By Madeline Roache
May 7, 2019

Jeremy Brooks, a 22 year-old American, was among the 41 people who died when a Russian plane burst into flames while making an emergency landing in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on Sunday.

The recent graduate of Colorado College was on his way to work as a fishing guide for Atlantic salmon in northwest Russia, according to his former employer.

Brooks was reportedly the only U.S. citizen on the Murmansk bound Aeroflot plane, which had to turn back just 30 minutes after taking off from Moscow as a result of unspecified technical difficulties. Russian authorities said 37 passengers survived by escaping from the slides at the front of the plane as the rear was engulfed in flames. “[Brooks] was in the back of the plane, so he wasn’t able to make it out,” Valdez told the Sante Fe New Mexican news site.

Crew members and passengers say the Russian-built Sukhoi Superjet-100 was struck by lightning after taking off, disconnecting communications with ground control, the BBC reported. But some aviation experts have questioned whether a lightning strike could severe the plane’s communications, given that modern jets are designed to withstand storms.

Russian investigators are considering pilot error as a possible cause of the crash. The Russian news outlet, Kommersant Daily, quoting unnamed sources close to the investigation, says several factors are being scrutinized. Among them are why the pilots decided to fly into a storm front, which raised the level of risk, why they were in a hurry to land, though normal procedure is to circle over the airport first to burn up fuel, and why they appear to have exceeded the normal landing speed which, along with heavy fuel tanks, made the plane bounce off the tarmac.

Valdez, Brooks’ former employer and owner of the The Reel Life fishing shop in Santa Fe, told the Albuquerque Journal, a New Mexico news site, that Brooks “had it all to offer the world. I never heard a bad complaint against him.” Brooks was the “most patient, knowledgeable and kind guide we could ever have had,” he said in another interview.

The 22-year-old had studied environmental science and also loved philosophy, the The Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Jim Leonard, head of school at Santa Fe Preparatory School, who saw Brooks two weeks before his departure called him a “terrific kid,” and said that “his nature was one of such kindness.”

In Moscow, Brooks had been working at – what he called – “the most prestigious fly fishing lodge in the world,” according to Mark Rossetti, a friend of Brooks. “It costs about $15,000 for a week of fishing, and to get the position that he got is unheard of,” Rossetti told the The Santa Fe New Mexican “That’s not an easy job to get. I think there’s only two or three Americans who have ever guided there.”

Brooks had dreamed of working in Russia for the rest of his life, said Rossetti. “He just spent an entire month with the new rod that he bought for that job…He spent an entire month up in Washington just learning to cast. Didn’t even catch a fish. Took work so serious that he flew across the country just to cast for a month — day in, day out.”

“He would live by, ‘live straight, not straightened,’” said Rossetti, meaning “make the right decision the first time so that you don’t have to go back on your mistakes. He always did that. He was the most amazing man.”

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” said Valdez.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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