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 restore it to its former glory.
His son, Drew, and a business partner confirmed Katz’s death in a crash of a Gulfstream IV private jet, which went down on takeoff Saturday night from Hanscom Field outside Boston on its way to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Katz and others were returning from an event at the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
There were no survivors.
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 proceed.
Katz, 72, invited his next-door neighbor Anne Leeds, a retired preschool teacher, to accompany him to Goodwin’s house to support an education initiative for Goodwin’s son Michael.
James P. Leeds Sr., town commissioner of Longport, New Jersey, said he received a text message from his 74-year-old wife, Anne, just four minutes before the crash saying they were about to take off, he said.
Anne Leeds been invited Saturday by Katz to attend the event, James Leeds said.
The identities of the other victims weren’t immediately released. Nancy Phillips, Katz’s longtime partner and city editor at the Inquirer, was not aboard the plane.
The plane was carrying three crewmembers and four passengers, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said.
Officials gave no information on the cause of the crash, which sent up a fireball and shook nearby homes.
Vowed to Revive Paper
When bidding on the company, Katz and Lenfest vowed to fund in-depth journalism to revive the Inquirer and to retain its 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.”
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. He became a minority investor of the Inquirer in 2012.
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, 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.
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 its staff, close bureaus and scale back its ambitions.
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.
After the event at Goodwin’s house Saturday in Concord, Massachusetts,, the author joined Katz, her friend of nearly 20 years, and others at dinner, where they talked about their shared interests, including journalism, Goodwin said in a statement.
“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.
Hanscom Field is about 20 miles northwest of Boston. The regional airport serves mostly corporate aviation, private pilots and commuter air services.