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Hopkins student and family killed in Costa Rica plane crash

A Johns Hopkins University sophomore and his family were killed in a plane crash Sunday while vacationing in Costa Rica.

University officials said Zachary Steinberg, a chemical and biomolecular engineering student, was among the 12 people killed when a Cessna operated by Nature Air crashed in a woods shortly after departing from the Pacific Coast resort area of Punta Islita.

Also killed were Steinberg’s parents, Bruce and Irene Steinberg, and his two brothers, Matthew and William, all of Scarsdale, N.Y., a suburb of New York City.

“We are all deeply saddened by this tragic loss," Kevin Shollenberger, vice provost for student affairs at Hopkins’ Homewood campus, said in a statement. "By all accounts, Zach was an active and engaged member of our campus community who will be missed by many. We offer our deepest sympathies to the relatives and friends of the Steinberg family."

Zachary Steinberg was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and held a leadership role in Engineers Without Borders, a nonprofit that focuses on sustainable building, according to university officials.

He was also involved in Jewish life on campus and had served as an intern at Johns Hopkins Hillel.

Hillel's executive director, Noam Bentov, said Steinberg was scheduled to travel to Israel with peers for a Birthright trip, according to a news release from the university.

In addition to the Steinbergs, a family of four from Belleair, Fla., a guide from the Berkeley, Calif.-based Backroads tour group, and two plane crew members were killed in the crash. The Florida family members were identified as Drs. Mitchell Weiss and Leslie Weiss and their two children, Hannah and Ari.

Zachary Steinberg’s aunt, Tamara Steinberg Jacobson, wrote on Facebook about the crash.

“We are in utter shock and disbelief right now,” she said.

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.

In a statement Monday, Backroads spokeswoman Liz Einbinder identified one of the victims as Amanda Geissler, a Backroads Trip Leader.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by this tragedy,” the company's statement said.

At a news conference Sunday, Enio Cubillo, director of Costa Rica Civil Aviation, said the Nature Air charter crashed shortly after taking off just after noon Sunday from Punta Islita on a planned flight to the capital, San Jose. He said investigators were looking into possible causes.

Cubillo identified the pilot as Juan Manuel Retana and described him as very experienced. The co-pilot was identified as Emma Ramos.

The same plane had arrived in Punta Islita on Sunday morning from San Jose and was delayed in landing by strong winds, Cubillo said.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera offered his condolences to the families of the victims via Twitter and said the cause of the crash would be investigated.

Forensic workers recovered the bodies from the wooded site Sunday night. Local fire chief Jhony Garcia said the plane's wreckage was completely burned up.

Nature Air did not respond to phone and email messages.The airline advertises as the first carbon-neutral airline in the world, according to The New York Times. The Times said two others were killed and a third person was injured on a Nature Air flight in September when a single-engine Cessna crashed in a river in Guanacaste.

Johns Hopkins officials are collecting messages of condolence for the family. Emails or letters can be addressed to the "The Family of Zachary Steinberg" and sent to studentlife@jhu.edu or to the Office of the Dean of Student Life in the Mattin Center, Suite 210.

The university did not have information Monday on funeral arrangements

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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