Three children and three adults are confirmed dead following a small plane crash and explosion in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.

Authorities have released their names:

Russell Hardy, 31, Thatcher, AZ, co-pilot and partial owner of the aircraft - married with a 3-year-old son
Joseph Hardwick, 22, Safford, AZ, airplane mechanic - youngest of seven children and engaged to be married next month
Shawn Perry, 39, Safford, AZ, co-pilot - divorced father of three
Morgan Perry, 9, Gold Canyon, AZ
Logan Perry, 8, Gold Canyon, AZ 
Luke Perry, 6, Gold Canyon, AZ

"We express our deep sympathy to the families. The remains of all of these loved ones are being handled with great care and compassion, and working with the medical examiners to identify the bodies at this point," said Sheriff Babeu.

"These people were all very close, there were all family, even though they were not related."

Babeu added that he met with the families personally and that they are distraught.

"For me personally, in talking with family members, it is not easy. We have to maintain our professionalism and courtesy, I just wanted to tell them personally we were doing everything possible to maintain the dignity of their loved one and to safeguard their memories... we're heartbroken with them."

According to the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, the plane originated in Safford and landed at Mesa's Falcon Field about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to pick up Perry's children. The goal was to take them back to Safford to celebrate Thanksgiving.

The plane refueled and departed Falcon Field about 6:15 p.m. While ascending, the plane was unable to clear the height of the Superstition Mountains -- and crashed into the Flat Iron peak, elevation 4,500 feet. The plane split in two and burst into flames.

"No one could survive that crash... we didn't want to give false hope, even though our efforts are to rescue and to save life, that was not possible," said Babeu.

A recovery operation began and by the end of the night, one child's body had been recovered. At midnight, search efforts were suspended until daybreak. The crash occurred in a part of the mountain range that is very rugged, and because of the explosion, debris was strewn over a large area.

By Thursday, the remaining victims were confirmed dead.

"[Going forward] primarily this is the sheriff's office documenting the scene to preserve the evidence, so a proper investigation for the crash can be done, and for us to work with medical examiners to collect properly the remains of those who've been lost," said Babeu.

Hikers are asked to avoid the western face of the Flat Iron area.

The NTSB will investigate as to the cause of the crash -- where it be mechanical or pilot error. Investigators were flying in from California.

To Donate: Perry Funeral Fund
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