Two people have been rescued after a small plane crashed into a power line tower in Maryland, leaving both occupants suspended about 100 feet in the air for hours. The crash knocked out power to thousands of people in the area for much of the evening.
A single-engine Mooney M20J crashed into the Pepco Tower Lines near Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Md., on Sunday around 5:40 p.m. local time, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Maryland State Police identified the occupants of the plane as pilot Patrick Merkle, 65, of Washington, DC, and passenger Jan Williams, 66, of Louisiana. The two were rescued about seven hours later, with Williams getting off the plane first, followed shortly after by Merkle.
Both were taken to local hospitals with “severe injuries,” and hypothermia was also a concern, Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said. Another Montgomery County Fire and Rescue official said the injuries did not appear to be life threatening.
Goldstein told reporters shortly after 9 p.m. that crews worked to make the situation safe in order to carry out a rescue operation.
“Although there is a large blackout area in Montgomery County, there is no other way to determine if it is safe to access the tower until it is either grounded or bonded, which means teams have to climb up to the wires to put clamps or cables on the wires to make sure there is no static electricity, no residual power,” Goldstein said.
After the rescue, Goldstein said the grounding was complete by 11:30 p.m. At midnight, crews began work securing the plane to the tower, and that work was completed about 15 minutes later. The first person on the plane was taken down at 12:25 p.m., and the second person got off about 10 minutes later, Goldstein said.
He said officials were able to contact the occupants by cellphone and checked on them periodically.
The accident led to “widespread power outages” and nearby road closures, officials said. Regional power company Pepco said the crash affected about 85,000 customers, but by 2 a.m. EST the company said it had “restored electric service to all customers. affected”.
“We are continuing to stabilize the energy infrastructure at the scene and are performing a full damage assessment before beginning repairs,” Pepco said in a tweet, thanking customers for their understanding.
Montgomery County officials said earlier that all schools and public offices would be closed Monday due to power outages, and it was not immediately clear whether that plan had been scrapped with electric service restored.
The crash will be investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board, with the NTSB leading the investigation and providing additional updates, the FAA said in a statement.