Costa Rican investigators said Monday that strong winds or mechanical problems most likely caused a charter aircraft to crash in woods in the province of Guanacaste on Sunday, killing two crew members and 10 US citizens, including two Jewish families from New York and Florida.
The families, from the New York City suburb of Scarsdale and from Belleair, Florida, accounted for nine of the dead. They were on a tour organized by Berkeley, California-based Backroads, and their American guide was the 10th US victim.
The Scarsdale family was identified as Bruce and Irene Steinberg and their sons Matthew, William and Zachary.
Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Petersburg, Florida, told The Times of Israel that members of the Weisses’ extended family had notified him that Mitchell and Leslie Levin Weiss, along with their daughter Hannah and son Ari, were all killed in the crash.
“The family joined our congregation a long time ago and were actively involved,” Luski said. “This is a terrible tragedy and devastating loss to their families, the CBI family, and the larger Pinellas County community.”
The Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, where both Weiss parents practiced, mourned the loss on Monday.
“We were deeply grieved this morning to learn of the deaths of two beloved members of our team — Drs. Mitchell and Leslie Weiss,” Kris Hoce, president of Morton Plant Hospital, said in a statement Monday. “Their lives and medical skills have touched so many in and around our community, and we are forever grateful to them. Our sympathies go out to their extended family and many friends who are also trying to process this tragic news.”
The hospital said Mitchell Weiss was a vascular and interventional radiologist and Leslie Weiss was a pediatrician.
Nineteen-year-old Hannah, their daughter, was earning a joint degree at Columbia University and List College, the undergraduate school of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz, dean of graduate and undergraduate studies at JTS, Conservative Judaism’s flagship educational institution, called Hannah Weiss “a rising star in our community.”
“She was driven by a real sense of social justice,” she said.
As a high school student, Weiss exhibited leadership abilities as the social action and tikkun olam vice president on the international board of the USY Conservative Jewish youth group.
Rabbi Dave Levy, former director of teen learning for the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, cited Weiss’s talents for leading and empowering others, and characterized her as “wise beyond her years.”
“Hannah was smart, compassionate and passionate about making the world better through tikkun olam,” USCJ CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick said.
Schwartz said that with JTS students and staff off on winter break and a lack of definitive information, the news was trickling out mainly over social media.
“I expect we will grieve together when everyone is back on campus, around the shloshim (the end of the initial month-long Jewish mourning period),” she said.
Tributes to Weiss have been posted to her Facebook page by friends and classmates. Meanwhile, younger teens who knew her and her brother Ari from Ramah Darom and USY gathered for a sleepover Sunday night to recite Psalms and mourn.
“By the time we left at 2 a.m., the wailing and sobbing had almost subsided,” said an educator who was there.
The Steinbergs were flying to the Costa Rican capital from the Pacific coast on the last leg of their vacation, The New York Times reported. Bruce Steinberg worked in investment banking and his wife volunteered at several organizations.
Matthew Steinberg was in eighth grade at a private school, William was studying at the University of Pennsylvania, and Zachary was a student at John Hopkins University, the paper quoted a friend of Irene Steinberg, Lyn Kaller, as saying.
Kaller said Bruce and Irene Steinberg were eager to expose their sons to cultures all over the world, and had traveled to Asia with them last year.
Rabbi Jonathan Blake of the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale said that the Steinbergs were involved in philanthropy and local Jewish groups. “This tragedy hits our community very hard,” Blake wrote in a statement posted on the temple’s Facebook page.
“We are in utter shock and disbelief right now,” Bruce Steinberg’s sister Tamara Steinberg Jacobson wrote on Facebook.