Jeremy Brooks, a 22-year-old fishing guide from Santa Fe, New Mexico, had recently scored a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a job at a Russian fishing lodge.
Brooks, who picked up his first fly-fishing rod when he was just 7 years old, prepared diligently for the coveted position. He spent a month in Washington State learning to cast with a new rod he bought specifically for the job, his best friend, Marco Rossetti, told the Santa Fe New Mexican.
But soon after arriving in Russia, Brooks’ dreams were cut short: On Monday, family and friends identified him as the sole American who died when a Russian plane crashed and burned on a Moscow runway Sunday evening.
“He was always so positive, just a kind soul,” his friend and former boss, Ivan Valdez, said, according to the New Mexican. “He had a kindness about him that just everyone was attached to and loved.”
Valdez, who hired Brooks to work at his fly-fishing shop and guide service when he was just 16, added: “He’s like a son to me. I can’t believe he’s gone. He’s the best person you could ever meet.”
Brooks had just graduated from Colorado College with a major in environmental studies, the New Mexican reports. Local ABC affiliate KOAT7 added that he was “well-known” as a fishing guide in Tesuque, where he lived.
Valdez, whom Brooks’ family reportedly asked to handle media inquiries, said that the U.S. Embassy has confirmed Brooks’ death.
Rossetti, told the New Mexican that Brooks was traveling to Russia to work at “the most prestigious fly-fishing lodge in the world.”
“It costs about $15,000 for a week of fishing, and to get the position that he got is unheard of,” Rossetti said. “That’s not an easy job to get. I think there’s only two or three Americans who have ever guided there.”
The Aeroflot plane carrying Brooks, which was traveling from Moscow to the northern city of Murmansk, quickly doubled back toward Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after taking off, according to flight-tracking data.
Video shows the Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet S100 trying and failing to land smoothly on the tarmac. After striking the runway and bouncing back up a few times, the plane crashed down, engulfing the rear half in flames. As the burning plane skidded across the runway, black columns of smoke floated to the sky.
Once the plane stopped, passengers could be seen escaping on the plane’s inflatable yellow slides. Only 37 passengers on the flight survived, Russian officials said Sunday night. Forty-one people, including Brooks, did not.
It’s not yet clear what caused the plane to crash. The pilot, Denis Evdokimov, reportedly said Monday that the plane was struck by lightning soon after takeoff, cutting off communications with air-traffic control. Officials said Monday that the plane’s black boxes had been recovered—and that they were considering inexperienced piloting, technical failure, and poor weather as potential causes of the deadly crash.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday morning that one American had perished in the crash but did not name the victim.
“We join @USEmbRuPress @USEmbRu in expressing sincere condolences to the families of all who were lost or injured in yesterday’s tragic plane fire at Sheremetyevo airport, including one U.S. citizen,” Pompeo tweeted.
Rossetti told the New Mexican that Brooks “just loved everyone for who they were.”
“There wasn’t a bar that he would go into and not introduce himself to the bartender and start hanging out and making friends with everyone,” he said, adding, “He supported and encouraged everyone.”
In a 2016 interview posted on Valdez’s company’s website, Brooks said he started fly fishing when he was just 7 years old.
“Every single day I’m grateful that I picked up a fly rod when I did,” he said, adding that “it’s a love that has meant everything to me for the majority of my life.”