Columbia University Student, Florida Family, Killed in Plane Crash in Central America

January 2, 2018 Updated: January 2, 2018

A Columbia University student has been identified as one of 10 Americans who perished in a plane crash in Costa Rica.

Hannah Weiss, a sophomore at the prestigious New York City university, was with her family when the plane smashed into a mountain. All 10 Americans and the two Costa Rican pilots on board died.

Weiss, a native of St. Petersburg, Florida, studied Sustainable Development and Jewish Thought, according to a story in the Columbia Spectator.

“Her passion for sustainable development was evident through her schoolwork as well as the endless hours she spent volunteering to bring sustainable food options to underprivileged communities in Harlem,” AJ Yablonsky, one of Weiss’s friends, told the Spectator.

Other friends posted messages on her Facebook page, remembering her spirit and saying she will serve as an inspiration for them.

“The fact that she took the time to write this shows that she cared about the world and the people around her enough to ask tough questions and find truth,” said one in a reply to her last post. “She was so amazing and an inspiration to me and everyone, I can’t believe that she’s gone and I don’t know what to do with myself.”

Added another: “If there’s anything I’ve learned from her, it’s to never settle for ‘just fine,’ or ‘okay.’ We need to push forward and always hold strong to our convictions. We need to push forward for the things we care about because we know that’s what she would be doing right now. We need to be the change she would’ve wished to see.”

Along with Weiss, 19, her parents, Mitchell, 52, Leslie, 50, and younger brother, Ari, 16, died in the crash on December 31, 2017.

“It’s a terrible loss for their family, for our congregation, for our synagogue family and for the Pinellas County family,” Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B’nai Israel, where the family worshiped in Florida, told the New York Daily News.

“They’ll be sorely missed. It’s a terrible tragedy.”

The cause of the crash has not been pinpointed as of yet, but an eyewitness said the single-engine Cessna had barely left the ground before it smashed into a mountain near the runway.

Epoch Times Photo
This photo released by Costa Rica’s Public Safety Ministry shows smoke rising from the site of a plane crash in Punta Islita, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. A government statement says there were 10 foreigners and two Costa Rican crew members aboard the plane belonging to Nature Air, which had taken off nearby. (Costa Rica’s Public Safety Ministry via AP)

Besides the Weiss family, the five-member Steinberg family of New York were identified as other victims. The tenth American who died was identified as Amanda Geissler, who was serving as a guide to the two families with the organization Backroads.

KSTP reported that a statement from the Geissler family released Monday said she was in Costa Rica leading families “during their Christmas holiday on a tropical adventure including seeing an active volcano, 400-foot waterfall, and many beautiful beaches. She was very excited to be working with families, and was eager to enjoy the sunshine, warm weather, and ocean waves.”

Geissler was formerly a standout basketball player at Wisconsin-Stout, but her teammates and coach remembered her more for her personality than her skills on the court.

“She had such an amazing gift for life,” Mark Thomas, the head women’s basketball coach at the school the past 31 seasons, told KSTP.

“Nothing rattled her. She wasn’t afraid of anything. Even if she failed at something, she didn’t view it as a failure. It was just a reason to get back up and try again.”

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Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber