Teenage Beauty Queen Who Aspired to Become a Professional Pilot Dies After Crashing Plane

A Mississippi teenage pageant queen, who had dreams of becoming a professional pilot, died over the weekend after she accidentally crashed her plane onto a golf course.

Elizabeth “Lake” Little, who was named Starkville’s representative for Miss Hospitality 2019, is being remembered for her “sweet and beautiful spirit” after she was involved in the crash that tragically took her life on Saturday.

“It is with heavy hearts and great sadness that we mourn the loss of one of our Miss Hospitality family members, Starkville’s Lake Little,” the Mississippi pageantry wrote on Instagram on Sunday. “The loss of such a bright, shining young life is devastating, and our entire organization is heartbroken.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Little family and countless others impacted by Lake’s sweet and beautiful spirit,” they continued.

“Through her grace, intelligence, and passion for her community and state, Lake epitomized the highest virtues of Miss Hospitality. Her light will forever shine as an incredible example to us all,” they added.

Lake, 18, was practicing the basics of operating a plane at the University-Oxford Airport, which is owned by the University of Mississippi, when the tragedy occurred on Saturday afternoon, Rod Guajardo, a spokesman for the University of Mississippi, tells PEOPLE.

Guajardo explains that “the plane affiliated with the Civil Air Patrol was performing ‘touch and go’ takeoffs and landings when it crashed Saturday around 3:15 p.m. near the 17th tee box at the Ole Miss Golf Course.”

Though the teen was not immediately identified, Guajardo said she was the person onboard the aircraft and suffered “serious burns.” The University Police, working with Oxford Police and the Lafayette County Coroner’s Office, later confirmed her identity.

Lake, a graduate of Starkville Academy who planned on attending the University of Southern Mississippi in the fall, was immediately airlifted to a Memphis-area trauma center to be treated, but died from her injuries just a few hours later, according to Guajardo.

The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the crash, Guajardo adds.

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Lake had recently graduated from Starkville Academy on May 16, according to her Instagram.

The aspiring professional pilot, who had her private license, was also a star student and model citizen, often appearing in the local newspapers for her academic and civic accomplishments, the Starkville Daily News reports.

Later this month, the teen planned on competing in Mississippi’s Miss Hospitality pageant. The winner of the competition spends a year promoting tourism and economic development to the state, their website states.

In her profile for the pageant, Lake said her dream was to fly for FedEx. She also noted that she planned to major in Speech Pathology and Audiology while at The University of Southern Mississippi, and hoped “to one day open her own speech pathology clinic to help children and the elderly while maintaining an aviation career.”

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In the wake of her tragic death, many have paid tribute to the teen, including her family, her former school and many of her state’s political figures.

“The Starkville Academy family is grieving the loss of one of our own,” her school wrote on Instagram. “Lake Little, who graduated this past May, was a kind-hearted, talented, and inspiring young woman who brought joy to so many people. We are overwhelmed by the support sent by so many of you since learning about this tragedy.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Little family.”

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant expressed his condolences on Twitter, writing, “Such sad news about Lake Little. A beautiful light has passed from this world far too soon.”

“Deborah and I pray the dear Lord would assuage the pain and grief of her parents and family,” he added on behalf of his wife.

Starkville mayor Lynn Spruill wrote, “The City of Starkville is saddened by the loss of Lake Little. She was a star for us and had such a great plan for her life commitment to others. Flying was her love and her passion. Our thoughts and prayers to her family for comfort.”

“I was so proud for her and for your family,” she added. “She was such a wonderful ambassador on so many levels to so many. Know how much she will be missed.”

Her big brother Layton Little also paid tribute to his sister on social media, revealing that Lake had recently enlisted in the National Guard alongside a photo of her getting sworn in.

“America, she loved you! She loved you so much she enlisted in the National Guard!” he wrote. “She was so proud to take her oath just a few weeks ago to serve our State and Country. She might not have held a title for our military, but she was a true General for the Lord. I am so proud.”

In addition to Layton, Lake leaves behind her father, Mississippi Ward 3 Alderman David Little, her mother Pattie Little and brother Patton Little.

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