A twin-engine plane carrying five people on a flight to photograph a vintage Soviet jet fighter crashed, killing everyone on board, a federal official said.
The Piper Cheyenne plane and a MiG-21 fighter took off Wednesday from an airport in Prescott, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Phoenix, about 1:30 pm for a photo shoot, said Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.
As the Cheyenne ascended after takeoff, an air traffic controller radioed the pilot to warn him about vapour seen coming from the right engine, Gregor said. The pilot radioed back saying he didn't think it was a problem.
The MiG pilot told investigators he thought he had a problem with a landing gear door about 20 minutes into the flight and asked the pilot of the other plane to fly in close for an inspection, Gregor said.
The MiG pilot said the other plane flew under his jet but never reappeared. He radioed air traffic controllers that there may have been a mid-air collision at about 8,900 feet (2,700 meters). But Gregor said there was no sign of damage on the jet after it landed safely in Prescott.
Searchers spotted a large column of smoke 16 miles (26 kilometers) northeast of Prescott and found the Cheyenne destroyed in a crash.
"The plane was completely burned up," said John Ginn, fire district chief for Chino Valley north of Prescott. "The only thing left was a small section of tail and two engines. There was very little discernible."
Scott Reed, a spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, said the medical examiner's office will determine who was on the plane.
"It's fair to say that we have an idea who may have been on the plane, but we can't release names until we have positive identification," he said.
Investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the accident.