Two families with NYC-area ties killed in Costa Rica plane crash; family and friends try to cope with the shock

SCARSDALE, NY — In an instant, what had been a fun family vacation suddenly became fatal for two families with ties to the Tri-state.  On Monday, relatives and friends were still trying to cope with devastating news they'd learned Sunday night about the fate of the Steinberg Family of Westchester County and the Weiss Family of St. Petersburg, Florida, whose daughter was a student at Columbia University, in Manhattan.

Both families were on a plane that crashed in Costa Rica, killing everyone onboard.

"I can't sleep last night [or] today," Olga Villatoro, the nanny and housekeeper for the Steinberg Family, said.  "I don't feel good, I'm not eating, I'm no good, because I don't understand what happened."

Villatoro wept over the loss of the Steinbergs -- Irene and Bruce, parents in their early 50s, their two sons, William, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, and Zachary, a Johns Hopkins University student, as well as the youngest of the three Steinberg sons, Matthew, 13.

Villatoro had worked for the Steinbergs since Irene had been pregnant with Matthew, to whom she'd been close.

"He called me abuela -- grandmother," she told PIX11 News.  Matthew's 14th birthday would have been Jan. 9.  "I already bought a present for him."

The Scarsdale family had been on vacation in rural Costa Rica for a week, according to Villatoro.    Around noon on Sunday, they'd departed on a flight to the country's capital, San Jose, to celebrate the new year.  Minutes after takeoff, that flight, on the airline Nature Air, went down in a forest.

"It is unbelievable," Agi Nadai, who lives across the street from the Steinbergs, said, explaining that the news has been "very hard to embrace." "They were very good neighbors, all very nice."

Also perishing on that flight was a student at Columbia University, who was also on vacation with her family.  They live in St. Petersburg.  Hannah Weiss, 19, was killed, along with her brother Ari, 16, and their parents, Leslie and Mitchell Weiss, who were in their early 50s.

A tour guide, the pilot and a crew member also died in the crash in a Costa Rican forest, 4,000 miles away from New York.

Two families are now completely gone.  The grief of the magnitude of such a loss was summed up by Villatoro, who'd been close to one of the families for nearly a decade and a half.

"So sad," she said.  "Very, very sad."

The Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale is now planning the funerals and burials of all five Steinberg family members.  The Jewish Theological Seminary, where Hannah Weiss had been a student in a joint program with Columbia University, is also planning memorial activity for the Hannah and her family.