Jessica Dubrof

Crash of child pilot prompts review of FAA guidelines

April 12, 1996
Web posted at: 10:30 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It may be another six months before investigators can determine why a plane flown by a 7-year-old girl crashed Thursday, killing the girl, her father and her flight instructor, according to an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Jessica Dubroff was trying to become the youngest person to fly cross-country when she took off in stormy weather from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Moments later her plane plummeted from the sky.

While her mother insisted that Jessica's age was not a factor in the crash, aviation experts question whether children should be allowed to fly planes, even under the close supervision of a flight instructor. Hours after the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it will review rules governing pilots to determine whether restrictions should be placed on children.


"The only objective in flying should be safe operation of the aircraft and no other countervailing pressures on the aircraft, so would I allow a 7-year-old (to fly)? No, I would not," said Michael Goldfarb, a former FAA official.


"A lot of training goes into becoming a pilot," said Don Koranda, vice president of the Training Aviation Safety Foundation. "There's a lot of experience (needed) to become a pilot. There is a rigorous certification procedure, none of which (Jessica) had." (408K AIFF sound or 408K WAV sound)

No one can obtain a student pilot's license until age 16, but a child of any age can fly under the supervision of a flight instructor. Such was the case with, Jessica whose airplane was fitted with special controls and a booster seat to help the 4-foot-2-inch girl pilot the plane.

Jessica's flight instructor, Joe Reid, was reportedly sitting beside her during the fatal flight and was to take over the controls in an emergency. Her father, Lloyd Dubroff, was apparently sitting in the back seat of the four-seat Cessna 177B.

Some people were critical of Jessica's parents for encouraging their daughter to set the flying record and of the flight instructor's decision to take off in a storm that carried rain and snow.


"It was stunt and a tragic stunt with some bad judgment, very bad judgment on the part of the parents. We can't hold a seven-year-old responsible," said Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. (230K AIFF sound or 230K WAV sound)

Jessica's mother, Lisa Blair Hathaway, said Thursday Jessica's age was not the cause of the crash. "It's not about her age," she said. "Something was off. Clearly, Jessica either mischose or maybe it was lightening." (485K AIFF sound or 485K WAV sound)

Jessica, who was less than a month shy of her eighth birthday, was trying to beat records set by other child pilots, including Daniel Shanklin, who was a few weeks older than Jessica when he piloted a plane from San Diego to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

Daniel, now 12, was shaken by news of the crash. "It kind of scares me, too, because it could have happened to me," he said.

The publishers of the Guinness Book of Records eliminated the youngest pilot category from its book several years ago because they did not want to encourage unsafe flights.

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