American families die in Costa Rica plane crash
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Costa Rican investigators are looking into what caused a charter aircraft to crash in woods in the country’s northwest soon after takeoff, killing two crew members and 10 U.S. citizens, including families from New York and Florida.
The families from Scarsdale, New York, and Belleair, Florida, accounted for nine of the dead. It remained unclear who the 10th victim was.
Costa Rican officials had said they were still seeking to establish the names of the Americans who died when the Nature Air plane went down at midday Sunday in Guanacaste.
But back at home, stunned family and friends began to confirm the victims’ identities.
A family in the suburbs of New York City said five of the dead were relatives on vacation. They identified them as Bruce and Irene Steinberg and their sons Matthew, William and Zachary, all of Scarsdale.
“We are in utter shock and disbelief right now,” Bruce Steinberg’s sister, Tamara Steinberg Jacobson, wrote on Facebook.
Rabbi Jonathan Blake of the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale said in a statement posted on the temple’s Facebook page and emailed to The Associated Press that the Steinbergs were involved in philanthropy and local Jewish groups. “This tragedy hits our community very hard,” Blake wrote.
In St. Petersburg, Florida, Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B’nai Israel said Monday that victims’ relatives had informed him that four members of his congregation were also on the plane.
“It is a tragedy that the Drs. Mitchell Weiss and Leslie Weiss and their two children, Hannah and Ari, died in that terrible crash,” he said. “They were a wonderful family who will be missed.”
At a news conference Sunday, Enio Cubillo, director of Costa Rica Civil Aviation, said the Nature Air charter crashed shortly after taking off just after noon Sunday from Punta Islita on a planned flight to the capital of San Jose. He said investigators were looking into possible causes.
Cubillo identified the pilot as Juan Manuel Retana and described him as very experienced. Former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said via Twitter that Retana was her cousin.
The same plane had arrived in Punta Islita on Sunday morning from San Jose and was delayed in landing by strong winds, Cubillo said.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera offered his condolences to the families of the victims via Twitter and said the cause of the crash would be investigated.
Forensic workers recovered the bodies from the wooded site Sunday night. Local fire chief Jhony Garcia said the plane’s wreckage was completely burned up.
Nature Air did not respond to phone and email messages.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long in New York, Jennifer Kay in Miami Beach, Florida and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.