BEDFORD -- An investigation into what caused a private jet taking off from Hanscom Field to crash and burst into flames Saturday night, leaving no survivors, is now being led by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Ed Freni, director of aviation for Massport, told reporters at a briefing Sunday, the NTSB would work to gather initial information in this case. The bodies of the seven dead in the incident would remain inside the wreckage until then, Freni said.
The Gulfstream IV plane crashed as it was leaving Hanscom Field about 9:40 p.m. Saturday for Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey. Officials would not speculate on what they think caused the crash. Freni added Hanscom Field would remain closed until NTSB says otherwise.
Three of seven people on the plane have been identified as Lewis Katz, 72, co-owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Daily News and Philly.com as well as retired preschool teacher and next-door neighbor of Katz's, Anne Leeds, 74, and Marcella Dalsey, a mother of four and the executive director of a Katz family charitable foundation. Three of the seven killed in the incident were crew members of the flight, including two pilots and a cabin attendant. Leeds, of Longport, N.J., was invited to travel to Atlantic City by Katz last-minute, according to family. Both she and Katz attended an educational fundraiser Saturday afternoon in the Concord home of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
In the wake of the fatal crash, environmental concerns arose earlier Sunday as jet fuel leaked from the site of the crash. Freni confirmed in a press conference those concerns had since subsided and hazardous materials was cleaned up. Bedford Town Manager Richard T. Reed, Police Chief Robert Bongiorno and Fire Chief David Grunes added there was no threat to the town's water supply Sunday. The Department of Public Works continued to monitor the situation closely throughout the day though officials said Sunday there appeared to be no contamination.
Officials were in the Shawsheen River near the air force base Sunday morning setting up booms in the water. A press release from John Guilfoil Public Relations reported residents may notice residual firefighting foam appearing on the banks of the river. Clean Harbors was on site with the department of public works monitoring the foam and any fuel that may have spilled into the river or seeped into the groundwater.
In an afternoon press conference, Luke Schiada, senior investigations officer with the NTSB told reporters tire marks from the plane extended about 2,000 feet from the paved surface of the runway. The plane struck a chain-link fence and an antenna before it came to rest inside a water-filled gully, making initial recovery difficult.
"We understand from a witness it never became airborne," Schiada said.
The plane arrived from Atlantic City at 3:30 p.m., with the crew remaining with the aircraft during its time at Hanscom.
Hanscom Field Director Sharon Williams said Saturday there are several entities involved in the fatal plane crash investigation. Area fire departments assisted in responding to the incident Saturday night and currently, officials are working with the FBI, the Transportation Safety Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Nearby residents recounted seeing a fireball and feeling the blast of the explosion shake their homes Saturday night. 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."
An aviation expert said various explanations for the explosion are possible.
"The engine could implode, if you will," said Steve Cunningham, of Nashua Flight Simulator. "A turbine wheel could separate, there could be a fire in the combustion chamber. Or a fuel leak could also create a fire of that nature."
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Sunday he was invited on the trip by Katz, but he had another commitment. He had flown with Katz about two dozen times since leaving office in 2011, including a recent trip to Los Angeles.
"The reason I'm mystified is those pilots maintained the plane like it was their life and death," Rendell said. Hanscom Field was used by the Army Air Corps and military operations dominated until it became both a military and civilian facility in the 1950s. Massport currently manages it as a regional airport serving mostly corporate aviation, private pilots, commuter air services, and some light cargo.
Officials said they will likely release more information in this case later this afternoon.
Drew Katz, the 42-year-old son of victim Lewis Katz, released a statement Sunday saying his father was his "best friend," according to Philly.com.
"He taught me everything," he said. "He never forgot where and how he grew up and he worked tirelessly to support his community in countless ways that were seen and unseen."
On Tuesday, Katz and Harold H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest struck a deal to gain full control of The Inquirer as well as The Daily News and Philly.com by buying out their co-owners for $88 million - an agreement that ended a very public feud over the Inquirer's business and journalism direction.
Katz and Leeds were among the 200 or so guests at the home of Goodwin Saturday afternoon. The event was to support an education initiative for Goodwin's son Michael. Afterward, the Concord author joined Katz, her friend of nearly 20 years, and others at dinner, where they talked about their shared interests, including journalism, Goodwin said in a statement.
This is a developing story. Follow reporter Samantha Allen on Twitter @SAllen_89 for live updates and check back with www.lowellsun.com.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.