Pinellas County family killed in Costa Rica plane crash

By Jason Lanning and Katie Jones, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Monday, January 01, 2018, 8:05 PM EST

Twelve people were killed in a fiery plane crash in Costa Rica on New Year's Eve, including a Pinellas County family. 

  • Pinellas County family killed in Costa Rica plane crash
  • Mitchell and Leslie Weiss killed; kids possibly on board
  • Plane crashed between San Juan, Punta Islita on NYE

The plane crashed in a wooded area between San Jose and Punta Islita. 

According to officials, 10 Americans were killed as well as two Costa Rican pilots that were said to be very experienced. 

According to the Associated Press, a family from St. Petersburg and a family from New York City were killed in the plane crash. 

The family from St. Petersburg has been identified as Drs. Mitchell and Leslie Weiss and their two children, Hannah and Ari.

Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B'nai Israel said Monday that the victims' relatives had informed him that four members of his congregation were also on the plane.

"It is a tragedy that the Drs. Mitchell Weiss and Leslie Weiss and their two children, Hannah and Ari, died in that terrible crash," he said. "They were a wonderful family who will be missed."

There have already been posts on social media about the tragedy for the Weiss family. 

Dawn Papetti O'Laughlin posted a message saying, "Happy to have known you. They will be missed daily. Please keep their family and friends in your prayers."

Neighbors living near the Weiss family are heartbroken and in shock over their sudden deaths.

"They were always happy, smiling, always wanting to know about my son ... it's heartbreaking hearing the news," neighbor Spencer Hornsby said. "We're praying that everyone that's related to them and the rest of their family can get through this."

Both Hannah and Ari Weiss went to school at Shorecrest Preparatory in St. Petersburg. Hannah graduated in 2016; Ari was a sophomore.

"These were two kids that were full of life, they always had a smile on their face, they were positive, pursued everything in life with incredible passion and commitment," Asst. Headmaster Tom Dillow said.

Dillow said Ari Weiss was a straight-A student who loved theater and music. He described Hannah as having an incredible energy and was committed to social justice.

"I think all of us are still in shock, and we're still trying to come to terms with not just a member of our community but of an entire family in our community, and I think that's something most people never deal with in their lives," Dillow said.

Friends and neighbors said their hearts are with everyone impacted by the loss of the family.

The family from NYC has been identifed as Bruce and Irene Steinberg and their sons Matthew, William, and Zachary, all of Scarsdale. 

Rabbi Jonathan Blake of the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale said in a statement posted on the temple's Facebook page and emailed to the Associated Press that the Steinbergs were involved in philanthropy and local Jewish groups. "This tragedy hits our community very hard," Blake wrote.

The cause of the crash has not been determined yet, but Costa Rica Civil Aviation said there were high winds reported at the Punta Islita Airport earlier in the day. 

The plane that crashed is registered to Nature Air. It is Costa Rica's largest private airline flying 15 routes across Central America. 

On its website, Nature Air said it is operating a new line of aircraft, sensitive to the environments they fly over. 

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.