When Ann Hiatt got the call that a helicopter carrying Jeff Bezos had crashed in the West Texas desert, her first thought was, what did I do?

Hiatt had booked the flight for her boss so he could explore the locations for Blue Origin, his embryonic space research company. “Not only might I have just killed Jeff Bezos,” she recalls, thinking in the panic of the moment, “but the entire company could just have gone under.”

Fortunately, Bezos and the others on board got away largely unscathed. Details of the March 2003 accident – in which passengers crawled out of a wreck into a stream – were kept secret for more than a week to save Amazon’s employees and investors from thinking about a future without Bezos at the helm.

“Amazon would not have survived without him,” says Hiatt, who left the company in 2005. “I would bet anything on that. It just wasn’t there yet. “

Eighteen years later, the question remains whether Amazon can survive without Bezos …

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