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updated: 9/15/2012 9:21 PM

Three found dead after small plane crashes in Arizona

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Associated Press

PHOENIX -- A small plane that belonged to an Arizona flight school was found crashed in a canyon in the mountains east of Phoenix on Saturday, and all three men on board were confirmed dead.

Among those on the missing plane were two residents of the Netherlands, one a student pilot and the other an instructor for Dutch airline KLM, which contracted with the school for pilot training.

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The single-engine Piper PA-28 left Falcon Field in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa on Thursday for a round-trip flight to Winslow, Ariz., with a stop in Payson. Officials with CAE Global Academy reported it overdue after several hours.

The Civil Air Patrol launched planes and used radar tracks and the passengers' cell phone signals to narrow the search area on Friday. The wreckage was found in a box canyon early Saturday by a state police helicopter crew.

The plane apparently hit a cliff wall, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said. A search-and-rescue team from the Gila County sheriff's office hiked to the site and determined there were no survivors.

The flight instructor on the missing plane was from the Phoenix area. He was identified as 25-year-old Taylor Bennell, said Nathalie Bourque, vice president of communications for CAE Inc., which runs flight schools around the world.

The student pilot was Lucas Westenberg, 19, from the Netherlands, Bourque said.

She identified the third person on the plane as Rob Van Den Heuvel, a 68-year-old retired KLM flight officer and former Dutch air force fighter pilot who was helping train KLM cadets in Arizona.

CAE's Arizona operations train classes of KLM cadets for 21 weeks and then students return to the Netherlands for more training, Bourque said. Training was suspended in the aftermath of the crash.

"We're taking care of our cadets and our instructors and more importantly the families," Bourque said. "We all know that it's trying times right now."

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