Now that I am actively planning my Wyoming vacation, I’m having a ton of old Wyoming memories replay.
Many of these will seep out over the next few months—I hope you will indulge me.
One of the odder memories revolves around Jessica Dubroff, who was the so-called youngest pilot in America—flying from coast to coast in order to set the record of being the youngest pilot ever to do so.
For a brief moment in time, she was a celebrity, and today nobody knows her name.
Her fame peaked when her attempt to break the record failed in the street of a quiet residential neighborhood one blustery cold Cheyenne morning, April 11, 1996.
Shortly after take off her plane crashed, killing her, her father, and the pilot in command.
Oddly enough I remember that day, not with perfect clarity, but, considering time elapsed, fairly well. That morning I’d driven from Laramie to Denver, via Cheyenne. Along they way I’d had car trouble—so severe that I’d pulled off the highway and was rescued by the Wyoming Highway Patrol. I don’t recall the specifics, but I’m under the impression that there had been white-out conditions east of Laramie, shortly after the summit, and that a few miles later my car couldn’t go fast, it kept going slower and slower.
The patrolman called AAA for me, the car was towed to Cheyenne, and the repairman told me that ice had clogged up the front grill and that the car was otherwise OK. Basically the car was having trouble breathing. I bought a new air filter anyway and got on the highway heading south to Denver.
I had the same problem as I headed south, and pulled off I-25 at some exit to knock snow and ice out of the front grill, before continuing. I’d even noticed the satellite trucks from Denver’s television stations headed south from Cheyenne—and I knew why they’d been in Cheyenne.
Jessica Dubroff had landed in Cheyenne the previous evening and had been splashed all over the news. She was the kind of pointless news drivel that television news loves: a happy story so simple that even the most idiotic reporter couldn’t screw it up.
Of course the trucks had left Cheyenne after the crash but before the news was widely known. I’m sure the trucks turned around to go right back up to Cheyenne to cover the tragedy.
The truth of the matter is that her parents shouldn’t have ever let her fly. Seven years old is too young to be a pilot, too young to be flying across the country, too young to be constantly interviewed by television reporters. And, it seems, a contributing factor to the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot in command’s improper decision to take off into deteriorating weather conditions (including turbulence, gusty winds, and an advancing thunderstorm and associated precipitation) when the airplane was overweight and when the density altitude was higher than he was accustomed to, resulting in a stall caused by failure to maintain airspeed. Contributing to the pilot in command’s decision to take off was a desire to adhere to an overly ambitious itinerary, in part, because of media commitments. (Emphasis added.)
A week or two later, I hitched a ride from Laramie to Cheyenne with a history classmate, so that we could do some research in the Wyoming State Library. The accident site was, as I recall, relatively close to the library, and we passed numerous flower bouquets that had been left by the public.
Fortunately congress passed a law making any further attempts to out do Jessica Dubroff illegal.
There is a strange coda to this story—I searched for information about the accident, and it seems that her Mother is maintaining a Twitter account on her behalf: @JessicaDubroff.