Karen Perry faces every mother’s worst nightmare as she struggles to come to terms with losing all her three children in a plane crash on the eve of Thanksgiving at Superstition Mountains, Arizona.
Morgan Perry, 9, and her brothers Logan, 8, and Luke, 6, all died in the plane crash, along with their father Shawn Perry, 39, and two other adults.
The three children had gone with their father, who is divorced from Karen Perry, so that they could spend Thanksgiving with him.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told ABCNews.com:
“It’s traumatic for any parent to hear this, and then just the nature of the crash is horrific.
“We just want to be there for her and love her and embrace her during this difficult time at Thanksgiving.
“No one could have survived that crash.”
The other pilot was identified as Russell Hardy, 31, of Thatcher, Arizona, and the mechanic was Joseph Hardwick, 22, of Safford.
The impact split the private aircraft, causing a massive fireball captured on video and seen for miles around, and left officials with little hope of finding survivors.
According to witnesses, there was a fireball and an explosion.
“I looked up and saw this fireball and it rose up,” Dave Dibble told KPHO-TV.
“All of a sudden, boom.”
Rescue crews flown in by helicopter to reach the crash site reported finding two debris fields on fire, suggesting that the plane broke apart on impact.
“The fuselage is stuck down into some of the crevices of this rough terrain,” Sheriff Paul Babeu said.
“This is not a flat area, this is jagged peaks, almost like a cliff-type rugged terrain.”
Shawn Perry had collected his three children from Canyon, Arizona, where they lived with their mother, to take them to Safford for Thanksgiving.
The father was about 100 miles east of Phoenix when he ran into trouble.
The tiny two-engine plane burst into flames after colliding with the Flat Iron section of the mountains, which are 45 miles east of Phoenix, just below their peak, witnesses reported.
Sheriff Paul Babeu said he was in close contact with the mother of the children.
“We have been aggressively searching and recovering,” he said.
“It’s almost like an 80 percent incline so because of that, you can imagine where debris tumbled to.”
Sheriff Paul Babeu said there are “multiple fatalities”. The body of a child between the ages of 5 and 9 has been recovered at the scene, he said. But authorities have been unable to determine whether it is the body of a boy or girl, he added.
The private aircraft was a twin-engine Rockwell AC690, authorities said.
Its registered owner is Ponderosa Aviation Inc. of Safford, Arizona, according to FAA records.
A video uploaded to YouTube from a greyscale webcam shows a small white light moving from the left side of the screen to the right.
About 50 seconds into the footage the light disappears.
A few seconds later there is a sudden flash of light, then more light remains as the fires burn on the mountain.
A local resident took the video from his home in Gold Canyon, roughly seven miles away from the crash site, ABC News reported.
The Superstition Mountains’ elevation is about 5,000 feet at their highest level.
The photogenic area near Lost Dutchman State Park and the Superstition Wilderness is filled with steep canyons.
Its soaring rocky outcroppings are popular with hikers and horse riders.
Apache myth holds that the mountains contain a hole that is an entrance to the underworld.