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JFK Jr. Search Cost $500K

When John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane was first reported missing, the government sent sailors and pilots, aviation experts and two ships.

Two weeks later, federal costs are still being calculated. Estimates surpass $500,000, not including Air Force and Navy involvement, but much of that would have been spent anyway.

Some factors:

  • The U.S. Coast Guard's total cost was close to $492,000.

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spent about $55,000 to operate the Rude and Whiting ships that usually survey the ocean for updating nautical charts.
  • Forces from the Navy and Air Force were sent, including one ship that otherwise wouldn't have been at sea.
The National Transportation Safety Board has embarked on an investigation that's expected to take six to nine months and involve numerous experts. But neither the NTSB or Federal Aviation Administration break down costs on a case-by-case basis, spokesmen said.

Although the federal government's role was extensive, it didn't come at the Kennedy family's request -- with one exception.

"The only request the family made was for the burial-at-sea," said a family spokesman.

Otherwise, President Clinton took responsibility for authorizing the extraordinary effort to recover the private plane. He based it on the Kennedy family's role "in our national lives, and because of the enormous losses that they have sustained in our lifetimes."

Some of the costs of the search would have been accrued even under normal circumstances.

For example, the USS Briscoe, a Navy guided missile destroyer on which the Kennedys gathered privately to release the ashes of JFK Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and her sister, Lauren Bessette, costs roughly $100,000 a day to run, says the Federation of American Scientists, a nonprofit research group.

But the Briscoe, with a crew of about 380, was on a training mission off Virginia when it was diverted to the Kennedy mission.

"Even on its way up there, it was able to do some of the training," said Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Robertson, a Navy spokeswoman.

By contrast, the USS Grasp, a Navy salvage ship that retrieved about 75 percent of the plane, was sent from port. A ship like that probably costs about $25,000 a day to operate.

The Air Force contributed to the search as well.

"I would be puzzled if they came up with a number that was only tens of thousands for the air component," Pike said.

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, would have incurred much of its $492,000 in costs even if it didn't help with the search because its personnel get the same pay whether they are on a mission or not, said Jack O'Dell, a Coast Guard spokesman. The only extra cost for the Kennedy mission would have been fuel, he said.