Walker County sheriff's Chief Deputy James Painter said Wednesday authorities are still investigating but believe the three teenagers took off in the plane before it went down in a wooded area near Jasper, northwest of Birmingham.
"We don't know for sure but we think it was some teenagers who stole the plane and were sort of joyriding it," Painter told The Associated Press. "They got it in and took off and didn't go very far."
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the Piper PA 30 crashed less than a mile from the Walker County Airport in Jasper.
The names of the three occupants of the plane haven't been released.
"I think they were just looking for a thrill and they had their last one," Painter said.
The plane had departed from the small airport at night and when there was a low cloud ceiling , airport manager Edwin Banks said.
"It was a student pilot flying an airplane without permission, an airplane that he was not qualified to fly at night," Banks said. He declined to name the student before authorities release the identities.
The teenage pilot had flown a single-engine airplane in the past "and he got in a double-engine at night in bad weather with a couple of his buddies," Banks said.
The Piper PA 30 is also called a Piper Twin Comanche. It is a low-wing plane with two propellers and can seat four to six, depending on the model.
The planes were built from 1963 until 1972, and were popular with flight schools because of their fuel efficiency and relatively inexpensive price tags, according to the International Comanche Society, an enthusiasts' group.