SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — A Jewish family of five and three members of another Jewish family were among the 10 US citizens and two local crew members who died after their plane crashed in a wooded area in Guanacaste, northwest Costa Rica on Sunday.
Bruce and Irene Steinberg and their sons Matthew, William and Zachary, all of Scarsdale, New York, were identified by relatives as fatalities in the crash.
Leslie and Mitchell Weiss and their daughter Hannah Weiss, of Belleair, Florida, were also identified as victims. The other Americans were identified as Amanda Geissler and Gene Szeto.
Costa Rica’s Public Safety Ministry posted photographs and video of the crash site showing burning wreckage of the plane
“We are in utter shock and disbelief right now,” Bruce Steinberg’s sister, Tamara Steinberg Jacobson, wrote on Facebook. She also confirmed the deaths in an interview with NBC News.
Rabbi Jonathan Blake of the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale said in a statement posted on the Temple’s Facebook page and sent in an email to The AP that the Steinbergs were involved in philanthropy and local Jewish groups. “This tragedy hits our community very hard,” Blake wrote.
Blake said the family had been devoted members of the Temple since 2001 and had been engaged in the wider Jewish community via organizations such as the UJA Federation of New York, the American Jewish Committee and Seeds of Peace.
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Rabbi Jacob Luski, of Congregation B’nai Israel, said the Weisses, both doctors, were active members of the Jewish community.
“They will be sorely missed. It’s a real tragedy for their families and the community at large,” he told the New York Daily News.
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.
But the Cessna plane in which they were traveling crashed several hundred yards from the end of the runway shortly after takeoff from Punta Islita Airport.
Bruce Steinberg worked in investment banking and his wife volunteered at several organizations, the New York Times reported.
Matthew 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.
At a news conference, Enio Cubillo, director of Costa Rica Civil Aviation, said the Nature Air charter flight took off just after noon Sunday from Punta Islita and was headed for the capital of San Jose when it crashed.
Cubillo said the cause was under investigation.
He 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.
Nature Air did not respond to phone and email messages.