Billionaire heir Dr. Richard Rockefeller died Friday morning after the single-engine plane he was piloting crashed after takeoff from Westchester County Airport. He had just come from celebrating his father, billionaire philanthropist David Rockefeller’s 99th birthday.
Rockefeller, 64, was headed to his Falmouth, Maine home when he departed the airport in foggy conditions and low visibility. John Starace, the manager of operations at the airport, said the plane left shortly after 8 a.m. Ten minutes later, it hit a line of trees and went down less than a mile away. “We had about a quarter-mile of visibility and fog,” Starace said.
The crash is a shock to the family, Fraser Seitel, a spokesman for the family, said. “It’s a terrible tragedy,” said “Richard was a wonderful and cherished member of the family. He was an experienced pilot. He was a medical doctor, and it’s horribly sad.”
Born on Jan. 20, 1949, Richard G. Rockefeller was a great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the millionaire who, in 1870, co-founded Standard Oil, building his fortune before turning before becoming a philanthropist. He was the former chairman of Rockefeller Brothers Fund Inc., a charity founded by the family in 1940.
He was the founder and president of the Health Commons Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving American medicine. He was also chairman of the Doctors Without Borders U.S. advisory board from 1989 to 2010, remaining an active member after leaving the position. Before dying in the plane crash, Rockefeller began working with veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder. From 1982 to 2000 he taught and practiced medicine in Portland, Maine according his biography on the Rockefeller Brothers Fund website.
Rockefeller demonstrated his fiscally responsible character. He was one of more than 20 wealthy people who backed George Soros and Warren Buffett in 2012 suggested that Congress increase the estate tax, saying the increase would help reduce the U.S. deficit and “fund vital services.”
His father David is the family’s patriarch as the oldest member of the famous family. He is also the last remaining grandchild of John D. Rockeller. He currently listed among the world’s richest people, with a net worth of about $3 billion.
The Federal Aviation Administration, and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. According to FAA information, the single-engine Piper PA-46-500TP Meridian turboprop Rockefeller was flying was a high-performance aircraft built in 2001. He was certified to fly in poor visibility and flew for several years.
Piper Aircraft Inc.’s website describes the plane as being turbine engine-powered, which cost more than a piston engine but was also more reliable. Most private planes use piston engines. It also had a pressurized cabin, providing a ceiling height of 30,000-feet. It had a 1,150-mile flying range top cruising speed of 554 miles per hour. According to the company, Current models of the plane list for $2.2 million.
Before his death in the tragic plane crash, Rockefeller continued his family’s philanthropic legacy through his medical work and his involvement in nonprofit organizations. The Rockefeller family has not yet announced plans for funeral arrangements.
By Brandi M. Fleeks