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Costa Rica Plane Crash Kills Pinellas County Family of Four

Jan 1, 2018

A plane carrying families from Tampa Bay and New York crashed in a wooded area of San Jose, Costa Rica, killing all 12 aboard Sunday, government officials said.

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

Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B'nai Israel in St. Petersburg said on Monday that relatives had informed him of the deaths of Pinellas County physicians Mitchell and Leslie Weiss and their two children, 19-year-old Hannah and 16-year-old Ari.

The family lived in Belleair but had many connections in St. Petersburg, especially in the Jewish religious community. Hannah Weiss, a student at Columbia University, had been a leader in the United Synagogue Youth, a national group of Conservative Jewish teens across North America. Ari, who attended Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, was serving as the local chapter president of the organization.

Mitchell Weiss, a radiologist, practiced with Radiology Associates of Clearwater. Leslie Weiss, who Luski said was an active member of Congregation B’Nai Israel, was a pediatrician.

Both had practiced at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater for over a decade. Hospital President Kris Hoce said in a statement that "their lives and medical skills have touched so many," and their colleagues were grieving Monday.

In addition to the Weiss family, 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 in a statement posted on the Temple's Facebook page and sent in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the Steinbergs were involved in philanthropy and local Jewish groups. "This tragedy hits our community very hard," Blake wrote.

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. A second crew member from the area also died in the crash.

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.