Nov 29, 2022 - News

Montgomery County plane crash took a high-wire rescue

The plane lodged in the electric pole

Investigators aren't sure what led to the 80-to-100-mph crash. Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

About 2,000 lbs of plane. Nearly 200 personnel. Seven hours.

Officials at a Monday press conference described the precarious rescue of the pilot and passenger of a small plane that crashed into an electric tower in Montgomery Village on Sunday afternoon.

Why it matters: The unusual crash required quick thinking from rescue personnel. Workers couldn’t approach the stranded people 100 feet in the air until a crane was procured and Pepco cut power, which also affected 85,000 customers. Schools were closed Monday, leaving families in a lurch on the first workday after the holiday.

What happened: Flying between 80 and 100 mph around 5:30pm in the dark, the plane first struck the power lines of one transmission tower before colliding with and getting stuck in another nearby tower, according to Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and fire and rescue chief Scott Goldstein.

  • "I've flown into a tower to the northwest of Gaithersburg airport," pilot and D.C. resident Patrick Merkle, 66, told a 911 operator, CBS reported. "Believe it or not, the aircraft is pinned in the tower."
  • Merkle and passenger Jan Williams, 66, of Louisiana, later received medical care for serious injuries. One was released from the hospital on Monday, but Goldstein did not specify who.

The single-engine Mooney M20J aircraft was lodged between electric lines with its nose pointing up and its tail broken and bending down. Close to 200 people, including fire and rescue and Pepco personnel, responded to the emergency, according to county spokesperson Scott Peterson.

  • A crane was used to lower Merkle and Williams around 12:30am Monday, Goldstein said. Just before 4am, the crane finally brought the aircraft down.
  • It’s not yet known what led to the crash. The plane was on a flight from Westchester County Airport in New York to Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg.

Context: The once-rural suburban area near the airpark has seen several crashes in recent decades, the Washington Post reported.

What we're watching: An agent from the National Transportation Safety Board was due to inspect the damaged aircraft on Monday as part of an investigation with the Federal Aviation Administration, according to Maryland State Police.

Goldstein said an FAA representative told him the weather at the time of the crash was characterized as “beginning fog,” or clouds moving to a lower level.


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