Lewis Katz's jet reached takeoff speed, but failed to leave ground

Site of the plane crash at Hanscom Field, Mass., that killed Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz and six others. National Transportation Safety Board investigators on Monday recovered the crucial flight recording devices from the wreckage.
Site of the plane crash at Hanscom Field, Mass., that killed Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz and six others. National Transportation Safety Board investigators on Monday recovered the crucial flight recording devices from the wreckage. (DAVID L. RYAN / Boston Globe)
Posted: June 04, 2014

BEDFORD, Mass. - Federal investigators on Tuesday said that black box recorders show that the doomed private jet that carried Lewis Katz and six others reached takeoff speed, but never left the ground, and that pilots were applying brakes and thrust reversers, apparently attempting to stop the plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced that it had recovered cockpit voice and flight data recordings that could show what went wrong with Saturday's flight, and that its findings were preliminary.

Analysis of the recorders showed the Gulfstream IV reached a maximum speed of 190 mph, and never lifted off the runway. Investigators in the NTSB's Washington labs will focus on a 49-second voice recording, that began when the craft started its takeoff.

At 9:40 p.m. Saturday, the plane was headed to Atlantic City International Airport following a day during which Katz and three friends attended an education fund-raising event in Concord at the home of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and her husband, Richard Goodwin, an adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

In 911 calls released Monday, neighbors described a loud explosion and towering column of smoke. One caller Saturday night said it looked like "an atomic bomb went off" and described "a mushroom cloud" of smoke and fire.

Among Katz's traveling companions was Anne B. Leeds, 74, a retired schoolteacher and a neighbor of Katz's in Longport, N.J. Katz had invited Leeds, a mother and grandmother, at the last minute when the two met on the beach Saturday.

Also on the plane was Marcella M. Dalsey, 59, executive director of the Drew A. Katz Foundation - named after Katz's son - and president of the KATZ Academy Charter School, which she cofounded with Lewis Katz in 2012. Dalsey was the mother of four grown children.

Susan K. Asbell, 68, of Cherry Hill, was Katz's third guest. A mother of two and wife of former Camden County Prosecutor Sam Asbell, Mrs. Asbell was a member of the planning committee of the Boys and Girls Club of Camden County, an organization close to Katz's heart.

The district attorney for Middlesex County released the names of two of the plane's crew: James McDowell, 51, of Georgetown, Del., the pilot; and Teresa Ann Benhoff, 48, of Easton, Md., a flight attendant.

The copilot was Bauke "Mike" de Vries, 45, of Marlton, his wife, Shelly, confirmed. She said the crew had flown Katz for more than a decade.

Katz, who was 72, made his fortune investing in parking lots, billboards, 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 co-owner in the company that owns The Inquirer, Daily News, and philly.com.

Four days before the crash, Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest outbid their partners, at $88 million, to gain sole control of the company.

On Monday afternoon, during an NTSB-led tour of the crash scene at Hanscom Field, reporters saw what little was left of the jet. The cockpit was somewhat intact. Both wings lay in the water, visible, but broken into pieces. An acrid smell of fuel still hung in the air.

Beyond the charred wreckage, back toward the now-empty runway, lay pieces of the plane: a wheel here, a door there, a bent and twisted metal bar in another spot.

Later on Monday, NTSB officials cautioned at a news conference that they were just beginning their investigation.

In the 15-minute briefing, investigator Luke Schiada was careful not to speculate or answer any questions on possible causes for the crash, saying repeatedly that he was "just documenting facts" about what was known thus far. He reiterated that he saw no indications that the crash was caused by anything other than an accident.

Schiada said investigators had gathered both aircraft maintenance records and would soon obtain flight crew training records, all of which would be reviewed carefully.

He noted that in February, the plane's captain had reported having logged 18,500 hours of flight experience, and in April, the aircraft's first officer had listed 11,200 hours.

The plane itself had flown for 4,950 hours over its 14-year-life. It was owned since 2007 by SK Travel, a limited-liability company formed in North Carolina. Lewis Katz is listed in online corporate records as one of its two principals, with Emil W. Solimine of Livingston, N.J.

He said there was no trace of hydraulic fuel on the runway, which could suggest no leak contributed to the crash. "As we continue the investigation," he said, "we will gather factual information about the crew, their background, experience, medical certifications," and other information.

At the same time, Schiada, the NTSB's lead investigator on the case, said that there were several videos taken of the crash, but that he had not yet seen one that showed the entire sequence.

Witnesses and officials have reported that the plane rolled off the runway and onto the grass before striking an antenna and a fence, coming to rest in a gully as it burst into flames.

About 15 investigators are participating at Hanscom. They come from the NTSB; the Federal Aviation Administration; Gulfstream Aerospace, which made the plane; Rolls-Royce Engines; and representatives from the U.K. Accidents Investigation Branch.

The flight recorders, charred on the outside, will be sent Tuesday morning to an NTSB laboratory in Washington, said board spokesman Peter Knudson.

In Longport, meanwhile, where Katz spent most of his last day before boarding the plane from Atlantic City, people recalled seeing him, walking with him, saying hello to him - a regular occurrence in a place he'd been visiting for three decades and where his donations created playgrounds and turned vacant lots into manicured gardens.

Joe DiLorenzo was coming from a yoga class Saturday morning when he saw Katz on Atlantic Avenue near 36th Avenue where Katz owns his homes. He said that he pulled over to say hello and that Katz invited him for a walk.

That walk lasted nearly two hours for the friends since Camden days, and covered Katz's usual range of topics, including politics, sports, and the Shore.

The two friends stopped at local breakfast place, Ozzie's, where Katz ordered a bowl of Raisin Bran. Instead, the waitress brought him two slices of raisin bread and a glass of milk.

Katz joked with her, ordered a third slice of raisin bread, and left a $20 tip, DiLorenzo said, so she wouldn't feel bad.

DiLorenzo said the entire borough was in shock and mourning. "I don't think I ever remember the town standing still, but it did yesterday."

Katz "was the kind of guy you were afraid to tell what anyone needed," he said, "because he'd have it for them tomorrow."


Services Set

Services are being planned for Lewis Katz and the three other passengers who perished when his private jet crashed during takeoff Saturday night outside Boston.

A memorial service for Katz will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Temple University's Performing Arts Center, 1837 N. Broad St. Katz, Class of '63, was a member of the board of trustees and a major donor. The funeral and interment, scheduled for Tuesday, are private.

A funeral service for Susan K. Asbell will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Platt Memorial Chapels, 2001 Haddonfield-Berlin Rd., Cherry Hill. Interment will follow at Crescent Memorial Park, Route 130 at Union Avenue in Pennsauken.

A viewing for Anne B. Leeds will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at Holy Trinity Parish, Church of the Epiphany, 29th and Ventnor Avenues in Longport. Interment is private.

A memorial service is being planned for Marcella M. Dalsey and Katz on Saturday at KATZ Academy Charter School, 1725 Park Blvd., Camden, where she served as president. The time had not been set.


Inquirer staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg contributed to this article, which also contains information from the Associated Press.

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