Astronaut who accompanied William Shatner to space dies in flying accident

Glen de Vries (r) accompanied legendary actor William Shatner to space.
Glen de Vries (r) accompanied legendary actor William Shatner to space. Photo credit: Blue Origin

One of the astronauts who soared into space with legendary actor William Shatner last month has died in a tragic flying accident.

Glen de Vries, who was 49 years old, died alongside 54-year-old Thomas Fisher when the Cessna 172 Skyhawk plane they were in crashed into a heavily wooded area in Sussex County, New Jersey.

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) had initially alerted public safety agencies that the plane had gone missing just before 3pm, local time.

The plane was then found on the ground around 4pm by state police, but no survivors were onboard.

The FAA said in its preliminary report the crash had happened under unknown circumstances, but it had been involved in "instructional activity".

"I've spent my entire career working to extend people's lives. However, with limited materials and energy on Earth, extending our reach into space can help humanity continue to thrive," de Vries said publicly before his Blue Origin trip. 

"Furthermore, astronauts can experience the 'overview effect', gaining a new perspective on how fragile and precious our planet, those resources, and our civilisation are.

"Playing a part in advancing the space industry and one day making those resources and that understanding available to everyone, is an incredible opportunity."

After his return he described the short foray into space as "the most incredible thing" he'd ever done.

De Vries's death was mourned by Blue Origin, with the company tweeting it was "devastated".

"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."

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos also paid tribute to de Vries, calling it a "tragic loss" and saying he was "heartbroken".

"Glen made us laugh and lit up the room. He was a visionary, and an innovator - a true leader. Lauren and I are heartbroken and will remember the precious time we got to spend together," the Amazon founder wrote.

"Our deepest sympathies are with his partner, Leah, and all his loved ones. The world lost you too soon, Glen."

De Vries, who was vice chair for life sciences and healthcare at French software company Dassault Systèmes, accompanied Star Trek's Captain Kirk on board Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket alongside another fee-paying passenger Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Earth observation company Planet.

Blue Origin's vice president of mission and flight operations Audrey Powers was the final member of the four-person crew.