Search and rescue personnel found the body of a child and worked Thursday to recover the remains of five other passengers killed when a twin-engine plane slammed into a rugged mountaintop cliff near Phoenix, authorities said.
Officials landed a helicopter near the crash scene in the Flatiron part of the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction, said Elias Johnson of the Pinal County Sheriff's Department. Video from news helicopters Thursday showed the wreckage strewn at the bottom of a blackened cliff.
The dead included pilot Shawn Perry, 39, his two sons and his daughter, said Sheriff Paul Babeu. Morgan, 9, Logan, 8, and Luke Perry, 6, lived with their mother in the community of Gold Canyon in Pinal County. Their father lived in Safford in southeastern Arizona and owned a small aviation business there.
He had flown to the Phoenix suburb of Mesa with another pilot who co-owned the company and a company mechanic to pick up the children for Thanksgiving. The plane was headed back to Safford when it crashed.
The other pilot was identified as Russell Hardy, 31, and the mechanic was Joseph Hardwick, 22.
Johnson estimated the plane had been traveling at 230 mph when it hit the face of the mountain. The fuel from the plane exploded and caused a small brush fire, which burned itself out in the rocky terrain, he said.
Crews were "rappelling down to the fuselage" of the plane as part of their search efforts, Johnson said. "The main part of the plane is still intact … nose-down in a crevice in the canyon."
Babeu said he personally notified the mother late Wednesday. The woman, who is divorced from the children's father, is also a pilot.
"This is their entire family — it's terrible," Babeu said. "Our hearts go out to the mom and the [families] of all the crash victims. We have so many people that are working this day, and we just want to support them and embrace them and try to bring closure to this tragedy."
There was no indication the plane was in distress or that the pilot had radioed controllers about any problem, the sheriff said.
It was dark at the time, and the plane missed clearing the peak by only several hundred feet. The aircraft slammed into an area of rugged peaks and outcroppings in the Superstition Mountains, 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix, at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, authorities said.
Witnesses saw a fireball and an explosion.
The region is filled with steep canyons, soaring rocky outcroppings and cactus. Some witnesses told Phoenix-area television stations they heard a plane trying to rev its engines to climb higher before apparently hitting the mountains. The elevation is about 5,000 feet at the Superstition Mountains' highest point.
The plane was a Rockwell AC-690A registered to Ponderosa Aviation Inc. in Safford, which Babeu said was the company co-owned by Perry.