- Associated Press - Thursday, November 24, 2011

PHOENIX (AP) — All six people on board an airplane that slammed into the Arizona mountains and exploded were killed, authorities said Thursday.

The Thanksgiving holiday trip ended Wednesday evening when the plane hit a sheer cliff in the rugged Superstition Mountains at 200 mph (321 kph). Witnesses reported seeing a mushroom-shaped explosion and hearing the plane rev its engines in an apparent attempt to climb higher.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said the dead include the pilot and his three children ages 5 to 9, as well as two other men. The pilot had flown to a Phoenix suburb to pick up his children for the holidays. The body of one child has been recovered.

“This is their entire family — it’s terrible,” Babeu said. “Our hearts go out to the mom and the (families) of all the crash victims.”

There was no indication the plane was in distress or that the pilot had radioed controllers about any problem, he said.

It was very dark when the plane missed clearing the peak by only several hundred feet. The plane hit the cliff at the Superstition Mountains’ highest point, where the elevation is about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters).

Flames could still be seen hours after the crash.

Rescue personnel were using infrared devices to search for bodies, sheriff’s spokesman Elias Johnson said.

Rescue crews flown in by helicopter to reach the crash site in rugged terrain reported finding two debris field on fire, suggesting that the plane broke apart on impact.

The region is filled with steep canyons, soaring rocky outcroppings and cactus.