Candalyn Kubeck never would have wanted to be remembered this way.
An avid flier, whose grandfather piloted biplanes in the 1920s, she began taking lessons as a teenager, eventually logging nearly 9,000 hours in the air. By the time she was hired by ValuJet in 1993, she believed that her accomplishments spoke for themselves, regardless of the fact that she was among that rare 2.5% of commercial pilots who just happen not to be male.
“I don’t think she ever mentioned that she was a woman pilot,” said Ken Peery, a neighbor who taped a peach-colored rose to the door of the Dallas-area apartment that served as her workweek home.
Her husband, Roger, himself a pilot for America West, said that she considered herself a captain, first and foremost. “She was not a girl pilot,” he told the Associated Press on Monday. “She was a pilot--that’s all there was to it.”
But as divers continue to search for bodies amid the wreckage of Flight 592, the doomed ValuJet that nose-dived into the Florida Everglades on Saturday, its pilot is being counted as more than just one of the 109 victims. For better or worse, Candi Kubeck belonged to a small club, one whose members have had to scale great heights before ever reaching the cockpit of a jet.
Of the more than 117,000 pilots in America authorized to fly commercial aircraft, only about 3,000 are women, according to Loretta Gragg, executive director of the International Organization of Women Pilots.
Kubeck, who joined the group in 1981, worked for a series of small commuter carriers, then briefly crossed picket lines to take a job at now-defunct Eastern Airlines, before finally earning her captain’s wings at ValuJet.
For a female pilot to make that leap, “you have to be better than the rest,” Gragg said. “There are still people out there who feel a woman was not made to fly.”
Kubeck, 35, believed to be the first woman commercial jetliner captain to perish in a U.S. crash, was “very experienced, very well-trained, very competent,” ValuJet President Lewis Jordan said. “There’s certainly no indication [the crash] was any responsibility of the flight crew.”
As a girl, Kubeck watched military planes fly over her childhood home near San Diego. She vowed that she would also take to the skies, just as her grandfather had done in World War I and her uncles in Vietnam.
“She loved flying--that’s all she ever wanted to do and she was doing it,” said Patrice King, her stepsister, who has established the Candi Chamberlin Kubeck Scholarship Fund for Aspiring Young Pilots at Home Savings of America in Encino.
Kubeck studied aviation at Metropolitan State College in Denver. While she was there, she challenged a nearby Air Force squadron to a flying contest. She amassed her hours working as a flight instructor, even putting in a stint as an air traffic controller in El Paso.
During one of her first piloting jobs, at a California commuter airline, she impressed her colleagues with an instinctive sense of poise and control.
“There was never a time you flew with her that she wasn’t the master of the airplane,” said one of her former co-workers, who asked not to be identified. “She was very meticulous, consistent, concise and predictable. You could say she was a natural. There’s others who have to work at it. But she belonged in a plane.”
Roger Kubeck, 38, her husband of eight years, said they had talked about dying in a crash just last April, when 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff was killed while trying to become the youngest pilot to fly cross-country.
“Candi and I don’t think there’s a real joyous way to die in a plane crash,” said Kubeck, who kept a home with her in Phoenix, even though she was based in the Dallas-area and spent about half the week there.
“No matter how much you love it, that’s not the way you want to go,” he said. “We planned on growing old together.”
Times researcher Lianne Hart contributed to this story.