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Colo. woman, son die in crash

She piloted plane that went down in Maine storm

Jeanette Symons, 45, had flown a plane for more than 20 years. Jeanette Symons, 45, had flown a plane for more than 20 years. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Email|Print| Text size + By Anna Badkhen
Globe Staff / February 3, 2008

When Jeanette Symons, a dot-com entrepreneur, needed to attend a business meeting or take her two children on a long-distance trip, she would get into her Cessna Citation C525 and fly, as she did last week, when she accompanied her 10-year-old son, Balan, to a ski resort on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine.

"She was an excellent pilot," said Tim Donovan, Symons's friend and co-worker, who said Symons, 45, had flown a plane for more than 20 years.

"She used her plane the way most people would use a car."

But something went terribly wrong early Friday evening, minutes after Symons's jet took off into Maine's stormy skies and headed for Lincoln, Neb. At an altitude of 3,000 feet, the plane suddenly lost contact with the air traffic controllers' radar and radio.

Moments later, it crashed into the woods south of Augusta State Airport in Maine. Symons and Balan were the only people on board, and both were presumed dead, Donovan said. They were on their way home to Steamboat Springs, Colo., he said.

The remains of the two victims were removed from the woods yesterday afternoon and taken to the Maine State Medical Examiner's office for an autopsy and identification, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Public Safety Department.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced at an afternoon news conference that investigators will stay in the area for several days, McCausland said.

"They will gather parts of the aircraft to determine the cause," he said.

Although Maine officials have not formally identified the crash victims, Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman, confirmed that the pilot was a female and the only passenger listed on the flight plan was a child.

The jet was cleared for takeoff at about 5:40 Friday afternoon as a storm carried a mix of sleet, freezing rain, and snow across Maine.

Air traffic controllers in Portland were tracking its movement by radar and talking to the pilot on the radio, Peters said.

About five minutes after takeoff, the pilot radioed in an emergency.

The controller on the ground offered to assist the pilot in turning the plane back, but then, Peters said, "You could see that the aircraft was going through a rapid descent. We lose communication and radar."

Symons was a "serial entrepreneur," Donovan said.

She had cofounded Zhone Technologies, a telecommunications start-up, and Ascend Communications Inc., a provider of wide area network solutions, which Lucent Technologies purchased for $24 billion in 1999.

Her latest company, Industrious Kid, runs imbee.com, a networking website for children ages 8 through 14 that allows parents to monitor the children's online activities and prevents outsiders from viewing the site's content or getting access to the children.

Imbee.com has a series of defense mechanisms that allow the children to communicate with peers online but protects their privacy at the same time, Donovan said.

"You can't search for it using Google or Yahoo," he said. "When a child publishes to his or her blog, only [other children on imbee.com] can see it."

Symons leaves her daughter, Jennie, 7, her parents, and her two brothers.

Anna Badkhen can be reached at abadkhen@globe.com.

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