Samantha Smith, the Maine schoolgirl whose peace plea to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov a few years ago landed her an all-expenses-paid tour of the Soviet Union and instant celebrity status here, was killed late Sunday along with her father in a fiery plane crash in a wooded ravine in Auburn, Maine.
Four other passengers and two crew members also were killed when the rain-pelted, twin-engine Beechcraft 99 turboprop plane ripped through a pine forest, skidded for about 100 feet, fell over an embankment and burst into flames about half a mile from the Auburn-Lewiston airport.
The plane, owned by Bar Harbor Airlines, was en route from Boston. The bodies, some dismembered, were severely burned, making identification difficult.
But Samantha's mother, Jane Smith, confirmed that her husband, Arthur, and Samantha, 13, were aboard.
Last night, the Associated Press reported that James C. Eastman, 46, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Jackson & Campbell, died in the crash. He was on his way to a meeting at the Maine Bureau of Insurance, the AP said.
In a statement yesterday, Samantha's mother said:
"Each generation contributes a building block for the next generation. As individuals, we are the particles of earth from which the blocks are formed.
"I hope Samantha and Arthur have helped us realize how important each one of us can be. Samantha couldn't accept man's inhumanity to man. She stood fast in the belief that peace can be achieved and maintained by mankind."
Expressions of grief poured in from the Kremlin, from the governor's office in Augusta and from Hollywood, all a testament to the meteoric rise to fame of the girl from a small Maine town who became a pint-sized ambassador for peace.
Samantha's rise to stardom began in December 1982, when she wrote to Andropov congratulating him on his new job and confiding that "I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war." She asked Andropov "why you want to conquer the world, or at least our country."
The following spring, Andropov wrote back that the "Soviet people know all too well how disastrous and terrible a war can be" and he invited Samantha to visit the Soviet Union that summer to "get to know our country" and meet some Soviet children.
For two weeks in July 1983, Samantha, then 11, and her parents did just that. She swam in the Black Sea, skimmed the Neva River in a hydrofoil, dressed in a communist youth uniform, visited the famed Moscow circus and received hugs from Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, though she did not meet Andropov.
Samantha's trip, widely covered by the American and the Soviet news media, became symbolic, as commentators opined about how a child's innocence could tear down the barriers of ignorance and fear that separate the superpowers.
Samantha returned as this country's newest child celebrity and a hero in her hometown of Manchester, Maine.
She made the television morning talk-show circuit and quickly parlayed her fame into a kind of superstar status, penning an autobiography and appearing in commercials. She even hosted a 90-minute TV special last year titled "Samantha Smith Goes to Washington -- Campaign 84," in which she interviewed presidential candidates.
Her latest endeavor was an acting career. At the time of her death, she and her father were returning from two weeks in London, where she was filming a TV adventure series titled "Lime Street," scheduled to begin Sept. 21. She had the role of the daughter of an insurance investigator, played by Robert Wagner.
In a statement from London, Wagner said he and the production company were "devastated" by reports of Samantha's death.
The Soviet news agency Tass said of her: "She saw for herself the sincere desire of the Soviet people to live in peace and to prevent nuclear war."
National Transportation Safety Board officials at the site of the crash said they did not know what caused the plane to veer off course and slam into Christian Hill. Board member Patrick Bursley said the pilot spoke to the control tower 15 minutes before the crash and did not report any problems.
Industry officials said the Beechcraft 99 turboprop, in use since 1967, has an excellent safety record. It is widely used by commuter airlines.