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2 rescued after small plane crashes into power lines in Maryland

Two people have been rescued after a small plane crashed into a power line tower in Maryland, leaving the two occupants dangling about 100 feet in the air for hours. The crash knocked out power to thousands of people in the area.

A single-engine Mooney M20J crashed into wires near Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Maryland, around 5:40 p.m. local time Sunday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The plane appeared to be intact as it was caught in a web of power lines about 100 feet in the air.

Maryland State Police identified the occupants of the plane as pilot Patrick Merkle, 65, of Washington, D.C., and passenger Jan Williams, 66, of Louisiana. The two were rescued roughly seven hours later, with Williams being brought down from the plane first, followed shortly by Merkle.

Their conditions were not immediately known.

At roughly 7:50 p.m., Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson Pete Piringer had said the people aboard the plane were uninjured. 

Update - Gaithersburg, Maryland, @MontgomeryCoMD small plane into powerlines & tower plow, suspended about 100 feet in the air, two persons on board uninjured at this time, @mcfrs on scene, Widespread power outages, some roads closed in area,

— Pete Piringer (@mcfrsPIO) November 27, 2022

Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein told reporters shortly after 9 p.m. that crews had been working to make the situation safe to carry out a rescue operation.

"While there is a large area of power outage in Montgomery County, there is no other way to determine if it is safe to access the tower until it is grounded or bonded which means crews have to go up to the wires to put clamps or cables onto the wires to ensure there is no static electricity, no residual power," Goldstein said. 

Goldstein said the plane would then need to be stabilized by securing it to the power line tower before the two occupants can be brought down. He said officials were able to contact the occupants by cellphone, and had been checking in on them.

The crash led to "widespread power outages" and road closures nearby, officials said. 

Pepco confirmed that the crash affected approximately 85,000 customers and said they are working with authorities to assess the damage. 

"We have confirmed that a private plane came into contact with Pepco's transmission lines in Montgomery County, resulting in an outage to approximately 85,000 customers," the utility company tweeted. "We are assessing damage and working closely with Montgomery County fire and emergency services."

Montgomery County Public Schools and offices will be closed Monday due to the power outages, the district announced Monday night.

The crash will be investigated by the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board, with the NTSB leading the investigation and providing additional updates, the FAA said in a statement.   

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