APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz. -- The Department of Public Safety rescuers who originally flew to a fatal plane crash knew there was a plane down, an explosion, and little else. It was the night before Thanksgiving. Russ Dodge found intense fires, dangerous terrain and the sad reality that it was impossible for someone to have survived.
"We were able to see the flames from our nightvision goggles from the station," Dodge said.
That was more than 40 miles away. Reports were unclear, and Dodge and the pilot weren't sure what they might have to do in the Superstition Mountains.
"Confirmation needs to be made and in order to plan a rescue farther on, they have to know what they're dealing with," Dodge said.
That meant a tricky landing on a moonless night, surrounded by fires and swirling smoke.
"Haunting would probably be a good word to describe it," he said.
Dodge had to make a short, slippery trek to see if there was any hope.
"The searching was really difficult in the rugged terrain and the angle of the terrain," he said. "There were still small explosions going on when I was hiking around there trying to identify things."
He said there wasn't much left, but he located a tire, a panel and radio. He could tell the plane had been red and white. During his 30 minutes on the ground, Dodge says it was obvious there were no survivors. He did his best to keep evidence intact and respect those who had perished.
"I found several spots that I assumed were some sort of human remains," Dodge said. "We were able to give ground rescuers an idea of where they needed to look."
Dodge said there is still wreckage on the mountain that was too risky to remove. He hopes hikers and climbers leave it alone out of respect for what happened there.