Massive overnight rescue after small plane gets lodged in Maryland power lines

On Sunday evening in Montgomery County, Maryland, a small, single-engine plane carrying two people crashed into a power transmission tower and was suspended by live power lines about 100 feet in the air, triggering a major 7-hour rescue effort.

FAA and Montgomery County authorities said that the Mooney M20J plane crashed into PEPCO electricity transmission wires near Goshen Road and Rothbury Drive outside of Gaithersburg around 5:40 p.m.

(Video: WBAL-TV)

At 1:00 a.m. this morning, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Chief Scott Goldstein said that the pilot and passenger had been rescued from the severely damaged aircraft by his team and taken to local trauma centers with serious injuries.

Maryland State Police identified the pilot as Patrick Merkle, 66, of Washington, D.C. and the passenger as Janet Williams, 66, of Marrero, Louisiana. Both reportedly suffered hypothermia, orthopedic trauma, and other injuries.

The FAA said the plane departed the Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, and was headed for Montgomery Airpark. The crash occurred about 4 miles from there.

Initially, authorities reported that the plane’s occupants were not hurt but were only stuck amongst the wires.

Late Sunday night, Goldstein spoke about the challenges of the rescue during a press conference.

“There is no other way to determine if it’s safe to access the tower until it is grounded, or bonded,” Goldstein said. “Crews have to go up to the wires themselves to put clamps or cables onto the wire to then ensure that there’s no static electricity, no residual power… as well as the vibration of the airplane, securing the airplane to the tower structure.”

Those processes were carried out by midnight. Then, at 12:36 a.m., the crash victims were delivered safely to the ground, according to Goldstein.

While the rescue was underway, authorities said they were in regular contact with Merkle and Williams by cell phone, giving them updates about the progress. Contact was somewhat sparing, in order to preserve the phones’ battery life.

After the people were rescued, a crane was employed to remove the plane from the tower, which was done by about 3 a.m.

Reports varied as to how many area residents were left without power for 6 hours, as a result of the crisis. Numbers ranged from 49,000 to 120,000. But by 4 a.m., power had been restored to all but 500 homes, according to WBAL in Baltimore.

The local power company, Pepco, posted a statement to Twitter.


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