Steve Appleton, chairman and chief executive of US chipmaker Micron Technology, was killed when a small, single-engined plane he was piloting crashed in Boise, Idaho on Friday morning.
Mr Appleton, 51, joined Micron in 1983 and became chairman, chief executive and president in 1994. He was also a professional stunt pilot, owned a number of aircraft and had previously brushed with death while flying.
His death leaves the Boise-based company facing a vacuum at the top, having announced the retirement of Mark Durcan as president and chief operating officer last week, although he is not due to step down until the end of August.
A statement from the board of directors said it was deeply saddened at the loss of Mr Appleton
“Steve’s passion and energy left an indelible mark on Micron, the Idaho community and the technology industry at large,” the board said. “Our hearts go out to his wife Dalynn, his children and his family during this tragic time.”
Micron makes a number of flash memory products. Earlier in the day, the company had announced that Mr Appleton and Mr Durcan would host an analyst meeting next Friday to present Micron’s strategy and provide an update on market conditions.
Analysts at Stifel Nicolaus noted last week that the departing Mr Durcan had led Micron to manufacturing process leadership in Dram and Nand flash.
“We believe Micron has all the components to become a greater force in both mobile platforms and enterprise storage,” they added.
KTVB, the Idaho TV station, reported that Mr Appleton, who was flying solo, told air traffic control he was returning to the airport soon after he took off shortly before 9am. “I’d like to turn back in ... and land. Coming back in,” he says in an audio recording.
Zoe Keliher, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, told a news conference that Mr Appleton was flying a Lancair “kit” plane, with the identification number N32LC. The Federal Aviation Administration’s site shows this as being registered as an experimental, amateur-built plane, whose airworthiness certificate expired on December 31.
Ms Keliher said Mr Appleton had aborted a take-off 10 minutes earlier and returned to his hangar at Boise airport, before trying to take-off again. Witnesses said the plane rose 100 to 200 feet off the ground, before banking steeply, stalling, rolling and hitting the ground almost upside down, where it burst into flames. Mr Appleton’s wallet and other personal effects were found at the crash scene.
The NTSB and FAA carried out an investigation in 2004 into an aircraft crash after he performed a series of loops in a stunt manoeuvre over the Idaho desert, before his undercarriage caught the ground. Mr Appleton said he had escaped with only scratches. NTSB officials said he was lucky to walk away from the crash.
There were tributes for Mr Appleton from prominent Idahoans. Bob Kustra, president of Boise State University, said: “He played a critical role in transforming Boise State into a research university serving the tech economy of Idaho.”
The Idaho congressional delegation in Washington released a statement expressing their grief at Mr. Appleton’s death. “Steve Appleton was to Idaho what Steve Jobs was to America,” they said.