Vicki Van Meter, who was celebrated for piloting a plane across the country at age 11 and from the United States to Europe at age 12, has died. She was 26.
Vicki Van Meter at 12.
Ms. Van Meter died Saturday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Crawford County coroner said. Her body was found in her Meadville home on Sunday.
Ms. Van Meter made national headlines 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 flights.
In Meadville, where Ms. Van Meter grew up and lived in adulthood, she will always be remembered for her childhood aviation feats. But Ms. Van Meter's large extended family will remember her for lesser-known accomplishments, such as the two years she spent in the Peace Corps in Cahul, Moldova. She also loved animals, had a keen sense of humor and was very intelligent, Ms. Van Meter's mother, Corinne, said today.
"She lead a full and interesting life. . . . She had more guts than any of us could ever imagine," Corinne Van Meter, 57, said.
As a sixth-grader in September 1993, Ms. Van Meter 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, though her record was later broken.
Nine months later, Ms. Van Meter flew from Augusta to Glasgow, Scotland, and was credited at the time 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."
Ms. Van Meter, who had a degree in criminal justice from Edinboro University in Erie County, most recently worked as an investigative agent for an insurance company. Corinne Van Meter said her daughter had recently begun applying to graduate schools and wanted to study psychology.
Daniel Van Meter, Vicki's brother, said she battled depression -- one of the reasons his sister was interested in studying psychology. He said that she opposed medication 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. "This really is a shock, because we didn't see the signs."
Corinne Van Meter said she spoke to her daughter nearly every day. On their shared birthday, March 13, Vicki called her mother and told her that she was cooking and enjoying a glass of wine with her two dogs and cat.
"She'd call me on the phone and she'd say happy birthday . . . and then I'd say to her happy birthday, happy birthday," Corinne Van Meter said. "We will miss her dearly, but we are very, very aware that she is doing important work somewhere else right now."
Ms. Van Meter's funeral will be held in Meadville, but the arrangements have not been completed.