APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz – Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said 39-year-old Shawn Perry was the pilot of the twin-engine plane that crashed into the Superstition Mountains Wednesday night. Also on board were Russell Hardy, 31, of Thatcher, Ariz., and Joseph Hardwick, 22, of Safford.
Perry's children, Morgan Perry, 9, Logan Perry, 8, and Luke Perry, 6, lived with their mother in Gold Canyon, Arizona. The children were to spend Thanksgiving weekend with their father. Shawn Perry lived in Safford, Arizona, where he owned a small aviation business. Hardy, also a pilot, was Perry's business partner and Hardwick was the company's aircraft mechanic.
The airplane slammed into a cliff in the Superstition mountains east of Phoenix and exploded, killing the six people passengers.
Ten Pinal County Sherif deputies campped overnight on the mountain to secure the scene, Babeu said in a press conference Thursday. Dozens of deputies and volunteers began searching the crash site at sunrise on Thursday.
Babeu said he personally notified the children's mother late Wednesday. Karen Perry, who is divorced from the children's father, works for Delta Airlines.
Pinal County sheriff's spokeswoman Angelique Graham said people who heard an explosion near the Flat Iron area close to Lost Dutchman State Park.
"People said it sounded like fireworks going off," Graham said.
Witnesses said 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.
The plane was a Rockwell AC-690A and was registered to Ponderosa Aviation Inc. in Safford, the company owned by Perry and Hardy.
Kenitzer said the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board would be investigating the cause of the crash.