IN CHILDHOOD, Vicki Van Meter dreamed of the stars.

Someday, she thought, she would be an astronaut and by the time she was old enough, there would be expeditions to Mars.

Meanwhile, she would fly over the earth and the ocean.

Vicki was 11 and in elementary school in Meadville, Pa., when she flew a single-engine Cessna 172 from Augusta, Me., to San Diego, Calif.

On June 4, 1994, the day after she graduated from East End Elementary School, in Meadville, she took off from Augusta in the other direction, and became the youngest girl to fly across the Atlantic.

An instructor went with her, but she handled the plane, a single-engine Cessna 210, the navigation, communication and everything else by herself.

Stepping out of her plane in Glasgow, Scotland, the youngster said, "I always thought it would real hard, and it was."

But Vicki was haunted by demons she couldn't control. She suffered from depression and refused to take any medication for it. On Saturday, she shot herself to death. The Crawford County coroner ruled the death a suicide. She had turned 26 on Thursday.

"She was unhappy, but it was hard for her to open up about that and we all thought that she was coping," said her older brother, Daniel Van Meter.

Vicki and her mother, Corrine, shared the same birth date. She said she called Vicki that day, and her daughter said she was cooking and enjoying a glass of wine with her two dogs and cat.

Vicki was a graduate of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania with a degree in criminal justice. Her mother said she and her daughter had recently applied to graduate schools, Vicki wanted to study psychology, possibly as a way of understanding her own emotional problems.

She served two years in the Peace Corps in Cahul, Moldova, and most recently worked as an investigator for an insurance company.

"She led a full and interesting life," her mother said. "She had more guts than any of us could ever imagine."

Vicki enjoyed the fruits of her early fame. She appeared on TV interview shows, and then-Vice President Al Gore took her entire elementary school class on a tour of the White House.

Although she entertained dreams of space travel, she fell into flying conventional aircraft almost by accident.

Her father, James Van Meter, a stockbroker, took her to the local airport to see a new terminal. It was fall 1992 and she was 10.

Her father saw an advertisement for a new flight school and he suggested she take flying lessons. It wasn't long before she was in the cockpit of an airplane.

Her mother said she thought one lesson would be the end of it.

"But Vicki came out of the plane with a look of power on her face," she said. "I didn't tell Vicki how scared I was."

Vicki came from a home in which the father worked and the mother stayed home, cared for the three children, and baked cookies.

"We're just regular people," her father once said, "and we never expected any of this."

But Vicki's passion for flying took control of her through her childhood. She said she loved everything about flying - even bounding through storms.

Nor was she deterred by her tendency to get air sick, a problem that nearly cut short her cross-country flight because she had to endure strong headwinds and turbulence that bounced her small plane around.

"It's just neat going up and looking down at different things," she said at the time. "Some people like being artists but don't know why. They like to paint. I just like to fly."

She also is survived by a sister, Elizabeth.

Services: Funeral arrangements were incomplete. *

The Associated Press contributed to this report.