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Updated – Plane Crashes Into Superstition Mountain


Updates posted.  Scroll down.


The emergency alert was transmitted shortly after 6:30 pm Mountain time Wednesday evening after a twin-engine private aircraft flew at full speed into the side of Superstition Mountain in northern Arizona.

East Valley Tribune photo

This home video camera was already set up and taping the view for an undisclosed reason when the plane flew into the frame.  You can see the airplane's lights entering from the left-hand edge of the view and traveling to the right until the impact at the 55-second mark:


The plane was believed to have been carrying six family members and it was immediately announced that there appeared to be no survivors.  The crash site is in an especially rugged terrain and there were no emergency units anywhere around that could reach the crash zone in a timely manner.

KNXV-TV Ch. 15 Phoenix has an updated report:

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office said three children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old were among the six on board when the plane went down.  PCSO spokesman Elias Johnson confirmed the body of one of the children was recovered at the crash site just before 10 p.m. The age and gender of the child are unknown at this time.

During a Wednesday night press conference, Sheriff Paul Babeu said 10 deputies were flown to the top of Flat Iron Mountain to search the area, but had difficulty locating the passengers. According to Babeu, it "does not look promising" that anyone on board survived the fiery crash.

As of 10 p.m., the plane fuselage was still burning in the rugged terrain atop the mountain range, making it hard for crews to access the crash site.  Babeu said deputies and other agencies called in to assist will continue searching the area through the night. Teams from the National Transportation Safety Board are scheduled to visit the site at noon on Thursday.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer told ABC15 the twin engine Rockwell AC69 plane "crashed under unknown circumstances."  Kenitzer said the plane, registered to Ponderosa Aviation Inc. out of Safford, Ariz., had just departed from Falcon Field in Mesa before crashing. It appears the aircraft initially left from Safford and stopped at the East Valley airfield around 4:30 p.m. to refuel.

The explosive crash sent up a large fireball that was witnessed by many people in the area and the flaming debris set many small brush fires all around the crash site that were still burning several hours later.

The Los Angeles Times adds:

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.

Update:  KPHO-TV is reporting that the airplane flew from its base in Safford to Falcon Field in Mesa to pick up three children, all between the ages of 5 and 9, for Thanksgiving. (Sheriff Babeau) says besides a pilot, a mechanic and another adult were also on board.  The area is being searched by helicopters equipped with infra-red cameras.  KPHO also filed this video update:


At the time of this posting it is still dark in Arizona.  Firegeezer will update this report later today when more information is made available.

Update, 11 am Eastern:
It has been confirmed that the three children were siblings.  They were being taken to be with their father over the Thanksgiving weekend.  The Los Angeles Times is reporting:

Elias Johnson with the Pinal County Sheriff's Department spoke to the Los Angeles Times from the scene of the crash on Thanksgiving morning.  "Six people — three children, two of them boys and one girl" were killed, Johnson said. Three of those aboard were adult men.

The mother of the children lives in Arizona's Pinal County, where the crash took place in a mountainous area near Flatiron. "I personally made a visit and notification" to the mother "with the information we had late last night.  The mother is a pilot herself," Johnson said. "She understands when a plane crashes at 230 miles an hour … directly into the face of the mountain … and when it's a fiery crash" there's little hope of survivors. "So she understood that."

No confirmation yet on the identities of the three adults nor any mention if one of them might be the children's father.  Check back later for further updates.

Update #2, 9:30 pm Eastern:
It has been confirmed that the pilot was the children's father.

The plane apparently crashed near the crest of the mountain, just short of clearing it.  The estimated speed of the aircraft at impact is 230 mph.

Fuselage broken into two pieces.  (KNXV-TV)

As soon as it was light, helicopters began lowering the search and rescue posse, additional deputies, and federal aviation officials to the mountain top. From there they descended to the crash site and the 40 search specialists repelled into the many crevices looking for any further victims.  Their mission was to remove the bodies without disturbing any of the evidence.  They also photographed and documented as much of the crash scene that they could before 4 pm when they had to leave with high winds expected to pick up shortly after that.

KSAZ-TV Ch. 10 has a good video showing the crash site and explaining the arduous search methods being used:


Ch. 10 also posted the sheriff's press conference:


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