Entrepreneur Glen de Vries, who blasted into space alongside Star Trek’s William Shatner last month with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, was killed in a plane crash on Thursday, New Jersey State Police said.
The single-engine Cessna 172 crashed in Sussex County, New Jersey, shortly before 3 p.m., according to FAA data. De Vries, 49, and Thomas P. Fischer, 54, were killed. Rescue crews found the wreckage about an hour later. Their identities were withheld in the immediate aftermath of the crash, which is being investigated by the FAA, a state police spokesperson said.
De Vries, a private pilot, marathoner, and ballroom dancer during his off-hours, was a molecular biologist who cofounded Medidata Solutions, a clinical research platform that was acquired by Dassault Systèmes in 1999 for $5.8 billion.
His wife, Maria, told The Daily Beast on Friday, “I would just say that Glen was an amazing man, larger than life. He always seemed like a superhero to me, so smart, so talented, generous and really funny. A huge light has gone out in the world.”
The pair had met at a bar where Maria worked; Glen was a regular, according to a 2011 write-up of their marriage.
De Vries’s father, Alan, told The Daily Beast that he “hadn’t really thought about a statement to the press,” and spoke about his late son off the cuff.
“I can only just tell you the family is devastated by this extraordinary loss,” he said. “He was one of the most amazing human beings you could’ve ever met. He gave so much to so many people, and as a result of his work, probably millions of lives have been saved.
“There is so much to say about him. We’re just devastated. I’m still totally in a state of shock—myself and his mother’s family and my daughter, we’re just all still in a state of shock. He lived life to the fullest, and I think he gave to the fullest. It’s just who he was.”
Fischer, who owned a flight school in Fairfield, New Jersey, was de Vries’ flight instructor, according to the company’s website. The two were on a training flight when their plane crashed into a “heavily wooded area” under “unknown circumstances,” the FAA’s incident report states.
De Vries’ Instagram page features numerous pictures of him in front of small, private aircraft.
Four days ago, he posted a photo from Limington-Harmon Airport in a far-flung town in Maine. The airport was little more than “runway tucked in the woods,” he said, but included “a really good restaurant! Worth a trip!”
Last month, prior to blasting into space for roughly 10 minutes, de Vries expressed excitement about how the voyage would alter his world view.
“I am actually looking forward to seeing the Earth from a different perspective than I ever had before... People who’ve done it before us [have] come down changed,” he told CBS News in an interview. “I just can’t wait to stare out that window and feel differently about humanity and our planet than I've ever had the opportunity to before.”
Speaking to Carnegie Mellon University a week after the flight, de Vries said that becoming an astronaut through “conventional means” was something that he could no longer do. His business success had made it possible for him to afford private space travel, de Vries said, adding that after “years talking about the need for equity and access in the world of health care,” he’d like to see space “democratized in the same way.”
A Dassault spokesperson said in a statement on Friday that Glen’s “tireless energy, empathy and pioneering spirit left their mark on everyone who knew him. We will truly miss Glen, but his dreams—which we share—live on: we will pursue progress in life sciences & healthcare as passionately as he did.”