San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tamarindo Mourns Plane Crash Victims

A hydroplane accident Saturday off thecoast of Playa Flamingo, in the northwesternprovince of Guanacaste, left three familiesand members of the neighboringTamarindo beach community mourning thelives of six U.S. citizens, including threechildren, who died in the crash.The private hydroplane, an aircraftdesigned to take off and land on water aswell as land, skidded into the ocean shortlybefore 9:30 a.m., when the accident wasreported to the Red Cross, according toRed Cross spokesman Alexander Morales.The victims were identified as GregoryGund, 28, the pilot and owner of the aircraft;Cindy Ruetz, 41, and her sons Justin,9, and Jack, 12; and Paul Kelss, ageunknown, with his son, Connor Kelss, 7,Morales said.Although authorities recovered four ofthe bodies over the weekend, they calledoff the search for the remaining twoWednesday after five days of intensesearch.DIVERS recovered the bodies ofCindy and Justin Ruetz and Paul Kelss onSaturday, according to Rodolfo Murillo,coordinator of the National Coast Guard’sDepartment of Operations.Authorities retrieved the first threebodies easily because people who hadwatched the crash from the beach wereable to pinpoint the fallen plane’s location.The three bodies were floating near the siteof the impact, according to Murillo.The body of Tamarindo resident Gundwas removed Sunday from the plane,which had to be hauled out of the oceanwith the help of local shrimping boatPelícano (the Pelican).Gund was buckled into his pilot’sseat, and his legs were caught under thewreckage of the plane, explaining whyhis body did not float up with the others’.Although authorities expected to find thetwo missing children’s bodies inside theplane with Gund’s, there was no trace ofJustin Ruetz’s and Connor Kelss’ bodies,Murillo said.The operation to recover the bodiesinvolved the Costa Rican Red Cross, theJudicial Investigation Police (OIJ), thePublic Security Ministry, the GuanacasteFishermen’s Chamber, experienced diverswith knowledge of the area and the marineconservation organization MarViva,which provided one of its boats for themission.Searchers patrolled the area by sea,land and air to see if the ocean wouldsweep the bodies ashore, he said, addingthat a prank 911 call led them astray byannouncing that one of the bodies wasspotted in the neighboring Gulf ofPapagayo. This prompted officials to senda search party to the area in vain.A statement from the Red Crossannounced it had decided to suspend thesearch Wednesday.“WE have done everything that ishumanly possible. This was a very difficultdecision, which was not made only foreconomic reasons, because a life has nocost,” Guillermo Arroyo, chief of rescueand operations for the Red Cross, said inthe statement. He explained that the areahas been combed several times withoutany positive results.“Bodies tend to float up after 72 hours– the sea returns them. But this area isinfested with predators. It’s possible thechildren’s bodies may have been sharks’prey,” Murillo told The Tico Times.The cause of the accident has not yetbeen determined, according to RodolfoCruz, director of the Civil AviationAuthority. The Aviation Authority beganan investigation yesterday that could lastsix to seven months.The aircraft’s manufacturers, whobelong to the Federal Aviation Administrationand the National TransportationBoard of the United States, arrived thisweek to contribute to the investigation.Gund’s hydroplane left Tobías BolañosAirport in Pavas, west of San José, forTamarindo Saturday at 7:50 a.m. accordingto the daily Al Día.After landing in Tamarindo, Gundpicked up his passengers, who apparentlydid not pay for the flight because it was afavor, Cruz said.The plane began its return to theCentral Valley for an aerial tour of SanJosé, but crashed soon after liftoff in frontof Playa Flamingo, 1.5 miles from IslaPlata, La Nación reported.PAUL and Connor Kelss, who came tothe country to visit the Ruetz family,planned to return to the United States theday after the crash. Cindy Reutz, her husband,Don, and their children lived inTamarindo, where they opened the JungleGym a year ago.Gregory Gund was a friend of the othervictims and a member of a prominent familythat owns several U.S. sports teams,according to Al Día.More than 100 area residents andfamily attended a memorial service forGund held at sunset Monday at PlayaAvellanas, next to Tamarindo and near ariver mouth where he used to surf.During the memorial, surfers paddledinto a ring formation and scattered flowersin the water, while a pilot friend ofGund’s circled the scene from above on aplane, said Tamarindo resident and TicoTimes contributor Ellen Zoe Golden, whoattended the ceremony.According to Golden, everyone in thesmall beach town has been affected by thetragedy.Fellow resident Danielle Keogan, afriend of Don Reutz and his family, aswell as Gund, said, “Don is so focused onseeing that every body is found that he isnot allowing himself to get on with grieving.He’s in a lot of pain, but there’s somuch to do, he doesn’t know which wayto turn.”

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