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PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz was killed along with six other people in a fiery plane crash in Massachusetts, his business partner said today.
Harold H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest confirmed Katz’s death to The Associated Press, saying he was informed by their lawyer, Richard Sprague. The crash came just days after Katz and 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.
The Gulfstream IV crashed as it was leaving Hanscom Field at about 9:40 p.m. Saturday for Atlantic City, New Jersey. There were no survivors.
The identities of the other victims weren’t immediately released. Nancy Phillips, Katz’s longtime companion and city editor at the Inquirer, was not on board.
Officials gave no information on the cause of the crash. They said the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.
When bidding on the company, which also operates the Philadelphia Daily News and the news website Philly.com. Katz and Lenfest vowed to fund in-depth journalism to return the Inquirer to its former glory and to retain its 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 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.
Lenfest said today that the deal to buy out the company will be delayed but will proceed.
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.”
The air field, which serves the public, was closed after the crash. Responders were still on the scene today morning.
Hanscom Field is about 20 miles northwest of Boston. The regional airport serves mostly corporate aviation, private pilots and commuter air services.