See The Crazy Rescue Of A Crashed Plane Trapped In Power Lines

A plane with two occupants crashed into live powerlines but rescuers were able to get everyone to safety after a lengthy process

By Kari Apted | Published

On Sunday evening, a single-engine Mooney Mike 20P aircraft collided with power lines in Montgomery County, Maryland. The small crashed plane and its two occupants remained suspended 100 feet above the ground for around seven hours while Maryland State Police coordinated a rescue effort. Freeing the pilot and his passenger was a tricky endeavor because of the live power lines and the foggy weather conditions.

Rescue workers safely removed pilot Patrick Merkle, 66, of Washington, D.C., and passenger Jan Williams, 66, of Marrero, Louisiana from the crashed plane wreckage around 1 a.m. Monday. They were transported to a local hospital for medical treatment, as both had sustained serious traumatic injuries. In addition to their orthopedic injuries, both of the plane’s occupants had developed hypothermia.

Pete Piringer, the chief spokesperson for Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service, kept people updated on the rescue mission via a Twitter thread. Piringer’s tweets showed that rescue crews used a mechanical lift—also called a cherry picker—to reach the people trapped inside the crashed plane. Comments on the thread praised the rescuers for their great work.

Rescuers had to wait for power crews to secure the lines before anyone could safely reach the crashed plane’s occupants. The tower had to be grounded or bonded, which involves crews ascending to the wires to apply clamps or cables. Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service Chief Scott Goldstein explained to reporters at the scene that grounding removes any residual power or static electricity.

The fire department and other rescuers checked on the pilot and passenger regularly throughout the rescue process. They also moderated the passengers’ use of their cell phones, to help conserve their batteries. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) put an aircraft restriction in place during the rescue mission.

A utility contractor completed grounding the power lines around 11:30 p.m. Then the contractor worked with rescue crews to secure the crashed plane to the tower structure. Around 45 minutes later, it was safe to remove the passengers.

By 4 a.m. Monday, the crashed plane was back on the ground. Customers living in the surrounding area also had their power restored, which had been off since the time of the crash. The outage affected around 120,000 customers and Montgomery County schools decided to close Monday due to the outage’s effect on vital services.

The FAA told CNN the plane had departed from Westchester County Airport in New York. The article did not specify the plane’s intended destination. However, it implied it by mentioning that the crash happened four miles northwest of the Montgomery County Airpark, the closest jet port to the Nation’s Capital.

Together with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Maryland State Police Criminal Enforcement Division, the FAA promised to investigate the crashed plane incident. According to, there are now about three small plane crashes in the United States every day. Between 2014 and 2018, 762 people died in light aircraft accidents compared to just 188 in commercial plane crashes during the same timeframe.

Although the cause of this crashed plane has not yet been revealed, the foggy weather may have been a contributing factor. Mechanical faults may be another possible factor. However, the vast majority of small plane crashes can be contributed to pilot error.