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Thursday
Nov242011

Mother Loses Three Children in Arizona Plane Crash

Bill Cummings/Desert Breeze Photography(PHOENIX) -- An Arizona sheriff said he tried Thursday to comfort the mother of a family that perished when a small plane crashed into Superstition Mountain, a crash the sheriff said no one could have survived.

The twin-engine aircraft, which carried three adults and three children, was en route to Safford, Ariz., when it crashed Wednesday night in the jagged terrain of the Superstition Mountains.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told ABC News Thursday he was in close contact with the mother of the children, who were between the ages of 5 and 9.

"It's traumatic for any parent to hear this, and then just the nature of the crash is horrific," Babeu said. "We just want to be there for her and love her and embrace her during this difficult time at Thanksgiving."

Elias Johnson, a spokesman for the Pinal County sheriff, told ABC News that deputies had found the body of one child during the night.

Babeu told ABC News that authorities could not determine if the body was that of a boy or a girl.

The childrens' mother is divorced from their father, who was one of the pilots onboard the plane, Babeu said. The father had picked up his three children in Mesa, Ariz., where they resided with their mother, to take them to Safford for Thanksgiving, Babeu said.

Babeu told ABC News he expected to release the identities of all but one victim Thursday afternoon, once all immediate family members have been notified. He said officials were having difficulty reaching one member of a victim's immediate family, who was out of the country.

A 40-person recovery team began searching the mountainous terrain at first light Thursday morning for bodies and signs of what went wrong when the plane smashed into the mountain at 200 mph.

Helicopters transported two search and rescue deputies at a time, carrying teams that repelled into the tight caverns.

The recovery team, which Babeu said comprises "some of the best-trained pros in the country," is working rapidly to find the remaining five bodies and evidence before 4 p.m. Thursday.

"There's a window because of some storm concerns," he said. "Some of the evidence and wreckage is strewn for some distance."

The crash is believed to have involved a Rockwell AC69 twin-engine plane that had just departed from Falcon Field in Mesa, Ariz., according to the Federal Aviation Administration's Allen Kenitzer.

However, the exact make of the plane has still not been confirmed.

The mountainous terrain presents a challenge in the recovery effort. The remains of the plane's fuselage were wedged vertically in a crevice-type formation that was not easily accessible, Babeu said.

Officials now believe the plane crashed before 5 p.m. local time. Earlier reports placed the time of the crash east of Phoenix later in the evening.

Witnesses said they saw the plane crash, causing an eruption of flames.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio