Lewis Katz, 72, co-owner of The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, died Saturday night in the crash of a private jet at a Massachusetts airfield.
All seven people aboard were killed when the Gulfstream IV crashed about 9:40 p.m. as it was departing Hanscom Field in Bedford for Atlantic City International Airport, said a Massachusetts Port Authority spokesman.
The jet never became airborne, a National Transportation Safety Board official said Sunday. Instead, it rolled off the runway and onto the grass before striking an antenna and a fence, coming to rest in a gully where it burst into flames, said Luke Schiada, a senior air-safety investigator.
Jennifer Davies, 40, a witness to the crash, told bostonglobe.com she heard "a small boom, and I heard the plane accelerate more. The engines really revved up. It just started screeching. Then there was a huge, gigantic explosion and I couldn't hear the engines anymore."
Debris spread more than 2,000 feet. Schiada said officials were looking for the flight data recorder and black box to determine what went wrong.
Among those traveling with Katz was Anne B. Leeds, 74, a retired schoolteacher and a neighbor of Katz's in Longport, N.J. Katz had invited Leeds, a mother and grandmother, on the trip at the last minute as the two met on the beach Saturday, Longport Mayor Nicholas Russo said.
Also on the plane was Marcella M. Dalsey, 59, executive director of the Drew A. Katz Foundation - named after Katz's son - and president of the KATZ Academy Charter School, which she cofounded with Lewis Katz in 2012. Dalsey was the mother of four grown children.
Susan K. Asbell, 68, of Cherry Hill, was Katz's third guest on the flight. A mother of two, Asbell was a member of the planning committee of the Boys and Girls Club of Camden County, an organization close to Katz's heart.
The names of the flight crew were not released.
Nancy Phillips, Katz's longtime companion and The Inquirer's city editor, was not on the plane.
Neither was former Gov. Ed Rendell. A shaken Rendell said Katz had invited him to make the trip Saturday but he declined because of a speaking engagement.
Lauded Sunday by scholars and governors, sports owners and entertainers - as well as a former U.S. president - Katz made his fortune investing in Kinney Parking and the Yankees Entertainment & Sports (YES) Network in New York. He formerly owned the NBA's New Jersey Nets and the NHL's New Jersey Devils.
"That guy did a lot with his heart," former President Bill Clinton said Sunday. "I'll never forget that as long as I live."
Katz was a major donor to Temple University, his alma mater - he pledged $25 million to the school in the fall - and a philanthropist with an abiding interest in education.
It was Katz's commitment to learning that took him to Massachusetts on Saturday afternoon, friends said, as he attended a fund-raising event in Concord at the home of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and her husband, Richard Goodwin, an adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Katz grew up in the Parkside section of Camden. His father died of a heart attack soon after Katz was born, and his mother raised him on her earnings as a secretary at Radio Corp. of America.
Last week, Katz ended a contentious period in his life when he and fellow philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest bought out their partners in the media company that owns The Inquirer for $88 million.
Grappling with Katz's death, Lenfest said in a statement Sunday, "We all deeply mourn the loss of my true friend."
Lenfest said Drew Katz would replace his father on the board of the company.
Drew Katz, 42, responded with his own remarks, calling his father "my best friend."
"He taught me everything. He never forgot where and how he grew up and he worked tirelessly to support his community in countless ways that were seen and unseen.
"His sudden passing adds to our family's grief over the recent passing of our beloved mother, Marjorie Katz. We will miss both of them tremendously but will work to carry on the enormous legacy that they both created."
Inquirer editor William K. Marimow called Katz an exceptional man who "enriched the lives of everyone he came in contact with."
Katz "never forgot his friends or his roots, giving back generously to the city of Camden, Temple University, Dickinson School of Law, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and countless other organizations," Marimow said.
"He loved his family and his friends and they loved him back in return. We've lost a great friend."
The co-owners of the media company whom Katz and Lenfest outbid last week - George E. Norcross III, William P. Hankowsky, and Joseph Buckelew - issued a statement of their own Sunday:
"We are shocked and deeply sorry to hear about the tragic death of Lewis Katz. Our sincere condolences, thoughts, and prayers go out to his family, loved ones, and many friends and admirers. 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."
According to FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, the jet departed Atlantic City at 2:56 p.m. Saturday and arrived 48 minutes later at Hanscom Field, outside Boston.
Earlier in the day, the plane left New Castle County Airport near Wilmington bound for Atlantic City.
The Gulfstream IV was registered to Sk Travel L.L.C., in Raleigh, N.C., according to FlightAware.
Saturday evening, Katz and his group were supporting the Concord River Institute, a program aimed at improving education that was founded by Richard Goodwin's son Michael.
After the event, Katz went to dinner with the Goodwins, Doris Kearns Goodwin said in a statement Sunday afternoon. "I have lost a great friend, his family has lost a great father and grandfather, and the country has lost a great man."
A moment of silence at Yankee Stadium honored Katz before the start of Sunday's game against the Minnesota Twins. He was described as "a member of the Yankee family," and his photo was displayed on the stadium's giant screen.
Gov. Corbett issued a statement praising Katz's business acumen and philanthropy. "But," he added, "it was his beautiful soul . . . that we most admired." Corbett went on to quote Katz himself, who once said, "It's never a perfect day unless you help someone who can never hope to repay you."
Inquirer staff writers Chris Mondics, Amy S. Rosenberg, Thomas Fitzgerald, Linda Loyd, Claudia Vargas, Michael Matza, Jonathan Lai, Jacqueline L. Urgo, Amy Worden, and Jason Grant contributed to this article.
The $88 million deal for The Inquirer's parent company will proceed. A11.
Drew Katz, 42, an ad executive, is expected to take a larger role. A11.