SCARSDALE, N.Y. — Shortly after the Steinberg family from Scarsdale died in a plane crash in Costa Rica, their family and friends spent New Year’s Day under a pall of unthinkable grief and sorrow.
Remembered as an idyllic and loving family, Irene and Bruce Steinberg and their sons Matthew, William and Zachary were killed along with seven others when the small aircraft crashed Sunday in Punta Islita, a mountainous region in the Costa Rican province of Guanacaste, popular among tourists.
Bruce’s mother, Dianne, struggled to find words to describe the tragedy. Speaking by telephone Monday, she often paused and fought back tears that seemed to well up with each memory of her grandchildren and their parents.
“This was a wonderful family, and really it’s a loss not just for our family but for the whole community,” she said, recounting Bruce and Irene Steinberg’s outreach through many different community groups.
Costa Rican investigators said they are trying to determine the cause of the crash but that it was most likely the result of strong winds or mechanical problems. It happened on Sunday about 140 miles from the capital of San Jose.
In Costa Rica, Civil Aviation Director Enio Cubillo said U.S. aviation officials and representatives from Cessna, the maker of the plane, are expected to arrive Wednesday to collaborate with the country on the investigation, the Associated Press reported.
No one survived the crash and the bodies were recovered from the wooded site on Sunday night.
"No possibility can be left out for certain," said Michael Soto, deputy director of Costa Rica's Judicial Investigation agency, though he said that strong winds were reported Sunday in the area of the crash. "We have two aspects: the principal one would be some weather condition and if there was a mechanical issue."
The Steinbergs took the Nature Air charter flight with a family of four from Florida as part of a tour organized by Backroads, a California-based company. The Florida victims were identified as Drs. Mitchell and Leslie Weiss of Belleaire, Florida, and their two children, Hannah and Ari.
The others killed were the Backroads tour leader, Amanda Geissler, from Wisconsin; and the pilot, Juan Manuel Retana, and co-pilot, Emma Ramos, both of Costa Rica.
A Nature Air official Monday said he couldn't talk about the situation, and the company didn't respond to a request for further comment.
Dianne Steinberg’s voice cracked when thinking of the promising futures cut short for 14-year-old Matthew, an eighth-grader at Fieldston School in Riverdale, and William, 19, and Zachary, 20, recent Scarsdale High School graduates who attended prestigious colleges.
“They were really terrific kids, clean cut,” she said, breaking down for a moment as she recounted the example set by their parents.
“My daughter-in-law was really loved by us and loved us…and she was very cognizant of the problems of other people,” Dianne Steinberg said, speaking of Irene’s work in community, religious and educational organizations.
When talking about her son, Dianne Steinberg’s voice quivered and fell to a whisper.
“He was a great kid and an astute businessman,” she said. “It really is a tragedy.”
The Steinbergs were members of the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale. Rabbi Jonathan Blake informed members of the family’s death through social media.
“This tragedy hits our community very hard,” Blake said on Facebook, adding the family became members in 2001 and were involved in organizations including the UJA-Federation of New York, AJC (American Jewish Committee), and Seeds of Peace.
“I know there will be much more to say in the coming days, and that so many of us want to do everything we can to express our grief and to show our support for their bereaved family,” Blake said, referring to plans to organize memorial services soon.
The temple's sanctuary was open from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and will be again Wednesday and Thursday. Social workers from Westchester Jewish Community Services will be available from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Bruce and Irene Steinberg had lived in Greenwich and then Harrison before moving to Scarsdale in 2001. They lived on Greendale Road and just three weeks ago bought a home next to their house on Windmill Lane in the village, according to Westchester County land records.
An outpouring of community support flooded the Facebook page of Tamara Steinberg Jacobson, Bruce Steinberg’s sister. Her page was filled with recent family pictures and condolences from friends in the hours after the crash.
One picture was taken in Miami last week when the extended family celebrated several birthdays, including Zachary's, Matthew's, Bruce's 50th and his father's 80th.
Irene Steinberg’s friend, Lyn Kaller of Scarsdale, said the Costa Rica consular official reported the plane crashed shortly after takeoff. It happened while the family was on its way from the beach back to San Jose, where they would celebrate the New Year.
“They were a very loving, close family,” Kaller said. “They were devoted to their children. Any picture you see of them it was full of smiles.”
The trip to Costa Rica was the family's most recent international excursion — other trips took them to Israel and through Europe — and was timed to coincide with school holidays for the three boys.
Zachary Steinberg was a Johns Hopkins University sophomore who studied chemical and bio-molecular engineering at its Whiting School of Engineering, college officials said.
"On behalf of the entire Johns Hopkins community, we offer our deepest sympathies to the relatives and friends of the Steinberg family," college officials said in a message to students about the crash.
The message noted Zachary, 19, was involved with Hillel, a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, and an officer in Engineers without Borders.
"We know his loss will deeply impact many members of our community," the college said, adding it would be collecting expressions of condolences from the campus community to the Steinberg family.
Noam Bentov, executive director of Johns Hopkins Hillel, told the campus online news service, the Hub, that Zachary was active in campus Jewish life, as an intern at Hillel, and was schedule to visit Israel this week on a Birthright program.
William Steinberg, 18, was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, according to the campus newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Matthew Steinberg, 14, was an eighth-grader at Fieldston School in Riverdale in The Bronx.
Bruce Steinberg was a senior investment associate at Bridgewater Associates, a major hedge fund based in Westport, Connecticut.
Irene Steinberg was employed in social work but had taken time off to raise the boys while her husband worked in investment banking, Kaller said.
She served on the Board of Directors of the American Jewish Committee's Westchester/Fairfield branch and was active on its College Campus Committee. She also chaired Scarsdale High School's College and Career Center.
Contributing: The Associated Press.