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Guinness Publishers Feared Record-Setting Would Endanger Young Pilots

April 11, 1996

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The publishers of The Guinness Book of Records feared that one day an attempt to break the ``youngest pilot″ record would end in tragedy. So in 1989, they decided to strike the category from their record book.

On Thursday, 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff was killed in Wyoming while trying to become the youngest person to fly across America.

``We are just very, very sad that it happened. We just hate to have been proved correct in this matter,″ Mark Young, publisher of the U.S. edition, said Thursday.

The decision by Guinness to remove the ``youngest pilot″ category from its book followed a similar decision by the National Aeronautic Association, a nonprofit group which keeps all aviation records in the United States.

The NAA stopped keeping youngest pilot records in the mid-1980s, said Matthew Farina, membership director for the association.

Farina said the group decided to stop authenticating records for youngsters because most of those attempting to set the flying records were under 16, the minimum age set by the Federal Aviation Administration for holding a student pilot certificate, which allows someone to fly with an instructor.

``The feeling was that if you’re going to set an aviation record, in order to do that, you should be a legally certified pilot,″ Farina said. ``Otherwise, we’re sort of opening the door and encouraging people to effectively fly illegally.

``If you talk to anyone in the industry, no one is going to be willing to recognize the youngest pilot claims anymore,″ he said.

After Guinness reached its decision to strike the category in 1989, the 1990 edition was to be the last to include the category.

But the entry was inadvertently included in the 1994 edition, the result of a database error, Young said.

Thomas Dobney, a 15-year-old from England, was listed in the 1994 edition as the youngest pilot, as he was in the 1990 edition. The category did not appear in the 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995 or 1996 editions.

Jessica had less than a month to set an unofficial record. In 1991, Daniel Shanklin, 7, of San Antonio flew from San Diego to Kill Devil Hills, N.C. He turned 8 the day after he completed the nine-day flight; Jessica would have turned 8 on May 5.

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