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Shatner space crewmate dies in plane crash in New Jersey

Entrepreneur Glen de Vries, left; Audrey Powers, Blue Origin's vice president for mission and flight operations; “Star Trek” actor William Shatner; and Chris Boshuizen, a founder of satellite company Planet Labs, during a suborbital flight over Van Horn, Tex., on Oct. 13, 2021. De Vries has died in a plane crash in New Jersey. (Blue Origin/Via Reuters)

Less than a month after returning from the edge of space with crewmate William Shatner, space passenger Glen M. de Vries has died in a plane crash in northern New Jersey, said state police.

The single-engine Cessna 172 was carrying de Vries, 49, of New York City, and Thomas P. Fischer, 54, of Hopatcong, N.J.

Both men died when the plane crashed in a heavily wooded area Thursday.

De Vries co-founded Medidata Solutions, a software company specializing in clinical research and ways to use technology to help pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Alongside Shatner and two others, he traveled to the edge of space Oct. 13 aboard the New Shepard spacecraft, owned by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin company. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.

The launch was the venture’s second human spaceflight mission and took place three months after Bezos himself flew to the edge of space.

“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,” Bezos said on Twitter.

The plane carrying de Vries and Fischer, who owned a flight school, left Essex County Airport in Caldwell, near the New York City area, and was headed to Sussex Airport in rural northwestern New Jersey, according to the Associated Press, when the Federal Aviation Administration alerted public safety agencies to look for a missing plane around 3 p.m.

Authorities have not said which man was piloting the plane. Emergency crews found the wreckage in Hampton Township around 4 p.m., the FAA said.

William Shatner, Star Trek’s Capt. Kirk, flies to space and back, adding to this year’s number of civilian astronauts

The space adventure last month was part of a historic year in which the private astronauts who reached space outnumbered those sent by NASA and could signal the opening up of space travel to individuals without specialist training.

The October flight made Shatner, 90, the oldest person to have visited space. Lasting just over 10 minutes, aloft and free-floating above the Earth, the crew took in views of planet Earth below and the dark skies beyond, and experienced brief weightlessness.

“It’s going to take me a while to be able to describe it. It was incredible,” de Vries had said on returning.

In a statement, Blue Origin said it was “devastated” to learn of de Vries’s death. “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.”

De Vries also served on the board of Carnegie Mellon University. He graduated in 1994 from the Mellon College of Science with a degree in molecular biology and genetics.

“The entire Carnegie Mellon University community is devastated by the loss of alumnus and trustee Glen de Vries,” CMU President Farnam Jahanian said in a statement. “To be in Glen’s presence was to be immersed in his exuberance and zest for life, and I am filled with tremendous sorrow that we will no longer be able to experience this gift or share it with others.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the plane crash.