BEDFORD. Mass. — A small jet carrying media mogul Lewis Katz and six others appeared to not make it off the ground as it tried to take off from a Massachusetts airport and instead veered off the runway, hit an antenna and a fence and crashed into a gully, investigators said Sunday.
Everyone aboard the Gulfstream IV jet died in the fiery crash Saturday night. Luke Schiada of the National Transportation Safety Board said those on board the plane, which was heading to Atlantic City, N.J., included a flight attendant, two crew members and four passengers, including Katz.
Just last week, Katz, 72, and a partner became sole owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com. His death heaps new turmoil on an organization plagued by disputes among its previous owners, including Katz, over the direction of its news coverage.
Firefighters called to the crash scene at Hanscom Field, about 20 miles from Boston, struggled to douse flames that quickly engulfed the jet.
At a news briefing, Schiada said an airport employee was watching the jet as it began its takeoff. “He did not see the aircraft break ground,” Schiada said.
Video taken after the crash shows smoke rising from the runway and billowing into the sky above trees surrounding the field.
“It was gigantic. It just kept rising and rising — it was awful,” said 14-year-old Jared Patterson, whose home’s yard faces the runway.
The teenager said he felt an explosion shake his house on Saturday night. “It sounded like a tire pop, but a million times stronger,” he said. “I ran outside thinking someone was trying to get into the house.”
He and others standing near the fence that surrounds the airport saw flames rising 20 to 30 feet high from the crash site. “I didn’t expect anyone to come out,” he said. “The flames were just engulfing it.”
Michelle and Kevin Thompson also heard the crash from their home near the edge of the airfield. “We just heard a big bang. We came out and saw all this smoke coming up,” Michelle Thompson said, pointing from her driveway past where children were playing under a sprinkler to nearby trees.
The crash site was about 200 yards away, but Thompson said the bang was so loud that she thought something had happened in her yard. “It sounded that close,” said Thompson, who her four small children were at home at the time of the crash. “All you could see was this big black cloud.”
“It can be like rush hour out there,” Kevin Thompson said of Hanscom, which the couple said has a constant stream of takeoffs and landings near the surrounding residential areas. The couple said fears of a crash are often on the minds of the airport’s neighbors, but they always figured it would involve one of the helicopters using the military section of the airport.
New Jersey media said the victims of Saturday’s crash also included Anne Leeds, a retired teacher and the wife of James P. Leeds, a borough commissioner in Longport, N.J. The Press of Atlantic City said that the Leedses were long-time friends of Lewis Katz and that Katz had invited Anne Leeds, 74, to accompany him to Boston for an education-related event.
No other victims were immediately identified.
On Tuesday, Katz and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest bid $88 million in a private auction to become co-owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. The acquisition ended a bitter feud involving Katz, Lenfest and three former partners. The five had purchased the news organization in 2012 for $55 million, but had a falling-out over how best to revive the newspaper’s fortunes.
The dispute peaked last fall when the faction headed by insurance executive and Democratic Party fundraiser George Norcross announced the firing of Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow. Katz sued to block the move, contending that Norcross could not unilaterally oust Marimow. A judge in November ruled that Marimow could remain on the job.
“We both know that this public conflagration wasn’t good for anybody,” Katz said after he and Lenfest emerged as the Inquirer’s new sole owners. Last week’s transaction was the fifth time since 2006 that the newspaper has changed hands, and it raised hopes that the Inquirer would invest more resources in investigative and in-depth reporting.
“Hopefully it’ll get fatter,” Katz said after the purchase.