Archive for Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Celebrated young pilot dies at 26 in suicide

March 19, 2008

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Vicki Van Meter is shown at age 11as she leaves on the first leg of a cross-country flight in this Sept. 20, 1993, file photo. Accompanying her is flight instructor Bob Baumgartner.

Vicki Van Meter is shown at age 11as she leaves on the first leg of a cross-country flight in this Sept. 20, 1993, file photo. Accompanying her is flight instructor Bob Baumgartner.

— Vicki Van Meter, who made headlines in the 1990s for piloting a plane across the country at age 11 and from the U.S. to Europe at age 12, has died, an apparent suicide. She was 26.

Van Meter died Saturday of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Crawford County coroner said. Her body was found in her Meadville home on Sunday.

Her brother said she battled depression, but her family thought she had been dealing with her problems.

"She was unhappy, but it was hard for her to open up about that, and we all thought that she was coping," Daniel Van Meter said. He said she had opposed taking medication.

Van Meter was celebrated in 1993 and 1994 when she made her cross-country and trans-Atlantic flights accompanied only by a flight instructor. Her instructors said she was at the controls during the entirety of both trips.

"If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything," Van Meter said before her second trip. In her teens, she said she hoped to become an astronaut when she grew up.

Later she earned a degree in criminal justice from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania and spent two years with the Peace Corps in the former Soviet republic of Moldova. She recently worked as an investigator for an insurance company.

Her mother, Corinne Van Meter, said her daughter had begun applying to graduate schools and wanted to study psychology.

Van Meter was a sixth-grader in September 1993 when she flew from Augusta, Maine, to San Diego over five days. She had to fight strong headwinds and turbulence that bounced her single-engine Cessna 172 and made her sick.

At the time, she was believed to be the youngest girl to fly across the United States. That record was broken by a 9-year-old girl in 1994.

Also in 1994, Van Meter flew from Augusta to Glasgow, Scotland, and was credited with being the youngest girl to make a trans-Atlantic flight. She battled dizziness brought on by high altitude and declared upon landing: "I always thought it would be real hard, and it was."

The child pilot phenomenon ended in 1996, when 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff, her father and the instructor supervising the flight were killed in a crash in Wyoming while Jessica was trying to become the youngest person to fly across the country. Congress quickly passed a bill banning record-setting attempts by unlicensed pilots.

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