By Todd Dvorak And Rebecca Boone Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho — A small experimental plane piloted by the chief executive and chairman of Micron Technology Inc. crashed after take-off Friday at the Boise airport, killing the head of the Idaho memory chip maker who survived a similar crash eight years ago.
Steve Appleton, a professional stunt pilot and former motor cross racer, was the only person aboard the plane when witnesses said it steeply banked, stalled and rolled to the ground, said Zoe Keliher, air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. It was the aircraft’s second take-off attempt for the morning.
Appleton’s death was confirmed by Micron spokesman Dan Fransicso, and trading in the company’s stock was halted. The company’s shares have traded between $3.97 and $11.95 over the past year, and shares were up 23 cents at $7.95 Friday before the announcement.
“Steve’s passion and energy left an indelible mark on Micron, the Idaho community and the technology industry at large,” Micron’s board of directors said in a prepared statement.
Micron is one of many companies that make semiconductor chips for various devices, including computers, mobile devices, cameras, cars and industrial systems. It makes products under the Lexar and Crucial brands, and is one of Idaho’s largest and most influential employers
In its latest fiscal year, which ended Sept. 1, Micron earned $167 million, or 17 cents per share, and had revenue of $8.8 billion.
Questions have been raised in the past about whether Appleton, as a CEO, should be engaging in the risky hobby. On July 8, 2004, Appleton sustained a punctured lung, head injuries, ruptured disk and broken bones after his stunt plane crashed in the desert east of Boise.
The 51-year-old Appleton hadn’t filed a flight plan and by all indications planned to stay in the area for a recreational flight, investigators said.
Keliher, of the NTSB, said the crash happened during Appleton’s second attempt to fly that morning. She said Appleton’s first take-off ended abruptly — witnesses said the plane only got about 5 feet off the ground — when he re-landed and returned to a hangar for about five minutes.
Keliher said witnesses reported that the plane then returned to the runway to take off again, but Appleton almost immediately told the tower he needed to turn around and re-land. His plane was about 100 or 200 feet in the air before witnesses say it crashed and caught fire. Appleton’s body was thrown from the wreckage.
Keliher said the remains of the pilot weren’t immediately identifiable, but Appleton’s wallet and other belongings were among the debris. She said the body was being fingerprinted by authorities.
The weather was clear and the runway was dry, Keliher said, and investigators planned to look for any evidence of equipment failure or other problems.
Airport spokeswoman Patti Miller said the aircraft was a fixed-wing prop plane Lancair, which is built from kits.
Federal Aviation Administration’s records show the tail number of the wrecked plane was registered to Raleighwood Aviation LLC out of North Carolina.
It was manufactured in 2007 and filed in the “amateur built” category.
Planes like the Lancair have caught the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is in the midst of a study of their safety. Last year, the agency investigated 222 experimental and amateur-built plane accidents in which 67 people were killed. More than half involved planes that were bought used rather than having been built by the current owner.
Doug Meyer, the company’s marketing and sales manager, declined to comment about the crash, saying the company knew very little about it.
“Lancair aircraft are quite safe,” he said,
After the 2004 crash, Appleton didn’t immediately reveal the severity of injuries he sustained in that crash, and at the time a Micron spokesman described Appleton as only sustaining some “bumps and bruises.” But in 2006 a corporate governance expert began questioning disclosures about the crash.
Appleton’s death came one week after the company’s president and chief operating officer, D. Mark Durcan, announced plans to retire in August. Mark W. Adams, Micron’s vice president of worldwide sales, was named to succeed Durcan.
It wasn’t immediately clear what impact Appleton’s death would have on Micron. The company was instrumental in the Idaho’s tech boom and is known for charitable giving, recently donating $13 million for a new building at Boise State University.
Appleton started on the factory floor of Micron in 1983 and worked his way up. In 1991, he was appointed president and chief operating officer of Micron and in 1994, he was appointed to the position of chairman, chief executive officer and president. He assumed his position as CEO and chairman in 2007.
Appleton owned several different types of aircraft, piloted in air shows and frequently flew the planes in the skies over Idaho. He had a penchant for other adventures too: In 2006, he won the 20-car Baja Challenge Class of the SCORE Tecate Baja 1000, completing the 1,047-mile run from Enseneda to La Paz late Friday in 25 hours and 25 minutes, 30 minutes ahead of his nearest competitor.
At the time, Appleton said he wasn’t worried about putting himself and his executive team behind the wheels for the pounding, often brutal race over rough and remote terrain.
“I don’t know what could be worse than being in the memory business for risk-taking,” he said. “If we were in some stable, monopolistic business, I’d probably get objections from my executive staff about doing this, but they’re all dying to go.”
Micron shares were up 23 cents at $7.95 Friday before trading was halted in the early afternoon for the announcement. The company’s shares have traded between $3.97 and $11.95 over the past year.
Associated Press reporters Nick Jesdanun and Joan Lowy contributed to this report.