December 31, 2017 ended with the second largest aviation tragedy in Costa Rica’s history.
In terms of victims, Sunday’s crash is only surpassed by the events of January 15, 1990 when a small plane with 23 passengers crashed in the mountains of Escazu in the Pico Blanco zone. All the passengers died.
The Nandayure canton was where the last tragedy of 2017 occurred and at The Voice of Guanacaste we explain what is known until now about the accident.
1. The Victims
There were 12 people traveling in the small aircraft, 10 passengers from the United States and two Costa Rican crew members. The passengers were:Bruce Steinberg, Irene Steinberg, Matthew Steinberg, William Steinberg, Zachary Steinberg, Ari Moses Weiss, Hannah Mae Weiss, Leslie Levin Weiss, Mitchell Weiss and Amanda Rae Geissler. The five Steinberg passengers were a family from New York. The crew members were pilot José Manuel Retana and co-pilot Emma Ramos.
2. The Plane
The 10 tourists and two crew members were traveling in a Cessna 208 Caravan, made by the U.S company Cessna Aircraft and operated in Costa Rica by Nature Air, a Costa Rican company that offers domestic flights and flights to Panama. The plane’s registration number was TI-BEI.
Civil Aviation Director General Enio Cubillo said in a press conference that while the plane’s manufacturing date is unknown, the craft had all the airworthiness studies required to fly. It was properly registered to carry out operations. He added that the weight the plane was carrying was in accordance with the craft’s capacity.
3. The Pilot
The civil aviation director said that Renata, 52, had approximately 15,000 hours of flight experience. He was a pilot for at least 14 years for local airline Sansa and began working for Nature Air in November.
4. The Route
According to information provided by Civil Aviation, the aircraft that crashed took off from Juan Santamaria airport at 10:15 am without any passengers and flew towards Punta Islita where it was scheduled to arrive at approximately 10:48 am and pick up the 10 passengers that had bought the charter service.
But wind gusts in Punta Islita forced the pilot to land in Playa Tambor and wait for conditions to improve. Once he had a report of better conditions, the aircraft took off for Punta Islita and landed properly.
Passengers boarded the plane there and took off at 12:10 pm and headed for Juan Santamaria. Ten minutes later (12:20 pm) the disaster was reported.
5. Crash Site
The crash happened about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) east of Playa Sámara in the Nandayure canton. Pablo Villalta, regional firefighter chief, viewed the site as having a special topography - wooded area - and difficult to access, which required special vehicles to reach.
6. The Rescue
Authorities were informed of the accident through a 9-11 call around 12:30 pm and activated emergency protocols. Costa Rica Firefighters, the Red Cross, the aerial surveillance service and the police arrived at the site of the crash.
The Red Cross sent 20 vehicles, including ambulances, and more than 45 professionals. The firefighters brought eight vehicles and 25 firefighters.
Around 7 pm rescue teams had recovered all the bodies.
7. Possible Causes
Authorities are considering three elements to determine the possible causes of the crash: 1. mechanical failures, 2. Weather at the time of the crash, and 3. Human factors.
In a press conference, the director of civil aviation said that before picking up the passengers the crew had to maneuver through strong wind gusts in the zone, which forced them to land in Tambor and wait for the weather to improve.
Cubillo added that investigation specialists from civil aviation have been on site to evaluate the surroundings and determine what the conditions were when the flight departed. Civil aviation will publish a report with further details about this topic when it completes and analysis that includes interviews with residents who saw the flight’s final moments.
The local airline Nature Air said they won’t discuss possible causes until the authorities make a statement about the incident.
*This information was modifed at 2:30 p.m.