Rescue operations are underway in Maryland after the pilot and passenger of a small plane became stranded after crashing into power lines on Sunday, local officials said.
Rescue units were dispatched at 5:30 p.m. to report a small plane had slammed into Montgomery County power lines, according to Pete Piringer, chief spokesman for the Montgomery County (MD) Fire and Rescue Department. .
When units arrived on the scene, they found a small plane suspended approximately 100 feet in the air that had struck the tower. The pilot and passenger survived and are doing well, Piringer said.
The pilot was identified by Maryland State Police as Patrick Merkle, 65 from Washington, DC. The passenger is Jan Williams, 66, of Louisiana, state police said in a news release.
The fire department is in communication with the pilot and passenger and nearby roads are closed, according to Piringer. The crash scene is about four miles northwest of Montgomery County Airpark, state police said.
There is “no other way to determine if it is safe to access the tower until it is grounded or bonded,” the fire department chief said and Montgomery County lifesaver Scott Goldstein at a press conference Sunday night.
This involves crews going up to put clamps or cables on the wires to make sure there is no static electricity or residual energy, the chief said. The plane must also be secured to the tower structure, he said. Foggy weather conditions in the area complicate matters, he added, by affecting visibility.
The aircraft “won’t be stable until it’s chained and strapped in place,” Goldstein said. “Any movement, any accidental movement, could make the situation worse.”
Utility bucket trucks were seen near the plane late Sunday about six hours after the rescue operation began, video by WJLA, CNN affiliate show.
Goldstein said the department regularly checks on the occupants of the plane and moderates the use of their cellphones to save their batteries.
Once the tower is safely accessible and the plane is secure, crews “will work to get the plane’s occupants to the ground and transport them to area hospitals,” Goldstein said.
Around 120,000 customers are without power following the accident, according to the Utility Company Pepco, which provides electric service to approximately 894,000 customers in Washington, DC, and surrounding areas of Maryland. Montgomery County is just north of Washington, DC.
“We have confirmed that a private aircraft has contacted Pepco transmission lines in Montgomery County,” Pepco tweeted. “We are assessing the damage and working closely with Montgomery County Fire and Emergency Services.”
“We are awaiting clearance to proceed to the scene before crews can begin work to stabilize the electrical infrastructure and begin to restore service,” the company added.
Montgomery County schools will be closed Monday due to widespread power outages, district officials say Sunday night.
The neighborhood said earlier that more than 40 schools in the Montgomery County Public Schools system and six central offices were without power, affecting services such as maintenance, buses and catering.
Two hospitals, MedStar Montgomery Medical Center and Holy Cross Hospital, are operating at limited capacity due to the power outage, Goldstein said.
Pepco contractor resources arrived on the scene and a local company sent a large crane to assist with the operation, Goldstein said.
“We are taking measured and risk-balanced steps to address this activity,” he said.
Federal Aviation Administration officials and Maryland State Police leaders are at the scene, Goldstein said late Sunday. The FAA has implemented an aircraft restriction during rescue efforts, state police said.
The FAA told CNN the plane is a single-engine Mooney that took off from Westchester County Airport in New York. The agency will investigate the incident with the National Transportation Safety Board.
William Smouse, who lives about a mile from where the accident took place, told CNN affiliate WJLA on Sunday night that he was going out to dinner with his son when he saw “two big lightning bolts.” then several fire trucks pass.
“It’s unfortunate, but I’m glad they’re still there. We can see the light in the cockpit from the pilot’s cell phone, we did here that they called to say they were fine” , said Smouse.
Smouse said the incident is “pretty scary” and that his home is located in an area where planes and jets often pass.
“I think about it a lot, where they’re coming in, and, literally, they’re 200 or 300 feet above us,” he said.