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Plane crashes in Arizona, authorities say

November 23, 2011 |  7:40 pm

An aircraft crashed into the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix on Wednesday evening, but authorities have yet to determine what kind of plane and how many people were aboard.

The aircraft crashed into the mountainside about 6:30 p.m. local time, witnesses said. Rescue crews reportedly were attempting to land helicopters in the rugged mountains about 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix to search for survivors.

The Pinal County Sheriff's Department told local television station ABC-15 that they would not send a full rescue crew until they knew they could land a helicopter safely near the site. The plane apparently crashed near the top of the mountain and is inaccessible by foot.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport both told The Times that all flights from the airports were accounted for. The Federal Aviation Administration said that there were no missing commercial planes and that the flight could have been a charter or other “smaller” plane.

“We don't know yet if it's a passenger plane or a crop duster,” Pinal County sheriff's spokeswoman Angelique Graham told the Associated Press. “We can't tell the size of the aircraft involved from the air and we can't tell how many people may have been aboard.”

A caller identified as Lou Adams told ABC-15 that he was camping in the mountains when he heard a loud noise, then saw a “fireball and a couple of pieces disappear behind the mountain,” apparently referring to Flatiron, in the Superstition range. “I could definitely see it fell out of the sky," he said.

“I heard an engine noise, like something that didn’t sound right. … That’s what drew my attention,” he told the station.

The area is remote and rugged, he said, “like the old wild west.”


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-- Stephen Ceasar

Photo: The scene of an aircraft that crashed in the Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction. Credit: Tim Hacker / East Valley Tribune