PHILADELPHIA — 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 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.
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.
James P. Leeds Sr., town commissioner of Longport, New Jersey, said his 74-year-old wife, Anne, was also killed. He received a text from Anne just four minutes before the crash saying they were about to take off, he said.
Anne Leeds, a retired preschool teacher, had been invited Saturday by her neighbor Katz to attend an education-related function, James Leeds said.
The identities of the other victims weren’t immediately released, and officials gave no information on the cause of the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
When bidding on the company, Katz and Lenfest vowed to fund in-depth journalism to revive the Inquirer and to retain its Pulitzer Prize-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.
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.