On Thursday, Rockefeller had dinner with his father David at the family's Westchester estate to celebrate the philanthropist's 99th birthday. The following day, piloting his private Piper Meridian single-engine turboprop, Rockefeller crashed into trees near the Westchester County Airport at 8:08 a.m., shortly after takeoff. Bad weather and a low cloud ceiling are believed to have contributed to the accident.
"It's a terrible tragedy," said family spokesman Fraser Seitel confirming the death.
"The family is in shock. Richard was a wonderful and cherished member of the family. He was an experienced pilot. He was a medical doctor, and it's horribly sad."
Rockefeller worked as a family physician in Falmouth, Mass. until 2000, served as president of the nonprofit Health Commons Institute and as chairman of the U.S. Advisory Board of Doctors Without Borders.
He is survived by his wife, Nancy, and two grown children.