Glen de Vries, 49, and Thomas P. Fischer, 54, were identified by police as the victims of the plane crash on Thursday
In a statement to PEOPLE, the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) confirmed that the fatal incident unfolded just before 3 p.m. in Hampton Township in Sussex County.
State police said their troopers responded at 2:50 p.m. after receiving a report of a small aircraft crash and discovered two fatalities at the scene.
According to an online incident report from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the two victims, a pilot and passenger, were the only people on board at the time.
They were later identified as Glen M. de Vries, 49, of New York, New York, and Thomas P. Fischer, 54, of Hopatcong, New Jersey, NJSP confirmed.
The FAA has not identified who the pilot of the aircraft was. According to the Fischer Aviation website, de Vries began his private pilot training with Fischer in February 2016.
de Vries was one of four crew members aboard the New Shepard rocket for the NS-18 mission last month — which he called his “oldest, and lifelong enduring, dream according to a social media post. The trip was made possible by Jeff Bezos‘ aerospace company Blue Origin.
In addition to being a Carnegie Melon University trustee, he co-founded of Medidata Solutions, a tech company that develops software as a service, per their website.
“We are devastated to hear of the sudden passing of Glen de Vries,” Blue Origin wrote in a statement shared on social media. “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.
“The world lost a visionary,” Nadia M. Bracken, who works at Medidata Solutions, wrote in another tribute on Twitter. “May his legacy of innovation in the life sciences industry live on. #innovator #restinpeace #spaceman”
We are devastated to hear of the sudden passing of Glen de Vries. 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. pic.twitter.com/1hwnjntTVs— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) November 12, 2021
Fischer was also an avid air traveler, working as the owner and second-generation chief flight instructor at Fischer Aviation in New Jersey, according to their website.
In their report, the FAA stated that the single-engine Cessna 172 plane was “destroyed” in a heavily wooded area but the cause remains unknown. The FAA will be the lead investigating agency, according to NJSP.
A 1994 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in molecular biology and genetics, de Vries had an obsession with aerospace aviation since he was young, per a profile on the university’s website.
Over the years, he read every book he could about rockets, aircraft and spaceships before training to pilot his own single-engine plane, his profile stated.
In October, de Vries’ longstanding dream of going to space finally came true when he blasted into space with Shatner, as well as Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations, and fellow crew member and co-founder of Planet Labs, Chris Boshuizen.
Speaking to Carnegie Mellon after the journey, de Vries said, “I honestly don’t think anybody could go to space and not want to go to space more, so I would love to again.”
“I think I’ve taken that perspective [of a heightened sense of time] back down with me to our planet, and into my relationships,” he added. “The passage of time, just like the resources on Earth, feels more precious with expanded perspective.”