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Flier piloted planes across the U.S., Atlantic as a girl

From the Associated Press

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. She was 26.

Van Meter died Saturday of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the coroner’s office in Crawford County, Pa. Her body was found Sunday in her home in the Pittsburgh suburb of Meadville.

Her brother said that she battled depression but that 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.

Born in 1982 in Meadville, Van Meter was celebrated in 1993 and 1994 when she made her cross-country and transatlantic flights accompanied only by a flight instructor. Her instructors said she was at the controls for the trips’ entirety.

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“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 head winds 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.

On her way home from San Diego, Van Meter went to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where she successfully landed a space shuttle simulator on the second try.

She and her sixth-grade class later visited Washington, D.C., and were given a tour of the White House by then-Vice President Al Gore.

Also in 1994, Van Meter flew from Augusta to Glasgow, Scotland, and was credited with being the youngest girl to make a transatlantic 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.

Corinne Van Meter, a former schoolteacher who quit work to raise her three children, said Vicki “led a full and interesting life. . . . She had more guts than any of us could ever imagine.”


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