Shuttle Astronaut Alan Poindexter Killed in Tragic Jet Ski Accident

Caption: Alan Poindexter, STS-131 commander, posed for a photo in the Cupola of the International Space Station in April 2010. Credit: NASA

A former NASA shuttle astronaut died in a jet ski accident in Florida on Sunday. 51-year-old Capt. Alan Poindexter was riding on a jet ski with one of his two sons when tragically, his other son crashed into them with a different jet ski. Poindexter was the commander of the STS-131 mission in 2010 and was the pilot for the STS-121 mission in 2008.

The Pensacola News Journal reported that Poindexter was riding on his personal jet ski with his 22-year-old son, Samuel. At approximately 1:30 p.m., his oldest son, Zachary, crashed into their jet ski, not seeing that they stopped. Both the younger son and father were thrown into the water.

A boat picked up Poindexter and took him to shore. He was talking and complaining about rib injuries but he lost consciousness. He was taken to shore where CPR was performed. He was taken to a hospital and died a short time later.

The Poindexter family was vacationing when the accident happened at a beach in Florida’s panhandle.

I had the chance to interview Poindexter and the STS-131 crew at a launchpad event in 2010. He was a no-nonsense type of astronaut, but exhibited true class at all times, and had a great sense of humor. At the time, it was still being decided if Discovery would fly an additional flight for the STS-135 mission, and so during preparations for the STS-131 mission, it was discussed that this could be Discovery’s last flight. However, Poindexter said he liked to call the STS-131 mission Discovery’s “first last mission.” He must have had an inkling that Discovery would fly again.

NASA issued a statement of condolences to the family.

“We in the astronaut family have lost not only a dear friend, but also a patriot of the United States,” said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “He proudly served his country for 26 years as a fighter pilot, test pilot, astronaut and commander of a space shuttle. I am proud to have both flown in space and worked with him for so many years. Dex will be deeply missed by those of us at Johnson and the entire NASA family.”

Poindexter earned an undergraduate degree with highest honors from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and a graduate degree from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. He was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 1998 and served in the Astronaut Office, Shuttle Operations Branch at Johnson as the lead support astronaut for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He also served as a spacecraft communicator, or CAPCOM, for multiple missions.

“Dex was a wonderful human being and a pleasure to have in the astronaut office,” Janet Kavandi, fellow astronaut and Director of Flight Crew Operations said. “His good-natured demeanor made him approachable to his crews and the many people at Johnson and Kennedy who enabled his missions.”

Poindexter retired from NASA and the astronaut corps in 2010 and returned to serve in the United States Navy as Dean of Students at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Poindexter was selected to be in the astronaut corps in 1998. He flew on his first mission a decade later when he was a pilot aboard Atlantis’ mission to install the Columbus laboratory at the international space station, in addition to commanding the resupply mission to the space station in 2010.

Second image caption: The STS-131 crew at a launchpad media event in April 2010. Alan Poindexter is on the far left. Credit: Nancy Atkinson

Sources: CBS News, NASA