The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office has identified the victims of the plane crash that occurred on Nov. 17 northeast of Paulden.
According to YCSO Public Information Officer Susan Quayle, the pilot, Jack Allen Huffman, 51, of Sedona, and his two passengers, Thomas Bryan Rossi, 60, of Surprise and Daniel Craig Peters, 49, of Glendale, were found deceased in the wreckage of a twin-engine Cessna airplane in rugged terrain.
Officials began the search for the plane early Wednesday morning after they received information that it was overdue at the Sedona Airport.
Quayle said that the plane had exploded on impact when it went down in remote terrain near Perkinsville/Drake Road and Forest Road 186.
At around 4:30 a.m. the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) issued an "attempt to locate" the aircraft, that was piloted by Huffman, a 30-year veteran pilot.
The Coconino County Civil Air Command, which was also searching for the aircraft, reported seeing the wreckage at around 9:50 a.m.
A DPS Ranger helicopter out of Flagstaff landed at the scene 30 minutes later and confirmed that it was the missing plane. They also reported that the remains of three severely burned men were discovered, Quayle said.
"It was a private plane and it seemed that all of the victims were friends scouting for elk," Quayle added.
The elk hunting season starts on Nov. 19, she said, adding that the pilot left the Sedona Airport on Tuesday heading to Williams to collect two passengers. They boarded the plane and left the Williams airport at around 3 p.m., she said.
"It was not a charter flight — they were on their way to Sedona, but they didn’t make it," she added.
She said it is unclear whether the plane had any communication with the nearby airports before it crashed.
According to Quayle, the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board (NYSB) are still conducting investigations into the incident and a cause of the wreck is still unclear.
YCSO also set up its Mobile Command Post three miles from the crash site to help the investigating parties and search and rescue units with the investigation and obtain easier access to the site.
She said authorities initially planned to remove the bodies Wednesday via helicopter, in that access is available only by helicopter or on foot. Instead, though, the scene remained secure overnight pending the arrival of NTSB and FAA investigators. Authorities were to remove the bodies in the presence of the medical examiner, who was to determine the victims 'identities based on dental records and the victims' remains, Quayle said.
Mirsada Buric-Adam of The Daily Courier contributed to this story.