Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz was killed along with six other people in a fiery plane crash in Massachusetts, just days after reaching a deal that many hoped would end months of infighting at the newspaper and help restore it to its former glory.
The 72-year-old businessman’s Gulfstream corporate jet ran off the end of a runway, plunged down an embankment and erupted in a fireball during a takeoff attempt Saturday night at Hanscom Field outside Boston, authorities said. There were no survivors.
Katz was returning to New Jersey from a gathering at the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Also killed was a next-door neighbor of Katz’s, Anne Leeds, a 74-year-old retired preschool teacher he had invited along.
The identities of the other victims weren’t immediately released. Nancy Phillips, Katz’s longtime partner and city editor at the Inquirer, was not aboard.
Luke Schiada, an NTSB senior air safety investigation officer, said it was too early to speculate on what caused the accident that occurred at about 9:40 p.m. Saturday as the flight attempted to make its way back to Atlantic City.
“We haven’t ruled out anything, but there is no reason to suggest it was anything but an accident,” he said at a Sunday afternoon news conference.
The plane rolled into the grass, struck an antenna that is part of the airport’s instrument landing system, crashed through a chain link fence, then down an embankment into a gully with water about 2,000 feet (600 meters) from the end of the paved surface of the runway. The jet’s remains were fragmented and partially burned after “a significant post-crash fire,” Schiada said.
Schiada, who traveled from New York to head up the investigation, said that one witness had told authorities that the aircraft had never left the ground.
Authorities were still removing the remains of the passengers from the site and searching for the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder on Sunday afternoon, Schiada said.
Katz and business partner H.F. Lenfest last week bought out their partners for $88 million, gaining control of the media company that owns the Inquirer.
“We’ve lost a great friend,” Inquirer editor Bill Marimow said in a statement to the newspaper.
Katz, 72, also co-owned Philadelphia’s Daily News and Philly.com, and was formerly the owner of professional sports teams the newspaper said on its website.
Lenfest told the newspaper: “It is a severe loss, but I am pleased to announce that Drew Katz, Lewis’s son, will replace his father on the board of our new company.”