The single-engine charter plane that crashed in a wooded area of Costa Rica, killing a Scarsdale, N.Y., family of five and seven others, turned sideways and seemed to “cartwheel” before it went down about a minute after takeoff, a witness said.
“It was kind of low and I looked up to see it turn. I turned away and then heard the crash. It had only been in the air a minute or so,” Utah resident Matt Wolfe, 38, told The New York Daily News. “My wife watched the whole thing. She thought the plane was doing some kind of barrel roll acrobatic maneuver.”
Wolfe and his family were at a restaurant near Punta Islita Airport when the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan took off around noon and quickly crashed while carrying 10 Americans and two local pilots.
Among the dead were Bruce Steinberg, 50, his 51-year-old wife, Irene, and their three sons, Matthew, William and Zachary.
A family friend said Steinberg graduated from Columbia Business School and worked for Bridgewater Associates in Westport, Conn.
Irene Steinberg had a master’s degree in social work from NYU and was active in the community, the friend said.
The youngest son, Matthew, was in eighth grade at a private school in the Scarsdale area while William attended the University of Pennsylvania and Zachary was at Johns Hopkins University, a different friend confirmed to The News.
“They were the most incredible, loving, attentive parents who had a passion for travel and felt it was important to show their children the world,” Irene Steinberg’s friend Lyn Kaller told The News.
Kaller was reluctant to speak further without permission from relatives. She ended up being one of the first people contacted by the U.S. consulate in Costa Rica because she made a recent comment on one of Irene Steinberg’s Facebook photos, she said.
“They were such doting parents,” she said. “They wanted to provide their children with beautiful experiences of all kind.”
Crash witness Wolfe said people on the ground rushed to the charred wreckage, hoping to find survivors.
“Smoke started coming up from the crash site instantly. I heard lots of commotion, people with cars and motorcycles and four wheelers started driving in the direction of the crash,” he said.
Wolfe followed two locals up a hillside trail and found about 50 people at the site.
“There was lots of black smoke. Several trees were on fire and just the tail section of the plane was visible. A few locals showed up with fire extinguishers and machetes, but the fire kept popping mini explosions. Nobody could get close. It was clear no one had made it out of the airplane after the crash,” he said.
“I woke up to the worst anxiety about all of this, and all of the ‘What ifs?’ ” Wolfe told The News. “I keep replaying it in my head and feel so much grief for the people that lost their lives and love for my family.”
In an interview with ABC News, Dawn Wolfe said the plane was barely airborne when it caught her eye.
“When I saw it sideways, I thought, ‘Oh, is this a plane doing a trick?’ ” she said. “And then I went, ‘Wait, that’s a big plane to do a trick.’ ”
Relatives of the Steinbergs declined to comment Monday after expressing their initial devastation.
“We are in utter shock and disbelief right now,” Bruce Steinberg’s sister Tamara Steinberg Jacobson wrote on Facebook.