A Massachusetts State Police trooper stands guard at Hanscom Airfield after a fatal crash. Photo: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of a fiery plane crash that killed seven, including Philadelphia media mogul Lewis Katz, when a private jet burst into flames while attempting to take off from a small airfield near Boston Saturday night.
Investigators said the Gulfstream IV burst into flames around 9:40 p.m., though according to a witness account, the plane never became airborne.
Senior NTSB Air Safety Investigator Luke Schiada said at a press conference Sunday afternoon that he did not want to speculate on what caused the fatal crash.
"At this point we're just trying to gather as much factual information as we can," Schiada said.
Investigators know that the plane rolled off the paved runway and onto a patch of grass before striking an antenna and a fence. The fireball went down and embankment and settled in a gully about 2,000 feet from the runway.
"We've lost a great friend," Inquirer editor Bill Marimow said in a statement to the newspaper.
Katz also previously owned the New Jersey Devils and the New Jersey Nets.
Family members told the AP that the wife of a New Jersey borough commissioner is among those killed.
Longport Commissioner James P. Leeds Sr. said his 74-year-old wife, Anne, was on the plane as a guest of Katz. Leeds says he got a text from his wife from the plane at 9:36 p.m., four minutes before the crash.
Media accounts identified the two other passengers Marcella Dalsey and Susan K. Asbell.
The names of the three crew members were still not known.
Schiada said at 3 p.m. that investigators were in the process of extracting the bodies from the wreckage.
At this point, the crash appears accidental. Investigators will comb through the wreckage, interview witnesses, review surveillance video and flight data recorder. They will also examine factors such as weather, and the aircraft systems and structure.
There was no unusual air traffic control communication before the crash, Schiada said.
When asked about the aircraft's safety history, Schiada said investigators "don't know of any previous incidences."
Hanscom Air Field, located in Bedford, Mass. about 20 miles northwest of Boston, is a joint military and civilian facility also used for charter flights.
The group was en route to Atlantic City in New Jersey, Schiada said.
A Massachusetts State Trooper at Hanscom Airfield. Photo: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro
Hanscom Field was closed on Saturday night to remove debris and investigate the crash. One of its runways was open by Sunday afternoon. Investigators are expected to be at the crash site for the next few days, Schiada said.
Witnesses recounted seeing a fireball and feeling the blast of the explosion shake their homes.
Jeff Patterson told The Boston Globe he "saw a fireball about 60 feet in the air and suspected the worst for those aboard the plane."
"I heard a big boom, and I thought at the time that someone was trying to break into my house because it shook it," said Patterson’s son, 14-year-old Jared Patterson. "I thought someone was like banging on the door trying to get in."