Report: Pilot in crash flew straight into cliff

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz. (AP) -- A preliminary federal report shows the pilot of a plane that crashed into the Superstition Mountains on Nov. 23 appears to have flown straight into a cliff without making any effort to climb over the mountain.

The National Transportation Safety Board's report into the crash that killed three men and three children was released Saturday. It shows that pilot Russell Hardy of Thatcher took off from Mesa's Falcon Field and climbed while heading east. Two minutes into the flight, Hardy was cleared to turn right and head toward his destination in Safford.

Hardy, 31, climbed to 4,500 feet and maintained that altitude until hitting the cliff less than five minutes after takeoff.

He was killed along with airplane co-owner Shawn Perry, his three children and mechanic Joseph Hardwick of Safford.