Richard Rockefeller Dies in Plane Crash Outside NYC

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, flew his single-engine Piper Meridian turboprop from the airport shortly after 8 a.m. today in fog. The aircraft came down less than a mile away, striking trees and missing a home by about 20 feet (six meters), police and airport officials said. U.S. safety agencies are investigating.

“The plane was broken into pieces, and some pieces were lodged in pine trees,” Anthony Marraccini, police chief of Harrison, New York, said in an interview. “Some of the main fuselage remained intact.”

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 yesterday at a dinner, said Fraser Seitel, a family spokesman. An experienced pilot, he flew yesterday to the Westchester County airport in White Plains, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of New York City.

Marraccini declined to comment on a possible cause of the crash, which threw Rockefeller from the cockpit. The airport alerted police that the plane vanished from radar at 8:08 a.m., and the homeowner reported the wreckage in her backyard seven minutes later, the chief said. There was no fire, he said.

High Performance

Rockfeller’s Piper PA-46-500TP Meridian is considered a high-performance aircraft and was built in 2001, according to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration data. His pilot ratings included certification to fly on instruments in poor visibility, according to the FAA.

Visibility and the cloud ceiling were “very low” when Rockefeller took off, said John Starace, Westchester County airport operations manager. Seitel, the family spokesman, said Rockefeller was flying home to Falmouth, Maine, when the crash occurred.

“The family is in shock,” Seitel said in an 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.

Rockefeller Background

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 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, and worked as a field doctor in Peru and Nigeria. He served on the board of Rockefeller University in New York until 2006.

‘So Committed’

“Richard was so committed to the principles of Doctors Without Borders -- the belief that everyone had the right to access medical care,” Victoria Bjorklund, a founding volunteer, said in a statement. “He was absolutely critical in sharing those principles with a wide array of supporters at a time when the organization was not well known in the U.S. He will be sorely missed.”

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.

Buffett’s Initiative

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 FAA 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 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 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 aircraft registered to Rockefeller was flown into the airport at least 10 times since mid-February, according to data from, a flight tracking website. The facility sits on a 702-acre site and has two runways. Flight operations there totaled 150,998 in 2013.

There have been 36 accidents involving aircraft within three miles of Westchester County Airport since 1982, according to U.S. National Transportation Safety Board data. Nine of those crashes involved fatalities, with 18 deaths.

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