A small aircraft carrying six people, including three children, slammed into the rugged peaks of the Superstition Mountain in Arizona. All aboard are believed to be dead. NBC's Jeff Rossen has more details.
Updated at 12.51 p.m. ET
A small airplane with three men and three young children onboard slammed into a sheer cliff in the mile-high Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix while going around 200 mph, killing all aboard, the Pinal County sheriff said.
The body of one child was recovered and dozens of sheriff's search and rescue personnel worked Thursday to recover the remains of the other victims, said Sheriff Paul Babeu.
A search and rescue team was in the rugged mountains searching for three missing teenagers Wednesday evening and saw the explosion as the twin-engine plane hit the cliff, Babeu said. The searchers found the teens, then went up the mountain to try to reach the crash site.
Ten deputies who spent the night on the mountain were relieved by 10 more early Thursday. They and dozens of volunteers began searching the crash site at first light. Video from news helicopters Thursday morning showed the wreckage strewn at the bottom of a blackened cliff.
The dead included the pilot and his three children, two boys and a girl ages 5 to 9, Babeu said. The father lives 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 his children for Thanksgiving. The plane was headed back to Safford when it crashed.
Babeu said he personally notified the mother late Wednesday. The woman, who is divorced from the children's father, lives in Mesa and also is a pilot.
Some immediate family members are out of the country, so the names of those involved can't yet be released, Babeu said.
"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 has 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, he said.
Tim Hacker / AP
A helicopter searchlight shines over the crash scene in Arizona's Superstition Mountains on Wednesday.
Authorities received 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 (8:30 p.m. ET).
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.
'All of a sudden, it hit'
A joint report by NBC station KPNX and the Arizona Republic quoted Carla Machajewski, of Apache Junction, as saying that she saw two small planes flying around the mountains.
"The one little plane kept going straight and the other one turned and came back and disappeared for a minute. All of a sudden, it hit," she added.
KPHO-TV in Phoenix reported thatit was a Rockwell AC-69 twin engine aircraft Ponderosa Aviation in Safford, according to FAA sources.
The crash was captured on a webcam and posted to the Internet by a YouTube userin Fountain Hills, Az.
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.
Video showed several fires burning on the mountainside, where heavy brush is common.
Flames could still be seen hours after the crash.