Glen de Vries, the 49-year-old co-founder of Medidata Solutions and vice chair at Dassault Systèmes who made headlines when he flew to space with actor William Shatner last month, died in a plane crash in New Jersey on Thursday.
De Vries death was confirmed by New Jersey State Police troopers, who found a single-engine Cessna 172 plane in a heavily wooded area near Lake Kemah. He was traveling with Thomas Fischer, the 54-year-old owner of the Fischer Aviation flight school and a second-generation flight instructor. The plane was traveling from Essex County Airport in Caldwell to Sussex Airport, the New Jersey Herald reported.
De Vries was among the four passengers who traveled to space on the second crewed suborbital flight of the New Shepard, Blue Origin’s reusable launch vehicle. De Vries bought his ticket for the flight on Jeff Bezos-led company for an undisclosed amount.
In a news announcement in September about De Vries’ upcoming flight, Blue Origin noted that the tech entrepreneur was “an instrument rated private pilot,” a rating earned through intensive training of flying solely using the instruments in an aircraft. De Vries had been a student at Fischer Aviation since 2016, according to the school’s website.
Besides De Vries and Shatner, the flight also included Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer and co-founder of Planet Labs, and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations and a former NASA flight controller.
“We are devastated to hear of the sudden passing of Glen de Vries,” Blue Origin wrote on Twitter on Friday. “He brought so much life and energy to the entire Blue Origin team and to his fellow crewmates. His passion for aviation, his charitable work, and his dedication to his craft will long be revered and admired.”
According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s accident and incident database, the plane was “destroyed” and “crashed under unknown circumstances.” The FAA listed the plane’s activity as “instruction.”
Bezos also expressed his condolences for De Vries’ death on Twitter on Friday.
“Such a tragic loss. Warm and full of life, Glen made us laugh and lit up the room. He was a visionary, and an innovator – a true leader. Lauren and I are heartbroken and will remember the precious time we got to spend together,” Bezos wrote. He added: “Our deepest sympathies are with his partner, Leah, and all his loved ones. The world lost you too soon, Glen.”
The FAA stated that it and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash, the Wall Street Journal stated. A preliminary report on the potential cause of the crash is expected to be released in about a week.
Before his flight, De Vries said the opportunity was a dream come true.
“I’ve spent my entire career working to extend people’s lives. However, with limited materials and energy on Earth, extending our reach into space can help humanity continue to thrive,” he said. “Furthermore, astronauts can experience the ‘overview effect,’ gaining a new perspective on how fragile and precious our planet, those resources, and our civilization are. Playing a part in advancing the space industry and one day making those resources and that understanding available to everyone, is an incredible opportunity.”