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6 feared dead in Arizona plane crash

The aircraft with three young children aboard goes down in mountains east of Phoenix.

November 23, 2011|By Stephen Ceasar and Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times
  • A fire rages in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix where a plane went down.
A fire rages in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix where a plane… (Tim Hacker, East Valley…)

Six people on a Thanksgiving trip, including three young children, were feared dead when a twin-engine aircraft crashed into the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix on Wednesday evening, authorities said.

The plane had traveled from Safford, Ariz., to Mesa, Ariz., about 150 miles away, to pick up three young children and bring them back for Thanksgiving, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said at a news conference. A pilot, a mechanic and another adult also were aboard, he said.

The private twin-engine Rockwell AC-69 took off from Falcon Field in Mesa and crashed about 5 p.m., he said. The crash site near Flatiron peak is about 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix.

A witness identified as Lou Adams told KNXV-TV in Phoenix that he was camping in the mountains when he heard a loud noise, then saw a "fireball and a couple of pieces disappear behind the mountain. I could definitely see it fell out of the sky."

Rescue crews struggled to reach the crash site in the Superstition Mountains, uneven terrain with jagged peaks and deep crevices. The plane slammed into a mountainside in an area so remote that deputies had to be airlifted to it in pairs.

They found two debris fields with still-smoldering wreckage wedged into crevices, Babeu said. The plane had refueled in Mesa, which probably helped fan the large, post-crash fireball that residents spotted from the valley floor.

It remained unclear whether anyone aboard had survived. But considering the condition of the accident site — where fires still burn — "it does not look promising," Babeu said.

The plane was registered to Ponderosa Aviation Inc. of Safford, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

Officials said investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board would arrive Thursday morning to take over the investigation.

The mountainous region near Lost Dutchman State Park and the Superstition wilderness features steep canyons and popular hiking trails. It is a favorite of treasure hunters who have frequented the area in search of the fabled Lost Dutchman gold mine for more than a century.

Stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

Ashley.powers@latimes.com

Staff writers Rick Rojas and Ruben Vives contributed to this report.

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