According to a preliminary report in the investigation of a recent plane crash in the Superstition Mountains, the father of the three children who were killed was not the person flying the plane.
The National Transportation Safety Board's report said that the pilot was a certified commercial pilot for single- and multi-engine planes, who appears to have flown straight into a cliff without trying to climb over Superstition Mountain.
The pilot -- 31-year-old Russell Hardy, of Thatcher -- had about 2,500 total hours of flight experience, and his last flight review was in September, according to FAA records.
His most recent FAA medical certificate was issued in July.
There were no problems with the flight's takeoff. Two minutes into the flight, Hardy was cleared to turn right and head east, toward Safford, Ariz.
Hardy climbed to 4,500 feet and maintained that altitude until hitting the cliff less than five minutes after takeoff.
He was killed along with airplane co-owner, Shawn Perry, his three children --Morgan, Logan and Luke -- and mechanic Joseph Hardwick, of Safford. Perry and the children were in the backseat of the plane.
No flight plan had been filed for the flight from Mesa's Falcon Field Airport to Safford Regional Airport.
The plane crashed at 6:31 p.m. on Nov. 23 -- the night before Thanksgiving. The children were on their way to their father's home to celebrate the holiday.
The children's father was a co-owner of Ponderosa Aviation, and witnesses said his kids often flew to their father's in Safford in company planes.
The Rockwell International 690A airplane was made in 1976. It was equipped with two Honeywell turbo-shaft engines and had been recently purchased. It was flown from Indiana to Arizona about one week before the crash, the FAA said.
The plane hit a steep, rocky terrain with an elevation of about 4,650 feet, about 150 feet below the top of the mountain peak. The wreckage indicated the plane hit the mountain while traveling in a straight line.
All six propeller blades, both engines, and most major flight control surfaces were identified in the wreckage, which was taken off the mountain for further investigation.
Toy, Book or Money Donation Honoring Superstition Mountains Plane Crash Victims:
Perry Funeral Fund
Gold Canyon Bank
6641 S. Kings Ranch Road #2
Gold Canyon, AZ 85118