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Philly newspaper owner Lewis Katz among dead in private plane crash

By Kevin Conlon and Josh Levs, CNN
updated 9:01 PM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Philadelphia newspaper and sports mogul Lew Katz among 7 killed in crash Saturday night
  • The Gulfstream jet failed to get airborne; crashed through fence and into a gully
  • Katz was attending an event at the Boston-area home of famed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin

(CNN) -- A prominent Philadelphia businessman and philanthropist was among seven people killed Saturday when their private plane crashed on takeoff in Massachusetts.

Lewis Katz had purchased the parent company of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and CNN affiliate philly.com just days before the crash. He was 72.

"It is with an incomprehensible amount of grief and the heaviest of hearts that my sister and I announce the loss of our beloved dad," Drew Katz said in a statement Sunday. "My father was 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."

NTSB: Jet had post-crash fire

Katz was formerly the principal owner of the NBA's New Jersey Nets and the NHL's New Jersey Devils. He was a shareholder of the Nets, the New York Yankees and the YES Network at the time of his death.

"The New York Yankees are deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Lewis Katz " managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. "Lewis was a minority owner of the Yankees and a valued, long-time friend and colleague to so many of us within the organization. He will forever be remembered."

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called Lewis -- who took the Nets to the franchise's first ever visit to the NBA finals in 2002-2003 -- "a trusted friend and valued member of the NBA family."

"All of us at the NBA were extremely saddened to learn of the tragic, sudden death of former Nets owner Lewis Katz. He was a visionary businessman who touched the lives of so many with his tireless pursuit of innovation and enterprise, as well as his deep commitment to his family, friends and community." Silver said in a statement Sunday.

Katz, who was an attorney in addition to his business ventures, was also a prolific philanthropist.

His alma mater, Temple University, announced that it would rename the medical school in his honor after a $25 million gift in 2013.

Two buildings at Pennsylvania State University -- where Katz went to law school -- also bear his name.

Katz was also active in his native Camden, New Jersey, where he founded two charter schools and supported a number of charities as well as youth, educational, religious and civic causes.

Katz flew to Massachusetts earlier Saturday to attend a fund-raising event at the Boston-area home of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. She said she had dinner with him Saturday evening before he left for his flight back to Atlantic City, New Jersey.

"He was a force of nature," Goodwin said of her friend of 20 years in a statement. "So deep was his commitment to education reform that he flew to Concord to support my son Michael's Concord River institute. Afterward we all went to dinner, where we talked at length about our shared passions for sports and journalism, politics and history. But 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. I have lost a great friend, his family has lost a great father and grandfather, and the country has lost a great man."

Luke Schiada, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said the Gulfstream IV with two pilots, one flight attendant and four passengers attempted to take off at 9:40 p.m. Saturday from Hanscom Field, about 20 miles northwest of Boston.

Only the plane never got airborne, according to Schiada: It crashed through a chain-link fence and went down an embankment before winding up in a gully approximately 2,000 feet from the end of the paved runway surface. He said a "significant post-crash fire" consumed much of the plane.

The NTSB announced Monday that the plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder had been recovered.

Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan identified the plane's pilot as 52-year-old James McDowell of Georgetown, Delaware, the co-pilot as 45-year-old Michael De Vries of Marlton, New Jersey; and the flight attendant as Teresa Benhoff, 48, of Easton, Maryland.

The three passengers traveling with Katz were also identified by Ryan's office Monday as New Jersey residents Susan Asbell, 68, Marcella Dalsey, 59, and Anne Leeds, 74. All three were his close associates, according to philly.com.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told CNN that Katz had invited him to the event and that he would have been on the doomed flight had it not been for a previous commitment. "You feel a loss like this on so many different areas," he said. "We lost one of our best civic leaders (and) our greatest philanthropist."

Rendell also said that he lost his close friend. "Life will never be as much fun without Lewis."

CNN's Allie Malloy, Jill Martin and Morgan Winsor contributed to this report

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