Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner and media mogul Lewis Katz died Saturday night when a small business jet plane crashed and caught fire just after takeoff from a Boston-area airfield. Six other victims have yet to be named. There were no survivors.
Katz and his business partner, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest put together a business deal to take control of Interstate General Media Holdings LLC, which owns the Inquirer, among other publications and web properties, for $88 million earlier this week. The preceding legal battle between Katz and Lenfest and their rivals, a group of owners led by George Norcross, began with the firing of top editor Bill Marimow in October of last year by Inquirer publisher Robert Hall. The validity of the termination was hugely debated among the owners, with Katz and Lenfest claiming Hall overstepped his bounds while Norcross’ group felt the move to be within Hall’s authority.
A public relations war raged between the two sides as well. Lenfest objected, citing the owners’ management agreement and editorial non-interference pact, when Norcross involved himself in newsroom issues and gave the editors his vision for changes that included shrinking opinion pieces. Norcross fired back by accusing Lenfest of violating the exact same clause.
Marimow was reinstated by a judge, but the spat between the two sides of ownership continued. Another judge ordered that the ownership group dissolve and the company be put up for auction, and Katz and Lenfest came out of the auction successful as co-owners of the company. Some view the breaking of ties with Norcross on a positive note, as his involvement in New Jersey politics and his position as board of trustees chairman for the Cooper Health System and Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NJ—and as a prominent insurance industry executive—could create major conflicts of interest for the media outlets.
Katz’s son, Drew, will replace him on the board of directors for the Philadelphia Inquirer, according to Lenfest, who addressed the future effects of the media mogul’s death in a statement to the Inquirer about the plane crash.
The plane, a Gulfstream IV, went down just before 10 o’clock on Saturday night as it left Hanscom Field. The Massachussetts Port Authority operates the field.
The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Witnesses described hearing an explosion and seeing a “fireball,” though there has been no conjecture from officials yet as to what could have caused the crash. One aviation expert told a news reporter that there could be a variety of potential explanations, including an engine implosion, a separated turbine wheel, a fuel leak, or a fire in the combustion chamber.
Katz was more than just co-owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He made his fortune in banking, real estate, and a parking empire, and he bought and sold sports teams. Hailing from Camden, NJ, Katz was the owner of the New Jersey Nets in 2002 and 2003 when they won the Eastern Conference Championship, and also once owned the New Jersey Red Devils. Katz attended Temple University, where there is a building named after him due to his donations to the school.
Hanscom Field was once used by the Army Air Corps until the 1950s, when civilians began using the airfield as well. The plane was bound for Atlantic City, but never made it out of the airfield before crashing and causing the deaths of media mogul and Philadelphia Inquirer owner Katz and six others.
By Christina Jones