Family and friends are mourning the death of a 22-year-old Santa Fe Prep graduate who was among 41 people killed Sunday when a plane made a fiery crash landing at a Moscow airport.
Jeremy Brooks, an accomplished angler known to have an encyclopedic knowledge of local waterways, was traveling to northwestern Russia after landing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for eight months as a fly fishing guide with the Ponoi River Co., his friends said Monday.
“He was just kind of expanding his wings,” his friend and former boss, Ivan Valdez, said. “He wanted to go to Russia and guide for Atlantic salmon.”
Valdez, who owns The Reel Life, a Santa Fe-based fly shop and guide service, said Brooks had such an amazing touch with fly fishing that he asked him to work as a guide for his company at age 16. Valdez said Brooks, who grew up in Tesuque, had been going to his shop “since he was a tiny kid.”
“He’s like a son to me,” Valdez said, holding back tears. “I can’t believe he’s gone. He’s the best person you could ever meet.”
Valdez, who is handling media inquiries for Brooks’ family, said the U.S. Embassy confirmed Brooks was among the people killed in the plane crash.
Initial reports said a Superjet 100 carrying 78 people, including five crew members, was flying from Moscow to Murmansk, Russia, in the Arctic Circle when an emergency on board forced it to turn back, according to CNN. The pilot told Russian media Monday that the plane was struck by lightning, according to the Associated Press.
Video of the crash shows the airplane approaching the runway at a high speed, causing the passenger jet to bounce into the air before touching down again and bursting into flames. Thirty-seven people survived. Brooks was reportedly the sole American casualty.
“He was in the back of the plane, so he wasn’t able to make it out,” Valdez said.
Jim Leonard, head of school at Santa Fe Preparatory School, called Brooks a “terrific kid” with a lifelong passion for the outdoors, particularly fly fishing.
“He was looking for every opportunity, even when he was in middle school here, to fish,” Leonard said, adding that he once bought a watercolor at a school art show that Brooks painted of a brook trout.
Leonard said Brooks’ mother, Rebecca Allahyari, has worked as a tutor in the school library for several years. His younger sister, Lila, graduated from Santa Fe Prep in 2015, a year before Brooks, he said.
“His nature was one of such kindness,” he said.
Leonard said he saw Brooks a couple of weeks ago.
“He was having trouble getting his visa to go to Russia,” he said. “Time was really short so he actually came back to Santa Fe, borrowed his mom’s car, drove all the way down to Houston [and] was there when the embassy opened.”
Leonard said Brooks was following “his great life’s passion.”
Brooks’ best friend, Marco Rossetti, said Brooks was an outgoing person who “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. “If there [was someone] who was doing something like art or anything, he was the first person to support them. One of my friends got into photography and he was trying to make that his life thing, and Jeremy bought his first print. Jeremy was always the most supportive friend. … He supported and encouraged everyone.”
Brooks, who recently graduated from Colorado College with a degree in environmental science, also loved philosophy. The writings of Marcus Aurelius were among his favorites.
“He would live by, ‘live straight, not straightened,’ ” Rossetti recalled. “What that means is 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.”
Rossetti said Brooks, whose Instagram account is filled almost entirely with pictures of Brooks fishing, was nervous but excited to go work in Russia at what he called “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.”
Brooks dreamed of working there for the rest of his life, Rossetti said.
“He just spent an entire month with the new rod that he bought for that job,” Rossetti said. “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 wanted to be the best. He is the best. Always has been.”
Valdez said his clients loved Brooks, who received rave reviews online.
“Jeremy was the most patient, knowledgeable and kind guide we could ever have had,” a former client wrote on tripadvisor.com. “His knowledge of the area and the river was stunning. He knew where every rock and ledge was going to be — even in murky water.”
Thomas Hill, who works for The New Mexican, said he was so inspired by a guided fishing trip with Brooks that he decided to write a story about fly fishing.
“The only solace I can derive from the terrible news out of Russia is that his spirit will surely live on in his friends, family, and coworkers,” Hill wrote in an email. “Jeremy was living the only life he saw fit to live.
“And every time I go to visit the waters of New Mexico with my rod and reel in hand, I’ll remember how much he impacted my appreciation for the sport. I’ll remember what it’s like to witness someone living their dream to the fullest.”
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.