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Americans Killed in Costa Rica Plane Crash

Investigators are looking into what caused a fatal plane crash in Costa Rica that killed 10 Americans and two crewmembers shortly after takeoff. The victims were onboard a Nature Air flight that crashed in Nandayure, Costa Rica. The deceased include families from Scarsdale, New York and Belleair, Florida. As their loved ones come to grips with the tragedy, the United States has said it will aid in the investigation. The crash has raised some concerns about international airline travel.

Strong Winds Prevented Charter Plane from Landing Earlier in the Day 

Officials in Costa Rica said the plane took off around noon on Sunday, December 31, from Punta Islita and was headed to San Jose. Approximately 10 minutes after takeoff, the aircraft crashed, killing all 12 people on board. The same plane made the trip from San Jose to Punta Islita that morning, but strong winds delayed the plane's landing.

According to reports, the pilot tried to land the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan just before11:00 a.m., but heavy winds prevented the landing and the plane was diverted to a nearby airport to wait. At the time, winds were approximately 28 miles-per-hour. Thirty minutes later, the pilot flew to Punta Islita, picked up passengers and departed with the two American families onboard.

A witness told NBC News she was eating lunch near the airport when she noticed a plane flying too low overhead. The aircraft then veered left, crashed into the ground and erupted in a fireball. A different witness noted that when the plane turned, one wing was vertical while another clipped some trees.

The plane involved in the crash was a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, a single-engine turboprop, often used as a charter plane. By the time witnesses arrived on the scene, the plane was engulfed in flames.

Cessna Caravan Crash Victims Identified 

Back in the U.S., shocked family and friends confirmed the victims' identities. They are: Bruce and Irene Steinberg and their sons Matthew, William and Zachary from Scarsdale; Drs. Mitchell and Leslie Weiss and their children Hannah and Ari; Amanda Geissler, a travel guide who was leading the two families; pilot Juan Manuel Retana, from Costa Rica; and pilot Emma Ramos, also from Costa Rica.

"There's a human loss here that's unspeakable," said Tamara Steinberg Jacobson, sister to Bruce Steinberg. "I'm living a nightmare, my girls are living a nightmare. You know, I lost so much of my family."

A rabbi at the Steinberg's temple said the community was deeply affected by the plane crash, while a friend said the family was loving, close and the parents were devoted to the children.

Both Weiss parents were doctors at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Florida.

"Their lives and medical skills have touched so many in and around our community, and we are forever grateful to them," said Kris Hoce, president of Morton Plant Hospital, in a statement.

Investigators from the U.S. to Aid in Costa Rica Plane Crash Investigation

Two National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators will assist in the investigation, which officials say will focus on possible mechanical problems and issues with the weather.

Civil Aviation director Enio Cubillo Araya noted that U.S. investigators and people from Cessna were expected in Costa Rica on January 3 to begin aiding the investigation. He also said the pilot was highly experienced at flying the plane involved in the crash.

"No possibility can be left out for certain," said Michael Soto, deputy director of Costa Rica's Judicial Investigation agency. "We have two aspects: the principal one would be some weather condition and if there was a mechanical issue."

Air Tour Operator, Backroads, Issues Statement Regarding Plane Crash

Backroads is a California-based tour operator whose clients include the two families that died in the tragedy. Geissler, the tour guide, worked for Backroads. The company issued a statement after the plane crash, noting Geissler was a first-year Trip Leader who built strong bonds with colleagues and guests.

"We are extremely heartbroken over this horrific loss of life and are working with authorities to understand the cause of the crash," Liz Einbinder wrote for Backroads. "We have our entire Costa Rica team and a member of our executive team on the ground to assist in this tragedy... In the midst of this heartbreaking news, our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by this tragedy."

Plane Crash is the Second in Four Months for Nature Air 

The New York Times reports that this is the second crash since September involving Nature Air, which is marketed as an eco-conscious airline. Although Araya noted that the two crashes seem to be isolated incidents, that accident is also still under investigation. An American man and Costa Rican woman died in the crash while four other people survived.

The December 31 crash has raised some concerns about the safety of air travel-and especially charter air travel-in Costa Rica and other countries. Backroads noted in its statement that it has been operating in Costa Rica fo r more than 25 years.

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