CEO of chip maker Micron dies in plane crash
Published : Feb 5, 2012 - 10:15
Updated : Feb 5, 2012 - 10:21

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- The image Steve Appleton cultivated as a stunt pilot and off-road rally driver became the perfect metaphor for his wild, 18-year ride as the leader of Micron Technology Inc., where stomach-churning swings from billion-dollar profit to billion-dollar loss required the constitution of a business daredevil to survive.

Appleton, Micron's chief executive officer, died Friday morning when his experimental plane crashed at the Boise Airport, west of Micron's desert campus.

He was no stranger to plane crashes, surviving at least two earlier wrecks including one in 2004 that left him seriously injured. He was the only person aboard on Friday when the small Lancair crashed shortly after its second take-off attempt in Boise, according to safety investigators.

Appleton was known as a driven competitor in a volatile industry. Away from the office, he channeled that energy into high-octane hobbies, pursuing his passions as a stunt pilot, off-road racer and scuba diver.

``He lived life to the fullest, and while he enjoyed great success in business and in life, he never lost his intensity or his drive,'' Idaho Gov. C.L. ``Butch'' Otter said in a statement.

In the wake of the 51-year-old's death, Micron's board of directors met in Boise on Saturday and named chief operating officer D. Mark Durcan to be Appleton's successor.

Durcan was appointed as Micron's interim CEO on Friday only hours after Appleton's plane crashed. The board's action removes the interim title.

The 51-year-old Durcan had been the company's president and chief operating officer, and just last week announced his intention to step down in August.

Company spokesman Dan Francisco told The Associated Press on Saturday those plans had changed and Durcan was no longer planning to leave in August.

Corporate governance experts raised questions in the past about whether Appleton, as CEO, should be engaging in a hobby as risky as stunt piloting, but Micron's board accepted it as simply part of Appleton's work-hard and play-hard personality. 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 trading was halted for 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 makes semiconductor chips for computers, mobile devices, cameras and other devices. 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.

Betsy Van Hees, an analyst from San Francisco's Wedbush Securities, always figured Appleton was the ideal persona to lead an upstart from the wilds of Idaho in the turbulent global memory industry. People must be thrill-seekers to be in the computer memory business, especially in recent years, Van Hees said.

``You look at what's happened in the industry over the years, its many ups and downs _ more downs than ups lately _ and Steve had stayed committed to that, and to staying in Boise,'' she said. ``It's not a business for the faint of heart.''

Crash investigators say Appleton hadn't filed a flight plan and by all indications planned to stay in the area for a recreational flight on a clear, sunny morning.

Air safety investigator Zoe Keliher with the National Transportation Safety Board 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 (1.5 meterrs) 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 (30 or 60 meters) 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 runway was dry and there were no indications that birds or weather caused the crash, Keliher said. Investigators planned to look for any evidence of equipment failure, pilot error or other problems.

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.

In 2004, Appleton sustained a punctured lung, head injuries, ruptured disk and broken bones after his stunt plane crashed in the desert east of Boise.

He 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.

News of Appleton's death sparked an outpouring of homage from Idaho leaders, with Otter lauding him as a champion and visionary businessman who ``understood the value as well as the cost of excellence.''

Idaho's congressional delegation also mourned Appleton's death, with Sen. Mike Crapo and Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador saying that Appleton was to Idaho what the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was to America.

Appleton was the face of Micron for most Idahoans. The company was instrumental in Idaho's tech boom and is known for charitable giving, recently donating $13 million for a new building at Boise State University.

Appleton had his business administration degree from Boise State fresh in hand in 1983 when he took a low-level job at the new high-tech startup, Micron. His starting wage on the chip fabrication line was just $4.46 an hour, but it wasn't long before Appleton was promoted, and promoted again _ 11 times in all.

By 1991 he was the youngest-ever chief of a Fortune 500 company, serving as president and chief operating officer of Micron. In 1994, he was appointed to the position of chairman, chief executive officer and president, though he dropped the president title in 2007. He is survived by his wife, Dalynn, and four children.

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 (1,685-kilometer) run from Enseneda to La Paz 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.''



美 마이크론 CEO 경비행기 사고로 사망

미국 반도체회사 마이크론 테크놀로지의 스 티브 애플턴 최고경영자(CEO) 겸 회장이 3일(현지시간) 미 아이다호주 보이지에서 경비행기 추락 사고로 사망했다. 향년 51세.

마이크론의 댄 프랜시스코 대변인은 애플턴 CEO의 사망사실을 확인했다.

애플턴 CEO의 갑작스런 사망으로 이날 마이크론 주식의 거래는 일시 중단됐다.

경비행기 조종 애호가인 애플턴 CEO는 이날 아침 혼자서 실험적인 고정익 항공기를 타고 비행하다 보이지 공항에 추락해 숨졌다.

사고 경비행기는 공항에 착륙하기 직전에 화재를 일으켰다. 패치 밀러 보이지 공항 대변인은 추락한 비행기가 고정익 단발 엔진 랜세르(Lancair) 기종이라고 밝혔 다.

마이크론 이사회는 성명을 통해 "스티브 CEO의 열정과 에너지는 마이크론과 아 이다호 지역사회, 첨단기술 산업계에 지울 수 없는 족적을 남겼다"고 밝혔다.

애플턴이 경비행기 사고를 당한 것은 이번이 처음은 아니다. 그는 2004년 7월 8 일에도 보이지 동부 사막에서 곡예비행을 하다가 추락사고를 당해 폐천공과 두부 타박상, 척추 골절 등을 당했다.

애플턴은 한동안 2004년 사고로 인한 부상의 심각성을 공개하지 않았다가 2006 년 한 기업 경영관리 전문가의 문제제기를 통해 일반에 알려졌다.

마이크론 테크놀로지는 첨단 반도체 솔루션을 제공하는 기업으로 D램과 낸드 플래시, 노어플래시 메모리 등을 생산한다. (연합뉴스)