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Plane with 6 aboard crashes east of Phoenix

Plane with 6 aboard crashes east of Phoenix

November 24th, 2011 by WALTER BERRY, Associated Press in News

PHOENIX (AP) - 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.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu 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.

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

No names were immediately released. 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 Wednesday night.

Sheriff's spokesman Elias Johnson said the body of one child was recovered late Wednesday night from the crash scene, but additional details weren't released.

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, 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix, at about 6:30 p.m. MST.

Flames could still be seen from the suburban communities of Mesa and Apache Junction 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, this is jagged peaks, almost like a cliff-type rugged terrain."

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the Rockwell AC-69 was registered to Ponderosa Aviation Inc. in Safford. A man who answered the phone 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 5,000 feet at the Superstition Mountains' highest point.

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

Sheriff's spokeswoman Angelique Graham said people reported hearing an explosion near the Flat Iron area close to Lost Dutchman State Park.

"People said it sounded like fireworks going off," Graham said.

Witnesses reported a fireball and an explosion.

"I looked up and saw this fireball and it rose up," Dave Dibble told KPHO-TV . "All of a sudden, boom."

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.

AP writer Michelle Price in Phoenix contributed to this report.