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.
Katz's son, Drew, and a business partner confirmed Katz's death in the crash of a Gulfstream corporate jet that went down on takeoff Saturday night from Hanscom Field outside Boston on its way to New Jersey. There were no survivors.
Katz, 72, was returning 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 to accompany him.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Sunday that Katz had invited him to fly on the doomed flight, but he had another commitment.
The identities of the other victims aboard weren't immediately released. Nancy Phillips, Katz's longtime partner and city editor at the Inquirer, was not on the plane.
The plane was carrying three crew members and four passengers, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Officials gave no information on the cause of the crash, which sent up a fireball and shook nearby homes.
Katz made his fortune investing in parking lots 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 in 2012 became a minority investor in the Inquirer.
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 still go through.
When bidding on the company, Katz and Lenfest vowed to fund in-depth journalism and retain the Inquirer's 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."
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. The dispute was settled when Katz and Lenfest, a 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 staff, close bureaus and scale back its ambitions.
Three previous owners, including Norcross, said in a statement that they were deeply saddened by 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.
The event at Goodwin's home in Concord, Mass., was held to support an education initiative by Goodwin's son.
Afterward, Katz, Goodwin's friend of nearly 20 years, joined the author and others at dinner, where they talked about their shared interests, including journalism, Goodwin said.
"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 in a statement.
Leeds' husband, James town commissioner of Longport, N.J., said he received a text message from his wife four minutes before the crash saying they were about to take off.
Rendell said he had been aboard Katz's plane about two dozen times since leaving office in 2011, including a recent trip to Los Angeles.
The plane gave Katz the ability to be spontaneous, deciding on a moment's notice to call friends to join him for an out-of-state function or sporting event, Rendell said.
"He had this uncommon gift of having fun and making people around him have fun," Rendell said.
Katz employed two full-time pilots and a flight attendant, Rendell said. "The reason I'm mystified is those pilots maintained the plane like it was their life and death," Rendell said.
He said his close friend also practiced smaller, unheralded moments of charity. Katz once bought his employee at Kinney Parking a house so he could move to a better New York neighborhood, and he quietly left $100 tips for waitresses at a boardwalk breakfast spot, Rendell said.
"People say, 'Well, he only does things to get his name on buildings.' That couldn't be further from the truth."
Hanscom Field is about 20 miles northwest of Boston. The regional airport serves mostly corporate aviation, private pilots and commuter air services.
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