an Air Force van picked up the casket at the National Archives building in downtown Washington.

To make sure that it would sink, the casket was loaded with three 80-pound bags of sand. Numerous holes were drilled into the coffin and a pine box that encased it. It was bound with metal banding tape and rigged with parachutes to break the impact of hitting the water.

At 8:38 a.m., a C-130 airplane carrying the casket left Andrews Air Force Base and flew off the Maryland-Delaware coast. The plane descended to 500 feet and at 10 a.m., the tail hatch of the tail hatch was opened and the 660-pound load was pushed out.

"The parachutes opened shortly before impact and the entire rigged load remained intact and sank sharply, clearly and immediately after the soft impact," wrote Steadman, special assistant to the defense secretary, wrote in a Feb. 25, 1966, file memo.

"The aircraft circled the drop point for some 20 minutes at 500 feet to ensure that nothing returned to the surface," wrote Steadman, who was on the plane.

The drop point -- in 9,000 feet of water beyond the continental shelf -- was chosen because it was away from regularly traveled air and shipping lines and would not be disturbed by trawling and other sea-bottom activities, the documents said.