BEDFORD, Mass. — An airport employee watched as the Gulfstream jet raced past the end of a runway, plunged down an embankment and erupted in flames.
The witness account of the Saturday night crash that killed all seven people aboard, including Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz, provided some of the first clues as investigators began piecing together what went wrong during the attempted takeoff from a runway surrounded by woods outside Boston.
Luke Schiada, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator, said Sunday they were looking for the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder and would review the pilots’ experience and the aircraft’s maintenance history. He said investigators also are looking for surveillance video that may have captured the crash at Hanscom Field.
“We’re at the very beginning of the investigation,” Schiada said.
The plane was carrying four passengers, two pilots and a cabin attendant, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Katz was returning to New Jersey from a gathering at the home of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Also killed was a next-door neighbor of Katz’s, Anne Leeds, a 74-year-old retired preschool teacher he had invited to accompany him, and Marcella Dalsey, the director of Katz’s son’s foundation. A fourth person, Susan K. Asbell, 68, was identified in media reports Sunday night as having been among those who died. She was the wife of former Camden County, New Jersey, prosecutor Sam Asbell.
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.
Katz, 72, made his fortune investing in parking lots and the New York Yankees’ cable network. He once owned the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and in 2012 became a minority investor in the Inquirer.
Less than a week before the crash, 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. Lenfest said Sunday that the deal will be delayed but will still go through. Katz’s son, Drew, will take his father’s seat on the board of directors, Lenfest said.
When bidding on the company, Katz and Lenfest vowed to fund in-depth journalism and retain the Inquirer’s editor, Bill Marimow.
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. The dispute was settled when Katz and Lenfest, a cable magnate-turned-philanthropist, bought out their partners.
The event at Goodwin’s home in Concord, Massachusetts, was held to support an education initiative by Goodwin’s son. Afterward, Katz, Goodwin’s friend of nearly 20 years, joined the author and others at dinner, where they talked about their shared interests, including journalism, Goodwin said.
“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,” she said in a statement.
Leeds’ husband, James P. Leeds Sr., town commissioner of Longport, New Jersey, said he received a text message from his wife four minutes before the crash saying they were about to take off.
Dalsey’s daughter, Chelsea Dalsey, said her mother also was on the plane, but declined to comment further. Marcella Dalsey was also president of KATZ Academy Charter school, which she founded with Lewis Katz, and is the former owner of an ice cream shop in Haddonfield, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia.
Schiada said the airport employee who saw the crash reported the jet never left the ground. It came to rest 2,000 feet from the end of the paved runway. He said the location of the burned and mangled wreckage, in a gully filled with water, complicated the initial examination and the recovery effort.
State police troopers and divers were among those searching for items from the wreckage Sunday night.
Hanscom Field is about 20 miles northwest of Boston. The regional airport serves mostly corporate aviation, private pilots and commuter air services.