Chappaquiddick: The rescue attempt (3)

"I have no idea in the world how I got out of that car," Mr. Kennedy later testified. "I was swept away by the tide that was flowing at an extraordinary rate through that narrow cut there and was swept away along by the tide and called Mary Jo's name until I was able to make my way to what would be the east side of that cut, waded up to about my waist, and started back to the car."

Mr. Kennedy, who wears a back brace, claims to have made seven or eight drives for about 15 or 20 minutes in an attempt to rescue Mary Jo. The light on the submerged car were still shining.

"I was breathing so heavily, it was down to just a matter of seconds. I would hold my breath and I could barely get underneath the water. . . . I knew that i just could not get underwater anymore. . . .

"I was fully aware that i was doing everything I possibly could to get her out of the car, and I was fully aware at that time that my head was throbbing and my neck was aching and I was breathless and that time, the last time, hopelessly exhausted."

He then "crawled and staggered" up on the grass where he lay "spent" another 15 or 20 minutes, coughing and resting.

It was now about midnight.

"After I was able to regain my breath, I went back to the road, and I started down the road and it was extremely dark, and I could make out no forms or shapes or figures. And the only way that I could even see the path of the road was looking down the silhouetes of the trees on the two sides . . . and I started going down that road, walking, trotting, jogging, stumbling as fast as I possibly could."

Two homes stood within 200 yards of the bridge, and several more were accessible along the dirt road. One resident near the site reported that she turned out her light about midnight. But the shaken senator said he saw no lights as he traveled the half-mile back to the asphalt highway.

The 1.2-mile walk, or jog, back to the cottage took about 15 minutes, he later testified. If his recall of those panicky moments is accurate, he would have traveled at a speed of four or five miles per hour -- a snappy pace for someone on foot who was "spent" just moments before.

Unlike his mistaken sense of direction while driving 40 or 45 minutes earlier , Mr. Kennedy has no difficulty knowing which way to turn once he reached the asphalt road. He went left.

He passed a lighted fire station where he could have sounded an alarm for help. But he continued the short distance to the cottage. He stopped outside and stood in the dark.

He called out for only two of the guests, Joseph Gargan and Paul Markham, two associates. He may have felt he could trust them in another rescue attempt -- or perhaps he could trust them to keep quiet about the incident, just in case Mary Jo was somehow saved. He did not ask for Mr. LaRosa, who was a professionally trained in rescue technique.

The three men -- Messrs. Kennedy, Markham, and Gargan -- sat in the white Valiant outside the cottage.

"The car has gone off the bridge down by the beach and Mary Jo is in it," Mr. Kennedy said.

As they sped to the bridge, Senator Kennedy kept saying, "Can you believe it . . . I just don't believe this could happen." He was clear-headed enough to notice the time on the car clock and recalled later that it read 12:20 a.m.

Mr. Gargan later recalled Mr. Kennedy's statements then. "He told me that he was going down the road, the dirt road, headed toward I don't know what. He suddenly saw the bridge in front of him and that was it."

The Valiant was driven over the bridge and the headlights aimed so that they shone over the water. For three-quarters of an hour, Mr. Markham and Mr. Gargan say they dove and probed for Mary Jo Kopechne in hopes she might still be alive. They failed to reach her, they say, because the tidal current was too swift.

The three men -- all lawyers who were expected to know that such accidents had to be reported to police within a reasonable amount of time -- got back in the car and headed to the Chappaquiddick ferry.

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