Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner among 7 killed in Massachusetts plane crash

The Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz was among seven people killed on board an Atlantic City-bound private jet when the plane crashed and caught fire shortly after takeoff from a Massachusetts airfield late Saturday.

Anne Leeds, the wife of 74-year-old James P. Leeds Sr., a New Jersey borough commissioner, also died in the crash. Leeds serves on the board of commissioners in Longport, a resort town in southern New Jersey.

Leeds said he got a text from his wife from the plane at 9:36 p.m., four minutes before the crash. He said his wife had been invited by Katz to attend an education-related function. They left Longport at about 2 p.m.

Officials said that the Gulfstream IV jet was leaving Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., when it crashed and caught fire at approximately 9:40 p.m. local time.

"There were no survivors," Matthew Brelis, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, said early Sunday. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the people on board and their loved ones."

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Sharon Williams, director of the airport, said families were being notified Sunday morning, the Boston Herald reported.

The executive director of the Drew A. Katz Foundation, Marcella Dalsey, was also on board, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.  She was the president of the KATZ Academy Charter School, which was co-founded with Katz in 2012.

The plane was carrying three crew members and four passengers, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said.

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

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.

The names of the other victims were not immediately released. Nancy Phillips, Katz's longtime companion and city editor at the Inquirer, was not on board. Authorities have not said what they believe caused the crash, which is under investigation by the NTSB.

Luke Schiada, a senior air safety investigator at the NTSB, said there is no indication at this point that there was a verbal distress call from the cockpit of the plane to the airfield tower. A witness also said the aircraft never became airborne, Schiada added.

The crash came just days after Katz and  Harold H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest gained full control of The Inquirer by buying out their co-owners for $88 million in a deal that ended an ugly monthslong feud among the partners.

Lenfest said Sunday the $88 million deal will be delayed but will continue.

Katz and Lenfest were to be equal partners in the purchase of the company that operates The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and the website.

The deal was expected to close June 12.

Lenfest says the company will lose Katz's expertise and creativity. But, he says, "the paper will continue because we both intended to put a new CEO in charge of the day-to-day operations."

The fight over the future of the city's two major newspapers was sparked last year by a decision to fire the Inquirer's Pulitzer Prize-winning editor. 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.

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.

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.

Nearby residents recounted seeing a fireball and feeling the blast of the explosion shake their homes.

Jeff Patterson told The Boston Globe he saw a fireball about 60 feet in the air and suspected the worst for those aboard the plane.

"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."

The airfield was closed while first responders were still on the scene Sunday morning.

A hazardous materials team also responded to the scene and firefighters worked throughout the night to douse the flames, the Boston Herald reported.

Hanscom Field is about 20 miles northwest of Boston. It 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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