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Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner dies in plane crash

PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz is among the seven people killed in a fiery plane crash in Massachusetts, the newspaper’s editor said Sunday.

Bill Marimow confirmed Katz’s death to Philly.com, saying he learned the news from close associates.

The Gulfstream IV crashed as it was leaving Hanscom Field at about 9:40 p.m. Saturday for Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey, said Matthew Brelis, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the air field.

“There were no survivors,” Brelis said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people on board and their loved ones.”

The 72-year-old Katz was one of two business moguls who bought out their partners last week with an $88 million bid for The Inquirer, which also operates the Philadelphia Daily News and the news website Philly.com.

The winners vowed to fund in-depth journalism to return the Inquirer to its former glory and to retain its editor, 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 is 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 H.F. “Gerry” 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.

Officials did not speculate on what they think caused the crash. They said the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate and determine what happened.

Nearby residents recounted seeing a fireball and feeling the blast of the explosion shake their homes.

Jeff Patterson told The Boston Globe he saw a fireball about 60 feet in the air and suspected the worst for those aboard the plane.

“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. Brelis said responders were still on the scene early Sunday morning.

An aviation expert who spoke to New England Cable News said various explanations for the explosion were possible.

“The engine could implode, if you will,” said Steve Cunningham of Nashua Flight Simulator. “A turbine wheel could separate, there could be a fire in the combustion chamber. Or a fuel leak could also create a fire of that nature.”

Hanscom Field is about 20 miles northwest of Boston. It was used by the Army Air Corps and military operations dominated until it became both a military and civilian facility in the 1950s. Massport currently manages it as a regional airport serving mostly corporate aviation, private pilots, commuter air services, and some light cargo.

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