Jessica Dubroff's single-engined Cessna aircraft plunged into a residential street a few minutes after take-off on the second day of a 6,500-mile round trip. Her father, Lloyd, who encouraged her to make the flight, was in the back seat. Jessica planned to beat the trans-continental record set by an eight-year-old last year.
But she only had four months' experience in the cockpit. The temperature at the high-altitude airport was close to freezing with heavy rain and hail. The aircraft fell steeply from about 400ft, narrowly missing several houses.
"We are not talking about a glancing blow into the ground," said an eyewitness, Ron Nimmo. "It was fairly obvious there would be no survivors."
Jessica, from Pescaredo, California, set out on Wednesday from Half Moon Bay near San Francisco. She successfully piloted the plane to Elko, Nevada, and then on to Cheyenne, a town of 60,000. She said the trip was her father's idea, but she seemed determined to complete it. "You've got to make sure you're not crashing or anything," she said. "You have to concentrate on your instruments, and look out of the window."
Because of her age Jessica was technically only a passenger handling the controls. Her instructor, Joe Reid, sat at the duplicate controls used to teach novices to fly. But Jessica, just 4ft 2in tall, used extensions to reach the pedals.
To qualify for the record, Jessica was expected to fly the plane for 40-50 hours in a week. The Guinness Book of Records listed nine-year-old Rachel Carter, of Ramona, California as the youngest pilot to cross the continent in 1994. Eight- year-old Killian Moss completed the journey last year, but Guinness stopped recognising the "youngest pilot" category for fear of unsafe flights.
Jessica's mother, Lisa Hathaway, said her daughter "died doing something she loved".