Officials say a man trying to avoid a winter storm near Payson Tuesday night died when his plane crashed into the Mazatzal Mountains south of town.
David Kappes, 28, of Mesa, had planned to fly from Holbtook to Payson, but radioed air traffic controllers that he was diverting to Phoenix due to inclement weather, said Ian Gregor, Federal Aviation Administration public affairs manager.
Air traffic controllers lost radar and radio contact with the twin-engine Piper Navajo around 8:30 p.m.
On Wednesday, an Arizona Department of Public Safety Helicopter spotted a plane wreckage northwest of the Barnhardt Trailhead, at about 7,000 feet.
Two Gila County Sheriff’s Office deputies were dropped off by helicopter below the site and hiked up to the large debris field.
Deputies dug through the snow and located pieces of the aircraft and paperwork, tentatively confirming it was Kappes’ plane. One body was located in the wreckage and has been tentatively identified as the pilot, Kappes.
The sheriff’s office is waiting on DNA testing to make an official confirmation, said Lt. Tim Scott.
The FAA and NTSB are sending investigators to the site.
Scott said the crash site is on the side of the mountain, south of North Peak. He said it is not visible from the road because it is behind a ridge.
This is the second fatal plane crash this year in Rim Country.
In September, three people died when their Piper aircraft crashed into a canyon wall near Strawberry. The group, which included a Dutch student pilot, had planned to fly from Mesa to Winslow with an emergency practice diversion to Payson, according to a preliminary report from the FAA.
The student pilot, certified flight instructor and private pilot-rated passenger died when the plane crashed in the remote and rugged Calf Pen Canyon.
Earlier this month, three people survived a helicopter accident on Roosevelt Lake. The group was on a sightseeing tour of the area Dec. 7 when the copter crashed into the lake. Nearby boaters pulled the passengers from the water.