Businessman and co-owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer Lewis Katz walks from a courtroom in City Hall in Philadelphia on Oct. 28, 2013. / Matt Rourke, AP
The Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz and six others were killed in the fiery crash of a small business jet shortly after takeoff from an airfield outside Boston on Saturday night.
Katz, 72, was killed four days after he and an associate and close friend, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, put together an $88-million deal to gain control of the media company that owns the Inquirer with an eye toward restoring the newspaper's stature.
The Gulfstream IV crashed at 9:40 p.m. as it was departing Hanscom Field, about 20 miles northwest of Boston, heading for Atlantic City International Airport, said Luke Schiada, a senior air traffic investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
He said the aircraft traveled 2,000 feet along the ground after rolling off the end of a runway and according to a witness, never became airborne.
Schiada said it rolled across grass, hit an antenna and smashed through a chain-link fence before going down an embankment into a gully filled partially with stream water. Among debris left in its wake were pieces of landing gear. Much of the wreckage was consumed by fire, he said.
No one survived the crash. Witnesses said they heard an explosion and saw a fireball spew 60 feet into the air.
The cause of the crash remains unknown. Investigators were searching for flight data and cockpit voice recorders, Schiada said. There were no reports of unusual radio traffic from the aircraft before the crash.The Gulfstream IV was 14 years old.
"There is no reason to suggest it is anything but an accident at this point," Schiada said, adding that investigators believe there may be video of the crash from routine surveillance cameras nearby.
The bodies of all seven passengers were found in the wreckage.
Among those on board was Anne Leeds, 74, the wife of James Leeds Sr., who serves on the board of commissioners in Longport, a resort town in southern New Jersey. Two other passengers, according to news media reports, were Marcella Dalsey, an executive with the Drew A. Katz Foundation; and Susan Asbell of Cherry Hill, N.J. Three other victims were reported to be crewmembers.
Katz had traveled to Massachusetts to attend an education event at the Concord home of author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
"We'll all deeply mourn the loss of my true friend (Katz) and fellow investor in ownership of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com," Lenfest told the Inquirer. He said that Katz's son, Drew, would replace his father on the new company's board of directors.
While the deal struck Tuesday will be delayed, it will proceed, Lenfest said.
Katz made a fortune in a massive parking empire, as well as banking, billboard and real estate, according to a profile in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Camden, N.J., native, who bought and sold sports teams, was also involved in philanthropy and politics. He was a close friend and supporter of former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell.
Rendell said Sunday he had been invited by Katz to accompany him on the trip to Massachusetts, but had another commitment.
Katz owned the New Jersey Nets when they reached the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 for the first time in team history. "All of us in the NBA were extremely saddened to learn of (his) tragic, sudden death," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Sunday. "He was a visionary businessman who touched the lives of so many with his tireless pursuit of innovation and enterprise."
Katz was a graduate of Temple University and had donated $25 million to the school, which has a building named in his honor
In the business deal that led to control of the Inquirer last week, Katz and Lenfest said they were committed to in-depth journalism and returning the newspaper to its former glory, said the newspaper's editor Bill Marimow. The newspaper's circulation and revenue have fallen for years.
In announcing the purchase last week, Katz said their endeavor is "going to be a lot of hard work. We're not kidding ourselves. It's going to be an enormous undertaking. Hopefully, (the Inquirer) will get fatter."
The crash remains under investigation.
One witness, Jeff Patterson, told The Boston Globe he heard the explosion and saw the fireball.
"I thought at the time that someone was trying to break into my house," said Patterson's son, 14-year-old Jared Patterson. "I thought someone was like banging on the door trying to get in."
The airfield, which serves the public, was closed after the crash, but partially re-opened Sunday, Schiada said.
.An aviation expert who spoke to New England Cable News said various explanations for the explosion were possible.
"The engine could implode, if you will," said Steve Cunningham of Nashua Flight Simulator. "A turbine wheel could separate, there could be a fire in the combustion chamber. Or a fuel leak could also create a fire of that nature."
Hanscom Field was used by the Army Air Corps and military operations dominated until it became both a military and civilian facility in the 1950s. Massport currently manages it as a regional airport serving mostly corporate aviation, private pilots, commuter air services and some light cargo.
Contributing: Associated Press
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