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Thu, Mar 20, 2008

Young Pilot Passes After Apparent Suicide

Vicki Van Meter Flew Across Country At Age 11

Aero-News was saddened to learn this week of the passing of Vicki Van Meter, 26, who at the age of 11 flew across the United States.

By most outward appearances, Van Meter led a uniquely varied and interesting life. In 1993, at the age of 11, Van Meter was an enthusiastic 11 year-old who took the controls of a Cessna 172, and flew "solo" -- accompanied by an instructor -- from Augusta, ME to San Diego, CA. Nine months later, she made a similar trip across the Atlantic.

Both trips received considerable attention in the media. Van Meter made the rounds on early-morning talk shows talking about her flights, was a guest at the White House, and had her picture displayed at the Smithsonian, according to the Meadville (PA) Tribune.

Her journeys also touched off a brief wave of similar attempts by young pilots. In 1994, Van Meter's record as youngest pilot to fly across the US was broken by a nine-year-old girl. That movement came to an end, however -- with legislative steps taken to discourage such "stunt" flights -- following the death of seven-year-old Jessica Dubroff in 1996.

"I was really rooting for her, but I guess reality says accidents do happen," Van Meter, then 14, said after Dubroff's accident, reports The Associated Press. "It's unfortunate it had to happen to someone so brave, someone trying to fulfill her dreams."

Van Meter stopped flying after her Atlantic crossing -- she suffered illness brought on by high altitude, turbulence, and disorientation on both flights -- but she continued to speak of one day becoming an astronaut. In college, though, Van Meter moved away from aeronautics, and instead earned a degree in criminal justice. She also spent two years in the Peace Corps, in the former Soviet republic of Moldova.

Most recently, Van Meter worked as an investigator for an insurance company, according to the AP. Her family said Van Meter battled depression ... but they thought she had it under control.

Her body was found Sunday, in her home in Meadville. Cause of death is reported to be from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

This isn't really an aviation story... and isn't the kind of thing we usually report on ANN. Truth be known, our staff debated for some time on whether to report this here.

For a brief time, however, Van Meter's ambitions carried her into the sky. While many within the aviation community take issue (rightfully so) with the notion of glorifying young children as pilots... that doesn't detract from the fact Van Meter DID take the controls, and flew farther than many of us.

One hopes that in death, Vicki Van Meter has finally found smooth air.



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