Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Nation & World

Belleair residents among 10 Americans killed in Costa Rica plane crash

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — A plane carrying 10 U.S. citizens, including a family from Belleair, crashed in woods, killing all aboard Sunday, Costa Rica’s government said.

The Public Safety Ministry posted photographs and video of the crash site showing burning wreckage of the plane in Guanacaste, northwest Costa Rica.

Mitchell, 52, and Leslie Weiss, 50, Hannah Weiss, 19, and Ari Moses Weiss, 16, were killed in the crash, the New York Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer reported. It was not immediately clear whether they are children of Leslie and Mitchell Weiss. Records show Hannah Weiss sharing their address in Florida of Belleair died in the crash, the Daily News reported. The State Department confirmed their deaths, the newspaper said.

Leslie and Mitchell Weiss left the Philadelphia area around 2005, relocating to Belleair, according to public records. They were both licensed as practicing physicians affiliated with local hospitals and had previously lived in Plymouth Meeting and Lafayette Hill, the Inquirer said.

A family in the suburbs of New York City said five of the dead Americans 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. She also confirmed the deaths in an interview with NBC News.

Rabbi Jonathan Blake of the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale said the Steinbergs were involved in philanthropy and local Jewish groups. "They will be deeply missed," he told the New York Post.

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.

Aviation and security officials in Costa Rica told local news media that the cause of the crash was unknown but that the Nature Air plane encountered inclement weather Sunday when it first tried to land in Punta Islita to pick up the passengers. The plane returned to another airport before it eventually landed in Punta Islita around 11 a.m., the country’s civil aviation director told the newspaper El Mundo.

After the pilots picked up the American passengers, the plane took off for San José, the capital, which is about 140 miles east, the authorities said. Photos posted by government officials on Facebook show that the Cessna crashed several hundred yards from the end of a runway at Punta Islita Airport.

Laura Chinchilla, president of Costa Rica from 2010 to 2014, said on Twitter that her cousin was one of the crew members killed in the crash.

Costa Rica, particularly its pristine beaches and mountains on the Pacific coast, is popular with North American and European tourists. More tourists visit Costa Rica from America than any other country. Eco-tourism is a major draw, and Nature Air bills itself as the first carbon-neutral airline in the world.

In September, an American and another passenger on a Nature Air flight died when a single-engine Cessna crashed in a river in Guanacaste. Another American on the flight was injured.

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