Utah tour guide, 2 families among Americans killed in Costa Rica plane crash

(ABC News) - A charter plane crashed in northwestern Costa Rica on Sunday, killing 10 American passengers and two Costa Rican pilots, according to the Costa Rican government. One of those American passengers was from Utah.

Also among the dead were two American families, ABC News has confirmed. The plane crashed in Guanacaste just moments after takeoff from Punta Islita Airport, according to officials and witnesses. There were no survivors.

Costa Rica's Ministry of Public Security posted several images of the wreckage on its official Facebook page, showing the plane engulfed in flames in a wooded area, with smoke billowing from charred rubble.

"The government of Costa Rica deeply regrets the death of 10 American passengers and [two] Costa Rican pilots in an air crash of aircraft TI-BEI from the company Nature Air, which occurred midday today near Nandayure, Guanacaste," the office of Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis said in a statement Sunday night.


Backroads, a travel company headquartered in California, confirmed in a statement Monday that the passengers aboard the downed plane were on a trip it had organized. 

There were nine Backroads guests, a Backroads trip leader and two flight crew members on the Nature Air flight, the company said.

"Officials in Costa Rica have confirmed that there are no survivors," Backroads said in the statement. "We are extremely heartbroken over this horrific loss of life and are working with the local authorities to understand the cause of the crash. We have our entire Costa Rica team on the ground to assist in this tragedy, in addition to a member of our executive team, who is [en] route to Costa Rica."

Backroads spokeswoman Liz Einbinder later confirmed to ABC News that the company employee who died was Amanda Geissler. Geissler was a personal vacation travel leader originally from Utah.

Geissler's family released the following statement Monday: 

"Amanda is hard to describe in a short paragraph or a simple word or phrase. She was so much more than that. Her passion for left and adventurous spirit allowed her to truly live and experience more in her 33 years than many have the opportunity to. Amanda's love for the outdoors, setting goals and crushing them and adoration for her family and friends are like none-other. Amanda was one of the most mentally tough athletes around and her desire for "what's next" always turned into a check mark on her list. Amanda lived her life with no regrets and inspired so many others to consider the same. She is loved by many and with a heavy heart it will be hard to say goodbye.  If Amanda could leave us all with one thing, it would be -write down whatever it is you want to do and make it happen."


A family of four from Tampa Bay, Florida, was among those killed, the rabbi at the family's synagogue said.

Mitchell Weiss, his wife, Leslie Weiss, and their two children, Hannah and Ari Weiss, all died in the crash, according to Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B’nai Israel of St. Petersburg, Florida. The parents were both physicians, he said.

“It’s a terrible tragedy. It’s a devastating loss,” Luski told ABC News. “They’ll be surely missed, and we still are trying to deal with understanding such a loss.”


A family of five from New York were also killed, the rabbi at that family's synagogue said. Bruce and Irene Steinberg as well as their three children, Zachary, William and Matthew Steinberg, all died in the crash, according to Rabbi Jonathan Blake of the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York.

"This tragedy hits our community very hard," Blake wrote in an email to the congregation Sunday night.

Zachary Steinberg graduated high school in 2016 and his brother William graduated the year after. Matthew Steinberg was a student at Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City, according to Scarsdale Public Schools superintendent Thomas Hagerman.

"This tragedy is hard to process for a variety of reasons, not least among them the loss of an entire family in one instant," Hagerman said in an email to the school district community on Monday.

"The Steinbergs' recent graduation dates and rich involvement in the district created a variety of connections which intensify the grief we feel."

The crash took place Sunday afternoon at 12:15 p.m. after the plane left the airport heading to Costa Rica's capital, San Jose, a ministry spokesperson said.

Costa Rica Civil Aviation director Enio Cubillo said at a news conference Sunday that the Nature Air pilot, Juan Manuel Retana, was very experienced. Cubillo said the cause of the crash was under investigation.

ABC News' Conor Finnegan, Joshua Hoyos, Kathleen Hendry, Darren Reynolds and Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

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