Karen Perry, of Apache Junction, Ariz., has experienced a series of struggles in recent years and is described as a selfless woman trying to raise her three children. Morgan Perry, 9, was diagnosed with epilepsy and faced multiple brain surgeries. Luke Perry, 6, had autism. Perry's third child, Logan Perry, was 8.
"They were just great kids," said Mark Blomgren, principal at Peralta Trail Elementary in Apache Junction, where the two oldest children attended. "All the teachers were naturally shocked. They cared about them and wondered how their mom was doing and they were just hit pretty hard. Logan and Morgan were just special kids that the teachers really bonded with."
Crews continue hunting through crags and outcroppings of the mountaintop area just east of Phoenix, searching for victims of the fiery crash that killed all six people aboard, including Perry's ex-husband, Shawn Perry, 39, who was the pilot.
He lived in Safford, Ariz., where he owned a small aviation business, and had flown to the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Ariz., with another pilot who co-owned the company and a company mechanic to pick up the children for Thanksgiving. The plane was headed back to Safford when it crashed.
The other pilot was identified as Russell Hardy, 31, of Thatcher, Ariz., and the mechanic was Joseph Hardwick, 22, of Safford.
The twin-engine plane was traveling about 200 mph when it slammed into a sheer cliff in the mile-high Superstition Mountains an hour after sundown Wednesday, authorities said.
The aircraft exploded in flames, split apart and scattered burning debris.
"No one could have survived that crash," Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said Thursday.
The body of one child was recovered and dozens of sheriff's search and rescue personnel worked Thursday to recover the remains of the other victims.
"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. We have had so many people that are working this day, and we just want to support them and embrace them and try to bring closure to this tragedy."
Karen Perry is also a pilot.
Video from news helicopters Thursday showed the wreckage strewn at the bottom of a blackened cliff.
"This is not a rescue mission, but that of recovery," Babeu said.
There was no word on what caused the crash but the sheriff said there was no indication the plane was in distress or that the pilot had radioed controllers about any problem.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
It was very dark at the time, and the plane missed clearing the peak by only several hundred feet. The aircraft crashed about 40 miles east of downtown Phoenix around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, authorities said.
Some witnesses told Phoenix-area television stations they heard a plane trying to rev its engines to climb higher before apparently hitting the mountains.
The mountains are filled with steep canyons, soaring rocky outcroppings and reach an elevation of about 5,000 feet at the highest point.
Part of the recovery operation was in such dangerous terrain that only teams well trained in using ropes could maneuver, Babeu said.
"Regular deputies and even myself would not go into this exact area," he said.
The plane was a Rockwell AC-690A and was registered to Ponderosa Aviation Inc. in Safford, which Babeu said was co-owned by Shawn Perry.