Plane crashes into Superstition Mountains

2011-11-24 11:49

Phoenix - A small plane carrying three adults and three children crashed in flames in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix on Wednesday night, leaving one child confirmed dead and no signs of survivors, authorities said.

Preliminary reports indicate the twin-engine plane flew from Safford to Mesa's Falcon Field to pick up three children for the Thanksgiving holiday and was headed back to Safford in southeastern Arizona, said Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.

A pilot, a mechanic and another adult were also on board, Babeu said.

The children reportedly were between the ages of 5 and 9.

Calls to Falcon Field, which mostly serves small, private planes, weren't immediately returned on Wednesday night.

Not looking promising

Sheriff's spokesperson Elias Johnson said the body of one child was recovered late Wednesday night from the crash scene.

Rescue personnel were using infrared devices to search for bodies, but had not been able to detect any sign of movement, according to Johnson.

"It does not look promising," Babeu said at a news conference. "We will search throughout the night."

Authorities started getting calls reporting a mushroom-like explosion near the peak of a mountain, 64km east of downtown Phoenix, at about 18:30 MST.

Flames could still be seen hours after the crash.

Rescue crews flown in by helicopter to reach the crash site in rugged terrain reported finding two debris field on fire, suggesting that the plane broke apart on impact.

"The fuselage is stuck down into some of the crevices of this rough terrain, and we're doing our best at this point in the darkness," Babeu said. "This is not a flat area, [these are] jagged peaks, almost like a cliff-type rugged terrain."

Region filled with steep canyons

Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Allen Kenitzer said the Rockwell AC-69 was registered to Ponderosa Aviation Inc in Safford. A man who answered the phone on Wednesday night at Ponderosa Aviation declined comment.

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 1 500m at the Superstition Mountains' highest point.

Kenitzer said the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board would be investigating the cause of the crash.

Video showed several fires burning on the mountainside, where heavy brush is common.

The region near Lost Dutchman State Park and the Superstition Wilderness is filled with steep canyons, soaring rocky outcroppings and cactus. Treasure hunters who frequent the area have been looking for the legendary Lost Dutchman mine for more than a century.