GAITHERSBURG, Md. — A day after two people were rescued from a plane caught in a transmission tower about 100 feet in the air in Montgomery County, the initial 911 call has been released, giving insight into the moment after the plane crashed into the tower.
The incident unfolded after a small plane crashed and became lodged in a Pepco transmission tower just after 5:30 p.m. Sunday near Rothbury Drive and Goshen Road. When first responders arrived, they could see the small plane dangling 100 feet in the air.
Utility crews from Pepco Energy shut off power to the live power lines, plunging thousands of people in the surrounding area into darkness Sunday night.
In a newly released 911 call, the pilot described the situation to dispatch, fearing how long the plane would stay before possibly falling to the ground.
"I’ve flown into a tower to the northwest of Gaithersburg Airport it’s one of the, uh, electrical towers, and believe it or not the aircraft is pinned in the tower," said 65-year-old Patrick Merkle, who was flying the plane. "And I don’t know how long we’re going to be able to stay here and I don’t know…"
While the dispatcher continued to talk to Merkle, asking questions to assess the situation, the pilot said he was concerned about his passenger, later identified as 66-year-old Jan Williams.
"If they can get a, uh, ladder truck up here – I don’t know if they can reach this high, I don’t know. I’m very concerned about my passenger, she was hurt," he said.
The dispatcher assured fire crews and police were working to stabilize the tower and get the pair down as soon as they could.
"Well, that’s fine," Merkle responded. "I’m just concerned about articulation and the possibility that we could slip out of this tower and go tail-first to the ground and that would not be a survivable distance."
Crews were able to rescue the pair and take them to an area hospital for help. As of 2 p.m. Monday, one of the two remained hospitalized, although officials could not confirm whose hospital stay is continuing.
Crews are still working to figure out the cause of the crash.
Read the full 911 call transcription below:
DISPATCH: Montgomery Co. 911 what’s the address of the emergency?
PILOT: I’ve flown into a tower to the northwest of Gaithersburg Airport it’s one of the uh electrical towers and, believe it or not, the aircraft is pinned in the tower. And I don’t know how long we’re going to be able to stay here and I don’t know…
DISPATCH: Wait, you’re the airplane pilot?
PILOT: Yeah, I’m the pilot.
DISPATCH: OK, stay on the line with me.
[Sirens heard in the background]
DISPATCH: OK, you said it’s the northwest part of the airport?
PILOT: That’s correct, we’re northwest of Gaithersburg.
DISPATCH: And you said that you’re pinned?
PILOT: We are in the tower, we are still in the plane and we are in a – Now we’ve got a light that is coming at us checking to see how we’re doing.
(Pilot yells to someone else) Hey! How ya doin?
PILOT: And uh, if they can get a, uh, ladder truck up here- I don’t know if they can reach this high, I don’t know. I’m very concerned about my passenger, she was hurt.
DISPATCH: How many people were on board?
PILOT: We have two people on board
DISPATCH: …OK, so it’s three people in total?
PILOT: No. Two. Pilot and passenger.
DISPATCH: OK, just you and the passengers, OK.
DISPATCH: And are you guys injured at all?
DISPATCH: You guys are injured?
PILOT: Yeah, affirmative, we are injured.
DISPATCH: OK, where are you guys injured at?
PILOT: Uh I’ve got- I think we’ve got head injuries from being banged around in the cockpit
DISPATCH: OK, is the other person awake and breathing?
PILOT: [Pilot speaks with passenger] They want to know that we’re both conscious.
DISPATCH: OK, is there any serious bleeding?
(The pilot then attempts to hang up in order to call back on another number but the dispatcher tells him to stay on the line)
PILOT: Well, that’s fine. I’m just concerned about articulation and the possibility that we could slip out of this tower and go tail-first to the ground and that would not be a survivable distance.
DISPATCH: You do see the fire trucks and the police department there, correct?
DISPATCH: OK, they’re working on stabilizing everything and getting up to you guys, OK?
PILOT: Thank you.
DISPATCH: Just stay on the line with me, OK? Is there any serious bleeding?
PILOT: No, but what I need for you is to call back on a number that has more coverage on the phone.
[Silence for a beat]
DISPATCH: I’m sorry sir, I was talking to a firefighter.
PILOT: Yeah, I’m just worried about, you know, being blown out of this tower, hitting the ground without anything stopping us.
DISPATCH: OK, yeah, the fire department just said ya know, stay inside of the plane, obviously, just keep as still as you can. They’re working on getting up to you guys. If you’d like I can stay on the phone with you until they get up to you.
PILOT: We’ll you’ll need to call the other number because my phone is gonna die.
[exchanges new phone number info]
DISPATCH: I’ll call you back at that number OK?