Two people were seriously injured after their small plane crashed into a transmission tower linking powerlines on Sunday night in Maryland.
The passengers were trapped in the plane for multiple hours almost 30m above the ground as emergency services worked carefully to free them.
The pilot, Patrick Merkle, 65 and passenger Jan Williams, 66, were successfully freed after midnight and subsequently transported to a trauma centre. Both suffered head injuries while Williams also suffered from a rib fracture. By Monday, the status of both of their conditions had improved.
Firefighters stabilised the plane with a crane and segmented the plane into two separate pieces. The pieces were lowered down separately while working around the power lines.
Authorities were in contact with the pair in the aircraft during the ordeal, checking in just once every 30 minutes in order to preserve the battery of the passengers’ phones.
Merkle and Williams were flying to Montgomery County Airpark Md and departed from Westchester County Airport, New York, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. It remains unclear how the crash happened and an investigation is underway.
Chief Scott Goldstein of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services devised a plan with his team to get the pair down safely. The crew went up the tower and made sure the wires had no residual power. Cables were then placed on the wires to transfer any static electricity to a ground source. Bucket trucks were used to elevate the crew to the aircraft and secure it firmly to the tower.
“It’s not going to be stable until it’s chained and strapped in place,” chief Goldstein said.
“Any movement, any accidental movement, could make the circumstance worse.”
More than 100 fire and rescue workers were on-site taking “measured and risk-balanced steps” to save the pair in the plane.
The crash caused a mass power outage for over 85,000 customers, with up to 115,000 customers experiencing power fluctuations as power was rerouted. Traffic lights, hospitals and schools were all without power for several hours. Most of the county’s power has since been restored, however, school was cancelled on Monday for the Montgomery County Public School System as more than 40 of their schools were still without power.
According to a 911 operator who was in contact with the pair and the ground crew, both Merkle and Williams were “pretty calm.”
“I don’t know how calm I would have been if I was in their shoes. And that’s just what I was trying to think about the whole time that I was reassuring them,” the operator added.
Small plane crashes into powerline tower in Maryland, US Comment
Incredible job by the rescue responders.
Multiple challenges to overcome: A light aircraft stuck at an extreme height, power lines carrying high voltage, two severely injured occupants, securing the aircraft from falling or further complication being tangled at height.
Glad to see a positive outcome.