Two U.S. Jewish Families Killed in Costa Rica Plane Crash

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Bruce and Irene Steinberg and their sons Matthew, William and Zachary.
Bruce and Irene Steinberg and their sons Matthew, William and Zachary.Credit: Irene Steinberg's Facebook page

Members of two Jewish families from New York and from Florida were among 12 people killed in a plane crash in a wooden area in Costa Rica on Sunday.

>>Community leaders mourn loss of two Jewish-American families in Costa Rica plane crash

New York Jewish family among 12 killed in Costa Rica plane crash

A plane carrying 10 U.S. citizens and two local crewmembers crashed in Guanacaste, northwest Costa Rica, 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.

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 .

Smoke rises from wreckage after a plane crashed in the mountainous area of Punta Islita in Costa Rica, December 31, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media.Credit: SOCIAL MEDIA/REUTERS
Fire at the site where a plane crashed in Costa Rica, on December 31, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media.Credit: SOCIAL MEDIA/REUTERS

The Steinbergs were active members of the Jewish community. Irene Ginsberg Steinberg, 51, was among the organizers of the 2017 annual UJA Federation of New York women’s fundraising event in Scarsdale. Originally from Potomac, Maryland, she was also a member of the board of directors of the American Jewish Committee in Westchester County.

She and her husband, Bruce Steinberg, 50, donated thousands of dollars over the past two years to Seeds of Peace, a U.S.-based peace-building and leadership development organization that fosters encounters between young Israelis and Palestinians. 

William Steinberg, 18, their middle son, was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. He had been active in Seeds of Peace, and according to a Facebook post written by his aunt, the organization had inspired him to think about pursuing a political career.

Fire at the site where a plane crashed in Costa Rica, December 31, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Credit: SOCIAL MEDIA/REUTERS

Zachary Steinberg, 19, their oldest son, was a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University.

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 e-mail to The AP that the Steinbergs were involved in philanthropy and local Jewish groups. "This tragedy hits our community very hard," Blake wrote. He said he would keep the congregation informed about any details regarding a memorial service.

Scott Richman, Director of American Jewish Committee Westchester/Fairfield Regional Office, said: “The entire AJC family mourns the loss of Irene Steinberg and her beautiful family. She was a devoted leader to Jewish causes and served on AJC Westchester/Fairfield’s Board of Directors for more than a decade. She was particularly concerned about passing on this love of the Jewish people to the next generation. As an active member of the College Campus Committee, she was a key leader in AJC's new Leaders for Tomorrow program inaugurated this fall in our region.  Her success shown through her son William who interned at our office this past spring.  We are deeply saddened by this immense tragedy.”

Another Jewish couple, both doctors from Florida, and their daughter, were also among the 10 Americans killed in the crash. Originally from the Phildelphia area, Mitchell Weiss and Leslie Levin Weiss had relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida, about 12 years ago.

Hannah Mae Weiss, 19, was active for many years in the Conservative movement. She was most recently a joint student at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the movement. Two years ago, she was appointed vice president for social action and Tikkun Olam at its youth movement, United Synagogue Youth. Both Hannah and her younger brother had attended Ramah Darom in Georgia, which is part of a network of overnight camps run by the Conservative movement in North America. As a college student, she continued to intern for USY as well as for Hazon, an organization devoted to creating a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community.

“We in the Conservative movement are absolutely devastated,” Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive director of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, told Haaretz.

Wreck had served for the past few years as one of Hannah’s mentors.

 “Social action and Tikkun Olam were her essence,” he said. "I feel that we have lost one of the 36 righteous souls for whom God preserves the world. She was smart, she was sensitive, and she was caring. She was well-known and well-loved. She was really the best.”

Wernick said that news of her death broke just as a group of Camp Ramah alumni, many of them friends of hers, were celebrating the New Year at a reunion party.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 16-year-old Ari Moses Weiss was also among the dead.

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.