Lewis Katz, Co-Owner of the Inquirer Killed in Plane Crash

The private jet that crashed at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts, killing seven people, went 2,000 feet off the runway, down an embankment and into a gully of water, before it burst into flames, a federal investigator said Sunday.

Governor Ed Rendell says he was twice invited by Lewis Katz to fly to Boston.  Rendell had flown 20 times before on the plane with Katz, but a previous engagement kept him from flying this time.

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"They were great pilots. It's a huge loss," said Rendell.

Luke Schiada, who is heading the National Transportation Safety Board probe of the crash, said during a presser that an airport employee has told investigators that the aircraft never became airborne.

Among those killed was Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz, just days after reaching a deal that many hoped would end months of infighting at the newspaper and restore it to its former glory.

His son, Drew, and a business partner confirmed Katz's death in a crash of a Gulfstream IV private jet, which went down on takeoff from Hanscom Field outside Boston on its way to Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Saturday night. There were no survivors.

Marcella Dalsey, president of the KATZ Academy Charter School and executive vice president of the Drew A. Katz foundation was also killed in the crash, an official with the school has confirmed with NECN.

According to Schiada, the NTSB is focusing its efforts on gathering information about the experience of the flight crew, as well as the maintenance history of the aircraft with hopes of determining the probable cause of the crash.

"We're in the fact-finding stages of the investigation. We don't to speculate on what might or might not have played a role. We haven't ruled out anything but right now there's no reason to believe that this was anything other than an accident," Schiada said.

He confirmed there were two pilots, one cabin attendant and four passengers on board.

On Tuesday, Katz and Harold H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest struck a deal to gain full control of the Inquirer as well as the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com by buying out their co-owners for $88 million — an agreement that ended a very public feud over the Inquirer's business and journalism direction.

Lenfest said Sunday that the deal will be delayed but will proceed.

Katz and Anne Leeds, a retired preschool teacher who was Katz's next-door neighbor and who also died in the crash, were among the 200 or so guests at the Concord, Massachusetts, home of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on Saturday afternoon, her representative said. The event was to support an education initiative for Goodwin's son Michael.

Anne Leeds (Courtesy of Leeds Family)

Afterward, the author joined Katz, her friend of nearly 20 years, and others at dinner, where they talked about their shared interests, including journalism, Goodwin said in a statement.

"The last thing he said to me upon leaving for the plane was that most of all what we shared was our love and pride for our children," Goodwin said.

James P. Leeds Sr., town commissioner of Longport, New Jersey, said he received a text message from his 74-year-old wife, Anne, just four minutes before the crash saying they were about to take off, he said.

Anne Leeds had been invited Saturday by Katz to attend the event, James Leeds said.

NBC10's Terry Ruggles also identified a third victim, Susan Asbell of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Mrs. Asbell was the wife of former Camden County Prosecutor Sam Asbell. 

Sam and Susan Asbell (Credit: Camden County Bar Association)

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 the plane.

When bidding on the company, Katz and Lenfest vowed to fund in-depth journalism to revive the Inquirer and to retain its Pulitzer-winning editor, Bill Marimow.

"It's going to be a lot of hard work. We're not kidding ourselves. It's going to be an enormous undertaking," Katz said then, noting that advertising and circulation revenues had fallen for years. "Hopefully, (the Inquirer) will get fatter."

Katz, who grew up in Camden, New Jersey, made his fortune investing in the Kinney Parking empire and the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network in New York. He once owned the NBA's New Jersey Nets and the NHL's New Jersey Devils and was a major donor to Temple University, his alma mater.

The fight over the future of the city's two major newspapers was sparked last year by a decision to fire Marimow. Katz and Lenfest wanted a judge to block the firing. Katz sued a fellow owner, powerful Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, saying his ownership rights had been trampled. The dispute culminated last week when Katz and Lenfest, a former cable magnate-turned-philanthropist, bought out their partners.

The Inquirer has changed hands five times in eight years, and, like many other newspapers, it has seen a downturn in business that has forced it to cut its staff, close bureaus and scale back its ambitions.

Three previous owners of the company, including Norcross, said in a joint statement that they were deeply saddened to hear of Katz's death.

"Lew's long-standing commitment to the community and record of strong philanthropy across the region, particularly Camden where he was born and raised, will ensure that his legacy will live on," they said.

When the crash occurred, nearby residents saw a fireball and felt the blast shake their homes.

Jeff Patterson told The Boston Globe he saw a fireball about 60 feet high and suspected the worst.

"I heard a big boom, and I thought at the time that someone was trying to break into my house because it shook it," said Patterson's son, 14-year-old Jared Patterson. "I thought someone was like banging on the door trying to get in."

Hanscom Field is about 20 miles northwest of Boston. The regional airport serves mostly corporate aviation, private pilots and commuter air services.

NTSB will be providing updates on the crash investigation via the board's Twitter account. A second news conference is expected to be held Monday morning.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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