Report: CEO made wrong decision before plane crash

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The likely causes of a 2012 airplane crash that killed the head of memory chip maker Micron are a decrease in engine power during takeoff and the man's ill-fated decision to turn the experimental plane around rather than make an emergency landing, federal investigators say.

In a new report, the National Transportation Safety Board says fire damage at the crash site next to a runway at the Boise airport made it impossible to know if the engine power reduction was mechanical or a decision by the pilot, Micron CEO Steve Appleton.

The report released late Monday also said Appleton should not have attempted a second takeoff with a "known problem" after aborting a previous takeoff minutes earlier.

Another factor in the crash was Appleton's lack of training in the experimental Lancair IV-TP, the report said.

The 51-year-old Appleton was the only person aboard the four-seat Lancair on Feb. 3, 2012, when it steeply banked, stalled and crashed.

Micron is one of many companies that make semiconductor chips for cars and various devices, including computers and cameras. It makes products under the Lexar and Crucial brands and is one of Idaho's largest employers.

Micron spokesman Dan Francisco said Tuesday the company had no comment on the NTSB report.

Much of the aircraft that could have provided clues was destroyed in the fiery crash. However, investigators did recover information about how the engine was operating.

On the fatal flight, the aircraft experienced a loss of thrust during takeoff about a second before the pilot's request to return, the report said.

Investigators also compared engine performance data to previous flights and found that "fuel pressure did not drop to the same level as during the accident flight, which are indicative of a problem with the airplane."

The report said investigators wanted to examine a specific component to determine if it caused the fuel pressure drop, but it was destroyed in the crash and fire.

Doug Meyer, director of sales and marketing with Lancair International Inc., based in Redmond, Oregon, said Tuesday he couldn't immediately comment without reading the report.

The report noted that 26 percent of Lancair airplanes have been involved in accidents, and 19 percent have been involved in fatal accidents. It also said there was no evidence Appleton, while properly certified and having nearly 14 hours of flight time in the plane, had received flight instruction recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration for flying the high-performance craft.

Appleton started working at Micron in 1983 and became CEO and chairman in 2007. He had a reputation as a hard-driving daredevil and was known for taking risks in stunt piloting. He survived a crash in 2004 that left him with a punctured lung, head injuries, ruptured disk and broken bones.

Micron colleagues said his energy and drive helped establish the company's place on the world stage as one of the leaders in memory chip production.