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4 members of 1 family, groom-to-be, new dad killed in Arizona plane crash

Joshua Lott / Reuters

A Maricopa County Sheriff Police helicopter flies over the Superstition Mountains searching for victims of a plane that crashed in Apache Junction, Arizona on Thursday.

Updated 11:55a.m. ET 

The six victims of a plane crash in Arizona were identified by authorities late Thursday. The victims included the pilot and his three young children who were to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with him.

Their small, twin-engined airplane slammed into a sheer cliff on Wednesday evening in the rugged, mile-high Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix and exploded.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu confirmed that the dead included pilot Shawn Perry, 39, his daughter Morgan Perry, 9, and his two sons Logan Perry, 8, and Luke Perry, 6, who all lived with their mother in the community of Gold Canyon in Pinal County. Their father lived 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 the children for Thanksgiving. The plane was headed back to Safford when it crashed.

The other pilot was identified as Russell Hardy, 31, of Thatcher, Ariz., who Babeu said had a three-year-old son.

The mechanic was Joseph Hardwick, 22, of Safford, who Babeu said was engaged and due to be married on Dec. 16.

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.

Babeu said he personally notified the mother of the three children late Wednesday. The woman, who is divorced from the children's father, is also a pilot.

"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, the sheriff said.

It was very dark at the time, and the plane missed clearing the peak by only several hundred feet. The aircraft slammed into an area of rugged peaks and outcroppings in the Superstition Mountains, 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix, at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, authorities said.

The plane was a Rockwell AC-690A and was registered to Ponderosa Aviation Inc. in Safford, which Babeu said was co-owned by Perry.

Kenitzer said the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board would be investigating the cause of the crash.

Update at 11:55a.m. ET: Friends and acquaintances are lending support to the mother of the three children who were killed in the crash, the Associated Press reported.

Karen Perry, of Apache Junction, Ariz., was described as a selfless woman trying to raise her three children. Morgan, 9, was diagnosed with epilepsy and faced multiple brain surgeries. Luke, 6, had autism. Perry's third child, Logan, was 8.

"They were just great kids," said Mark Blomgren, principal at Peralta Trail Elementary in Apache Junction, where the two oldest children attended. "All the teachers were naturally shocked. They cared about them and wondered how their mom was doing and they were just hit pretty hard. Logan and Morgan were just special kids that the teachers really bonded with."

It also emerged that the plane missed clearing the peak by several hundred feet, the Associated Press reported.