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NOAA Ship Rude
July 23, 1999 — The NOAA Ships Rude and Whiting completed their role in the search for John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. The ships used sophisticated sonar equipment to help pinpoint the area where the Kennedy plane was found.

NOAA was requested by the U.S. Coast Guard to aid in the search for the missing aircraft carrying John F. Kennedy Jr.

NOAA Ships Rude and Whiting

NOAA, an environmental science agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is responsible for surveying coastal waters for the production of the nation’s nautical charts.

NOAA Ship WhitingThe NOAA hydrographic survey ships Rude and Whiting have been deployed to assist the Coast Guard in the search operations. Both ships specialize in locating on the seafloor submerged wrecks and obstructions to navigation using side-scan sonar (SSS) technology. Housed in a small torpedo-shaped bell called a “fish,” the SSS provides an accurate acoustical image of the bottom extending up to 600 meters on each side of the ship. The actual amount of bottom coverage acquired by the SSS is dependent upon the depth of water, the towfish height above the ocean bottom, and specific water characteristics. During typical survey operations in depths between 10 and 60 meters, a 200-meter wide bottom swath can be examined as the SSS fish is towed slowly astern. SSS creates a map-view image. Differential Global Positioning System receivers use satellites to position the ships within five meters (17 ft.); conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) probes determine sound velocity through water to correct depth soundings.

Lt. Larry KreppThough both ships have the same primary function, Rude and Whiting have differing characteristics. The 90-foot Rude carries a multi-beam sonar, which acquires a fan-shaped swath of depth data from 40 sounding beams at once, 13 times a second, and gives precision depths and positions over a narrower swath. This technology creates a clearer picture than provided by SSS, and is used to clarify significant objects picked up by SSS. The 163-foot Whiting carries two survey launches equipped with SSS, thereby tripling its production capacity. In addition, Whiting carries a high-speed SSS system, enabling the ship to operate at 10 knots instead of the four-five knots of Rude, and cover about 16 sq. miles per 24 hours. Rude can cover about eight sq. miles every 24 hours.

NOAA Corps Commander Sam De Bow was the hydrographer on scene where search activities were conducted.

In summary:

• 90-ft. hydrographic survey ship
• Carries both side-scan sonar and multibeam sonar
• Covers about eight sq. miles every 24 hours, traveling at four to five knots
• Under command of Lt. Cmdr. James Verlaque, NOAA Commissioned Corps
• Home ported in Norfolk, Va. Was working out of Montauk, Long Island, at time of accident

Chief Boatswain Gordon PringleWhiting:
• 163-ft. hydrographic survey ship
• Carries high speed side-scan sonar
• Covers about 16 sq. miles every 24 hours, traveling at 10 knots
• Carries two launches with side-scan sonar, tripling its production capacity
• Under command of Lt. Cmdr. Gerd Glang, NOAA Commissioned Corps
• Home ported in Norfolk, Va. Was working out of Delaware Bay at time of accident.
Rude and Whiting are operated and managed by the Office of NOAA Corps Operations, composed both of civilians and officers of the NOAA Corps, the nation’s seventh uniformed service.


NOAA Map of plane wreckage location
Click on image to view larger size. (1.6 M)

Office of NOAA Corps
Rear Admiral Evelyn FieldsSince NOAA’s beginning, a large percentage of its oceanographic, atmospheric, hydrographic, fisheries and coastal data has been collected on NOAA ships and aircraft. This fleet of platforms is managed and operated by the Office of NOAA Corps Operations, an office made up of civilians and officers of the NOAA Commissioned Corps (a uniformed service of the United States). In addition to research and monitoring activities critical to NOAA’s mission, NOAANOAA Corp Seal ships and aircraft provide immediate response capabilities for unpredictable events, such as recovery and search efforts after the TWA Flight 800 crash, damage assessment after major oil spills such as the Exxon Valdez, Persian Gulf War and New Carissa, and several major hurricanes during the 1998 season.

Rear Admiral Evelyn Fields is the director of the NOAA Corps.

Background Information



— The nation's official chartmaker.

Media should contact NOAA public affairs headquarters in Washington, DC, at (202) 482-6060. (Photos courtesy NOAA's Robert Chartuk)