The future of upstart American motorcycle manufacturer U.S. Highland is now uncertain following the deaths of company President Mats Malmberg, Chief Operating Officer Chase Bales and Chief Financial Officer Damian Riddoch, in a plane crash near Tulsa, Oklahoma, late Saturday, July 10. The three men were returning to their Tulsa-area homes following a business meeting in Detroit. Bales was piloting the private plane, a twin-engine Cessna 421, at the time of the crash.
Both the National Transportation and Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Authority are currently on the scene investigating the crash, and a preliminary report is expected in as soon as 10 days. The plane was originally scheduled to land at Jones Riverside Airport, but Bales requested permission to land at Tulsa International Airport, reporting over the radio that the plane was low on fuel. The plane crash-landed just after 10 pm in a densely wooded area of Mohawk Park, less than a mile north of the TIA runway. Bales and Riddoch were pronounced dead at the scene; Malmberg was transported to a local hospital where he later died.
U.S. Highland had just recently completed construction of a new motorcycle factory in Mounds, Oklahoma, and was starting production of its first customer bikes with deliveries scheduled for August. We met with Bales and Malmberg at that facility in March, when we were granted the world-exclusive opportunity to ride two of their street-legal offerings, the 1050cc Viking streetfighter and 950cc Desert X enduro. The exclusive, high-end bikes, both powered by an extremely lightweight and powerful V-twin engine of Malmberg's own design, displayed excellent craftsmanship and exhilarating performance. You can read our impressions in the August 2010 issue of , on newsstands now, or find out more about the company at www.ushighland.com.
We do not yet know the fate of the company, or the future of the 30-plus employees currently working at the main U.S. Highland facility in Mounds, just outside of Tulsa. The company hasn't yet released any official plans for succession, and did not reply to emails requesting further information. The company's stock value fell by 44 percent in over-the-counter trading on the news of the crash.
This is a terrible tragedy, and a severe blow to one of the most exciting recent developments in the American motorcycle industry. Malmberg, who spent much of the last decade developing technology for Husqvarna, was a deeply talented engineer and designer. Bales was especially well-regarded by his friends and co-workers, and held a principal interest in numerous other successful businesses ranging from trucking to oil-drilling equipment manufacturing to building hot-rods, acting as an angel investor and advisor to help his friends get their own business dreams off the ground. Hopefully those same friends will now rally to posthumously make his American motorcycle-manufacturing dream the success he envisioned.
Malmberg, 41, had recently relocated from Sweden to Oklahoma and is survived by his wife and two children. Oklahoman Bales, 51, is survived by a wife and two children. Riddoch, 37 and also from Oklahoma, is survived by a wife and four children.
Here is the only statement so far released by the U.S. Highland:
"This is a human tragedy beyond imagination. Our hearts and prayers go out to their families. No words can describe the loss the families are experiencing. It was an honor to work with these three men and I know they would want us to continue to build U.S. Highland into a leading U.S. powersports company. They were all true visionaries and will be deeply missed," commented Dr. Steven A. Moell, Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Highland, Inc.
Bengt Andersson, Chairman of U.S. Highland added: "I know everyone including myself at US Highland will sincerely miss Mats, Chase and Damian. I always had a strong respect for their work ethic and strong level of integrity. My deepest condolences go out to their families."
World Exclusive: 2011 Highland Viking