A “herculean effort” Sunday night saw the rescue of two people that were trapped and “dangling” from their small plane over live power lines in Maryland for hours after the aircraft crashed and became entangled in the wires.
The plane involved is a Mooney Mike 20P single engine plane, Maryland State Police confirmed. Chief spokesperson for Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service Pete Piringer, who was at the scene, said the crash involving a passenger and a pilot happened around 5.30 p.m., with units arriving on scene to find the aircraft suspended approximately 100 feet in the air. Weather conditions were not ideal at the time, and for some reason the plane came into contact with some wires and ended up colliding with a tower, he said.
The crash is located approximately four miles northwest of the Montgomery County Airpark.
It took more than six hours to safely access the pair, but by midnight, the surrounding lines had been “de-energized” and authorities could safely access the plane.
A fire crew was able to make contact, securing the aircraft to the tower at 12:16 a.m. By 12:25 a.m., the first person was down. The second came down at 12:36 a.m, Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said in a late night press conference.
Both have been transported from the scene with serious injuries. The nature of injuries include hypothermia and orthopedic injuries. The injuries didn’t appear to be life-threatening however the injuries were “traumatic.”
The pilot was identified as Patrick Merkle, 65, of Washington, D.C. The passenger is Jan Williams, 66, of Louisiana. For hours, the occupants were “dangling about 100 feet in the air” while “everything is still energized.
“They’re in a very precarious situation given the fact they are dangling about 100 feet up,” Piringer said earlier.
As the rescue effort clocked past midnight, Piringer said the pair were “anxious to get out of that plane. They have been very patient through all of this.”
Goldstein said in an update that authorities had been contacting the pair via phone, moderating regular check-in intervals to conserve the devices batteries. The pair were initially communicating through a 911 dispatcher, relaying messages, until authorities transitioned to contacting them directly.
Area roads will continue to closed as authorities attempt to come up with a plan to remove the plane.
Most of the power had been restored after tens of thousands of people suffered power outages in the area, which utilities confirmed were the result of the crash. Pepco said in a statement that up to 120,000 customers were affected.
“Our crews continue to work closely with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services in an effort to support emergency responders at the scene. The transmission lines are currently deenergized,” the company said.
Just before midnight, Pepco said it remained on the scene and that “once the individuals have been rescued, we can focus all efforts on restoring power for our customers. We know it is difficult to be without power on this cold evening. We appreciate your support and patience.”
Along with homes, schools, hospitals and shopping malls, the outage also affected traffic lights, signals, elevators and the Metro. A number of schools will be closed Monday due to the widespread outages.
Goldstein said earlier that safety concerns had prevented crews from rescuing them.
One of the main issues, he said, is that there is no other way to determine if it is safe to access the tower until it is grounded, or “bonded” – which means crews have to go up to wires themselves and put clamps or cables onto the wires, to ensure there is no static electricity or residual power.
“We are taking measured and risk-balanced steps to approach this activity and will be doing this in manner where we will aim to extricate these folks out of the plane,” Goldstein said.
Witnesses described a frightening scene Sunday as the plane crashed toward earth.
“I heard a crash noise and there was a flash and the power flickered,” one witness, a county employee, posted on Twitter.
“I didn’t think anything of it until I saw multiple patrol cars drive by priority followed by a ton of fire rescue. So you know I did what any off-duty 911 person did and texted a friend who’s at work.”
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will conduct investigations into how and why the crash occurred, police said.