Steamboat woman, son killed in jet crash | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat woman, son killed in jet crash

Jeanette Symons was a veteran pilot and innovative engineer

Mike Lawrence

Steamboat Springs — A Steamboat Springs woman and her son were killed Friday when the woman's private jet crashed shortly after take-off near Augusta, Maine. — A Steamboat Springs woman and her son were killed Friday when the woman's private jet crashed shortly after take-off near Augusta, Maine.

— A Steamboat Springs woman and her son were killed Friday when the woman’s private jet crashed shortly after take-off near Augusta, Maine.

Jeanette Symons, 45, was a mother of two who lived in Steamboat Springs for about 18 months. She regularly flew her jet to and from the San Francisco area, where she had an extraordinarily successful career in the electronics and telecommunications industries.

Traveling with her son Balan, 10, Symons took off from Augusta State Airport at 5:45 p.m. Friday, en route to Lincoln, Neb. Contacting a flight controller in Portland, Maine, Symons reported an emergency when the jet’s altitude was only about 3,000 feet. She cited a problem with the attitude indicator, which measures the jet’s nose in relation to the horizon, and the banking angle of the wings.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said Symons was unable to fly to safety. Rescue workers located the wreckage in a remote, heavily wooded area south of Augusta just before 6:30 p.m., according to the Kennebec Journal, a Maine newspaper.

Symons’ 7-year-old daughter, Jennie, was not involved in Friday’s tragedy.

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Local pilot Bob Maddox, who is the owner of Mountain Flight Services and hangared Symons’ jet at Steamboat Springs Airport, said Symons’ Cessna Citation C-525 likely reached 3,000 feet in about 15 seconds.

“She didn’t have much time to deal with whatever the problem was,” Maddox said. “It sounds like the weather she took off in may have created an ice problem.”

William Perry is the president and owner of Maine Instrument Flight, which operates Augusta State Airport. Perry said despite heavy sleet and freezing rain Friday night, Symons declined to have her jet de-iced before takeoff.

“She said she didn’t need it,” Perry said Saturday. “She declined the de-icing and off she went. : Presumably, she would have done a pre-flight and known she was covered in ice. Every car in the parking lot was covered in ice. :We just can’t begin to understand why this happened.”

Chain reaction

Perry said there were other odd circumstances before Symons took off.

“She was parked in a normal parking area, then she turned 90 degrees from the way she was supposed to be going and went across the field and through a ditch,” he said. “(She) propelled the aircraft just blasting the engines to get through the ditch : and took kind of a meandering route to the end of the runway.”

Perry said there was “absolutely no indication of any impairment” such as alcohol.

“She just seemed to be anxious to go,” he said. “It’s very odd – our guys couldn’t believe it.”

Symons had owned the Cessna for more than three years, flew it year-round and had about 15 years of aviation experience.

“She was a qualified, rated and highly experienced pilot,” Maddox said.

Don Heineman, a flight instructor and fixed-base operations manager at Steamboat Springs Airport, also spoke highly of Symons.

“All the times I saw her fly, I always thought she must be a very good pilot,” he said. “I always wanted to take a ride with her. I think she was an excellent pilot and a very sharp lady. To me, she was very impressive.”

Heineman noted that Symons’ Cessna had heated wings.

“I think that she probably felt that she could climb up through (the weather),” he said. “She must have felt like the airplane was OK to fly.”

Heineman speculated that mechanical failures or a “deep stall,” in which the wings block air going over the jet’s elevator, could have contributed to the crash.

“When things happen like that, it’s never just one thing. It’s always a chain of events,” he said. “She was just a peach of a lady. I’m going to miss her.”

‘Blanket of stars’

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Symons was a UCLA-trained engineer and part of several Bay Area electronics firms. She was a co-founder of Ascend Communications, which made Internet equipment and was purchased by Lucent Technologies for $24 billion in 1999. Symons then co-founded Zhone Technologies, an Oakland telecommunications company.

Her two children inspired her to start yet another company, Industrious Kid, an online, content-safe social networking site for children.

Her children also inspired her move to Steamboat, where she was drawn to the friendly community and home-schooled her children while commuting to California in the Cessna.

“As far as the kids are concerned, this is the minivan,” Symons said of her jet while speaking to the Steamboat Pilot & Today last summer.

Symons said in her mind, nothing beat flying at night during the winter.

“It’s a blanket of stars with the Milky Way over you,” she said. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.”

Tim Donovan, a co-founder and vice president of marketing for Industrious Kid, told the Chronicle that Symons was in Maine attending a weeklong ski camp with her son.

Perry said the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating Friday’s crash and likely will take several months to file a report.

– To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com