Richard Rockefeller, a son of philanthropist David Rockefeller Sr. and former chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Inc., died when his plane crashed after takeoff from the Westchester County, New York, airport.
Rockefeller, 65, was flying home to Falmouth, Maine, said Fraser Seitel, a spokesman for the Rockefeller family. The single-engine Piper PA-46-500TP Meridian turboprop departed shortly after 8 a.m. Friday in fog and went down less than a mile away, said John Starace, the airport operations manager.
“Visibility and the cloud ceiling were very low,” Starace said in a telephone interview. “We had about a quarter mile of visibility and fog.”
Richard Rockefeller was a great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, who amassed a fortune after co-founding Standard Oil Co. in 1870 and later focused on charitable giving. Richard Rockefeller celebrated his father’s 99th birthday at a dinner yesterday, Seitel said. An experienced pilot, he flew the plane to the Westchester County airport in White Plains yesterday.
The Meridian is considered a high-performance aircraft, and Rockefeller’s plane was built in 2001, according to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration data. Rockefeller’s pilot ratings included certification to fly on instruments in poor visibility, according to the FAA.
The FAA and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board are investigating. Starace, the airport operations manager, said the Meridian got airborne, then struck trees on residential property and crashed. No one was hurt on the ground, and no structures were hit, Starace said.
“The family is in shock,” Seitel said in a telephone interview. “It’s a terrible tragedy. Richard was a wonderful and cherished member of the family, a son, brother, husband, father and grandfather.”
Richard Gilder Rockefeller was born on Jan. 20, 1949, in New York City, to David Rockefeller and the former Margaret McGrath, according to Marquis Who’s Who. He had one brother, David, and four sisters, Abby, Neva, Margaret and Eileen.
Survivors include his wife, Nancy; two children, Clayton and Rebecca; stepsons Maxwell and Griffin; and three grandchildren, Seitel said.
Rockefeller graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1979 and completed his residency in family medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in 1982, according to the their websites.
Richard Rockefeller practiced and taught medicine in Portland, Maine, from 1982 until 2000, according to a biography on the website of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, where he was an advisory trustee. His recent endeavors included working with veterans on treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, Seitel said.
From 1989 to 2010, he was chairman of the U.S. advisory board of Doctors Without Borders, a group that provides medical care to people affected by conflicts, epidemics and disasters. He served on the board of Rockefeller University in New York until 2006.
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is a philanthropic foundation begun in 1940 by the sons of John D. Rockefeller Jr. Richard Rockefeller also was a past president of the Rockefeller Family Fund.
The Rockefellers were once the nation’s wealthiest family. Today, David Rockefeller Sr. ranks 193rd on the Forbes list of richest Americans, with an estimated worth of $2.8 billion, and is the world’s oldest billionaire.
Richard Rockefeller was among more than 20 wealthy individuals who joined billionaire investors Warren Buffett and George Soros in urging Congress in 2012 to increase the estate tax, saying the boost would help cut the U.S. deficit and “fund vital services.” Congress later raised the top rate while increasing the per-person exemption.
Rockefeller’s plane was powered by a turbine engine, a step up in cost and reliability from the piston engines used on most private planes, according to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration data.
The Meridian also has a pressurized cabin, giving it a ceiling of 30,000 feet (9,100 meters), and has a range of 1,150 miles (1,850 kilometers) and a top cruising speed of 260 knots (482 kilometers per hour), according to Piper Aircraft Inc.’s website. Current versions of the Meridian list for $2.2 million, according to the company.
Westchester County airport, about 30 miles north of New York City, is served by major carriers including American, Delta, JetBlue and United airlines. About 75 percent of flights there are classified as general aviation, ranging in size from single-engine, two-seat planes to corporate jets.
The airport sits on a 702-acre site and has two runways. Flight operations totaled 150,998 in 2013.
There have been 36 accidents involving aircraft within three miles of Westchester County Airport since 1982, according to NTSB data. Nine of those crashes involved fatalities, with 18 deaths.