US: Small plane gets stuck in electric grid, causing widespread outages

The utility Pepco reported that about 120,000 customers were without power in the surrounding areas

Photos: AP
Photos: AP


Published: Mon 28 Nov 2022, 8:32 AM

A small plane carrying two people got stuck in live power lines in Maryland on Sunday evening, causing widespread power outages in the surrounding county, as officials worked to extricate the aircraft and its occupants.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement that the single-engine plane — which had departed from White Plains, New York — crashed into a power line tower near Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg at around 5.40pm on Sunday, and that it was stuck about 30m above the ground. The FAA added that two people were aboard.

Pete Piringer, chief spokesperson for the Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service, said on Twitter that the people on board, identified by the Maryland State Police as pilot Patrick Merkle, 65 (of Washington, DC) and passenger Jan Williams, 66 (of Louisiana) are uninjured and that rescuers had been in contact with them. He had at one point said in a video message that three people were on the plane, but later clarified that it was two.


Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein told reporters that it would take until 9.30pm or later to have all the resources in place to proceed with rescue efforts, but he gave no timetable for how long it would take to bring the plane occupants down.

Goldstein said that utility contractors would first work to ground the high-tension wires, in order to make it safe for rescuers to work. Fire crews will then use bucket trucks, or a crane, to make the plane stable by chaining it or strapping it to the tower.

After the plane is more stable, rescuers will use the crane or bucket trucks to bring the two people down. He said rescuers are periodically contacting them by cellphone to check in on them.

The FAA identified the plane as a Mooney M20J.

The video showed a small white plane positioned nose up near a power tower. A local television station's live video showed the plane remained stuck in the transmission tower after 8pm.

The transmission lines remained live, complicating rescue efforts, Piringer said.

“Everything is still energised at this time," he said.

The utility Pepco reported that about 120,000 customers were without power in Montgomery County. Piringer said that many traffic lights were also out in the area. The utility said in a statement that its personnel were waiting for rescuers to clear them to enter the scene before they could make repairs at the site of the crash.

The crash took place in Gaithersburg: a city of 69,000 people situated about 39km northwest of Washington, DC.

The cause of the crash wasn't immediately clear. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate what happened.

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