Rescuers Searching for Pieces of Plane, Remains of Victims

Steep, jagged terrain makes recovery efforts a "dangerous mission."

ByABC News
November 24, 2011, 3:45 AM

Nov. 24, 2011— -- Searchers struggled to recover the remains of six people, including three children, who died when their plane hit the crest of Arizona's Superstition Mountains at 200 mph, causing an explosion that left only a wheel and a small door intact, police said today.

"It's a very arduous process, without being too descriptive, because of the explosion," Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said. "The remains are being handled with great care and compassion."

The victims of the fiery crash were identified today as Shawn Perry, 39, of Safford, Ariz., who was flying his three young children Morgan, 9; Logan, 8; and Luke, 6.

The children live with their mother Karen in Canyon, Ariz., and were traveling with their father to spend Thanksgiving with him in Safford, Ariz.

The other two adults on board were identified as Russel Hardy, 31, who was the co-owner of the Rockwell AC69 twin-engine plane, and Joseph Hardwick, 22, a mechanic who was engaged to be married on Dec. 16.

The plane crashed about 5 p.m. Wednesday shortly after takeoff from an airfield in Mesa, Ariz., slamming ino the top of a mountain, Babeu said.

The fiery moment of impact, which was captured on video, led investigators to conclude that the sheer force had instantly killed all of the passengers.

"No one could have survived that crash," the sheriff said.

"We have been aggressively searching and recovering," Babeu said. "It's almost like an 80 percent incline so because of that, you can imagine where debris tumbled to."

"Some of the evidence and wreckage is strewn for some distance," he said.

The terrain is so jagged and treacherous that only elite members of the region's search and rescue units are allowed on the mountain top, Babeu said. Searchers have had to rappel into crevices from helicopters to recover remains.

"This is an extremely dangerous operation," Babeu said. "Even some like myself would not be able to go into this exact area."

The sheriff said the searchers first took aerial photos of the wreckage and were being careful not to disturb the plane's parts to aid investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, which are en route to the site.

The sheriff, who said he had spent many of the hours since the crash comforting the children's mother, who has no other children, teared up at several points during a press conference this afternoon as he spoke about the grief the families were facing on Thanksgiving Day.

"It's traumatic for any parent to hear this, and then just the nature of the crash is horrific," Babeu told "We just want to be there for her and love her and embrace her during this difficult time at Thanksgiving."

He said he had been in contact with all of the victims' familes.

"They are all traumatized by the loss of their loved ones so suddenly and on Thanksgiving," Babeu said.

"We're heartbroken with them," he said. 'We all have a lot to be thankful for."