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Plane crash causes still unknown in Costa Rica; pilot was cousin to ex-President Chinchilla

As authorities prepare to begin an investigation into the cause of the New Year’s Eve plane crash that claimed the lives of 10 U.S. tourists and 2 Costa Rican crew members, former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla announced that her cousin on board.

“A fatality has intruded into our family celebrations,” Chinchilla wrote. “Our beloved cousin has died as part of the crew of the burning plane in Guanacaste. Strength to his children and siblings, and peace to his remains. You will remain in our hearts, beloved #JuanManuelRetana.”

The daily Diario Extra reported that Retana was the pilot of the plane and had more than 10 years of experience.

Laura Chinchilla via Twitter

President Luis Guillermo Solís posted a brief Facebook statement at approximately 5 pm confirming that the 10 foreign tourists were U.S. citizens, and the other two victims were Costa Rican pilots.

He said the Nature Air plane, license number TI-BEI, crashed at noon today in Nandayure, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.

“The government is committed to doing whatever is necessary to help the victims’ families with whatever they need at this difficult time,” he said. “All emergency services were activated from the moment the first alert was received at 12:13 pm. The authorities are concentrating on the process of recovering the bodies, which will be transported to the forensic medicine facility in San Joaquín de Flores,” north of San José.

The Public Security Ministry shared this video, apparently taken a few hours after the crash, at the site:

First thing tomorrow the investigation into the causes of the accident will begin, the president indicated.

The aircraft, a single-propeller Cessna 208 Caravan, went down in a mountainous area near the Pacific coastal beach town of Punta Islita in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, Public Security Ministery spokesman Carlos Hidalgo indicated via Facebook.

“It is a private plane with 10 foreign passengers and two local crew members,” a separate statement from the Public Security Ministry said.

Hidalgo published images of the crash site, showing flaming wreckage strewn across the terrain.

The U.S. Embassy indicated it is monitoring the situation closely.

The daily La Nación published the following names of those who died in the crash: The daily La Nación confirmed the victims’ names: pilot Juan Manuel Retana, co-pilot Emma Ramos, and U.S. citizens Amanda Rae Geissler; Bruce and Irene Steinberg with their three sons, William, Zachary y Matthew, all of Scarsdale, New York; and Leslie and Mitchell Weiss with their children Ari Moses and Hannah Mae, of Belleair, Florida. The New York Times explored the families’ backgrounds in a piece on Monday.

This piece was updated on Tuesday, Jan. 2 to correct some of the victims’ identities; the original list released on Sunday included several incorrect names.

Please stay tuned as we continue to report on this developing story.

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