Samantha Smith, a normally reticent sixth-grader whose letter to then-Soviet President Yuri V. Andropov made her a private missionary for world peace, died with her father in the crash of a commuter plane in Maine, her mother said Monday.
Six others on the Bar Harbor Airlines flight from Boston to Augusta and Auburn, Me., also were killed. The plane crashed Sunday night in a rainstorm, but federal investigators said Monday afternoon that it could take months to determine the cause.
Samantha’s mother, Jane Smith, visited the crash site near the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport and told the Associated Press that the plane was “just a pile of ashes.”
Her husband, an English professor at the University of Maine, and her 13-year-old daughter were returning from a two-week stay in England where the girl had been filming a new weekly TV show “Lime Street.” In it she played the daughter of an insurance investigator, played by Robert Wagner. The program had been scheduled to debut on ABC next month.
Wagner issued a statement from London saying that, “She touched the world, and she touched us too. We are quite simply devastated.”
Two years ago, Samantha wrote Andropov, then the newly elected Soviet leader, expressing her concern for world peace. In her letter she asked Andropov: “Why do you want to conquer the whole world, or at least our country?”
Andropov denied her contention and invited the girl and her parents to come to the Soviet Union so they could learn more of his country. Although she never met personally with her newfound pen pal, she was taken on a tour of the Soviet Union normally reserved for high-ranking diplomats. Soviet television abandoned its usual diet of interviews with factory workers and gave her prime-time coverage.
The family needed 16 additional suitcases just to bring home her gifts.
On her return to the United States, the normally shy and reserved girl became an overnight celebrity, appearing on talk shows, addressing children’s symposiums in Japan and writing a book about her experiences. She was offered the TV role in February.
Amazed by Reaction
No one was more amazed over the clamor that her letter had generated than Samantha herself.
“I never thought it would result in all this,” she said a year after her trip. “I just hope it’s done some good for our country.”
“Samantha couldn’t accept man’s inhumanity to man,” her mother said Monday in a statement. “She stood fast in the belief that peace can be achieved and maintained by mankind.”
Samantha’s death was mourned in her hometown of Manchester, about 25 miles north of the crash site, and in Augusta, the state capital.
Gov. Joseph E. Brennan said that “all of America has lost a very special girl. . . . Samantha was an inspiration not only to the young, like herself, but to all of us.”
And in Moscow a Soviet commentator said simply: “She lived a short life, but she managed to do much.”