Published February 03, 2012
BOISE, Idaho – The head of Idaho memory chip maker Micron died Friday morning when the small experimental plane he was piloting crashed at the Boise airport, the company said.
Steve Appleton, 51, was the chief executive and chairman of Micron and a professional stunt pilot who escaped a similar plane crash in 2004 with serious injuries.
Micron spokesman Dan Francisco confirmed Steve Appleton's death, and trading in Micron stocks was halted. Flags at the company's Boise headquarters were lowered to half-staff Friday afternoon.
In a prepared statement, Micron's board of directors said, "Steve's passion and energy left an indelible mark on Micron, the Idaho community and the technology industry at large."
Micron Technology Inc. is one of the world's leading providers of advanced semiconductor solutions. Through its worldwide operations, Micron manufactures and markets semiconductor chips for computers, mobile devices, cameras, cars and industrial systems. It makes products under the Lexar and Crucial brands.
Appleton, a former motocross racer, was the only one in the plane Friday. Ada County dispatch received reports of a plane that was on fire before it landed, and airport spokeswoman Patti Miller said the aircraft was a fixed-wing prop plane Lancair, which is built from kits.
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,
Questions have been raised in the past about whether Appleton 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.
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.
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.
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, which is one of Idaho's largest and most influential employers. The company was instrumental in the state'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.
The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a briefing on the crash at the Boise airport at 2 p.m.
Associated Press correspondent Todd Dvorak and reporters Nick Jesdanun and Joan Lowy contributed to this report.