Rescue operations are underway in Maryland after the pilot and passenger of a small plane became trapped after crashing into power lines Sunday, local officials said.
Rescue units were dispatched at 5:30 p.m. to reports of a small airplane that had flown into the power lines in Montgomery County, according to Pete Piringer, chief spokesperson for Montgomery County (MD) Fire & Rescue Service.
When units arrived on the scene, they found a small plane suspended about 100 feet in the air that had struck the tower. The pilot and passenger survived and are OK, Piringer said.
The fire department is in communication with the pilot and passenger, and roads are closed as crews come up with a rescue plan, according to Piringer.
There is “no other way to determine if it’s safe to access the tower until it is grounded or bonded,” Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Chief Scott Goldstein said during a Sunday evening news conference.
This involves crews ascending to put clamps or cables onto the wires to make sure there is no static electricity or residual power, the chief said. The airplane must also be secured to the tower structure, he said. Foggy weather conditions in the area are making matters more complicated, he added, by affecting visibility.
The plane “is not going to be stable until it’s chained and strapped in place,” Goldstein said. “Any movement, any accidental movement, could make the circumstance worse.”
Goldstein said the department is regularly checking in with the plane occupants and moderating the use of their cell phones to conserve their batteries.
After the tower is safe to access and the plane is secured, crews “will work to bring the occupants of the plane out and down to the ground and transport (them) to area hospitals,” Goldstein said.
Roughly 120,000 customers are without power following the crash, according to the Pepco utility company, which provides electric service to roughly 894,000 customers in Washington, DC, and surrounding areas in Maryland. Montgomery County is just north of Washington, DC.
“We have confirmed that a private plane came into contact with Pepco’s transmission lines in Montgomery County,” Pepco tweeted. “We are assessing damage and working closely with Montgomery County fire and emergency services.”
“We are awaiting clearance to the scene before crews can begin work to stabilize the electric infrastructure and begin restoring service,” the company added.
More than 40 schools in the Montgomery County Public Schools system and six central offices are currently without power, affecting services such as maintenance, buses and food service, the district said in a message on its website. School officials are monitoring the situation, the message said.
Resources from Pepco’s contractor have arrived at the scene and a local company has sent a large crane to assist with the operation, Goldstein said.
Various agencies were expected to arrive at the scene around 9:30 p.m., the chief said, including the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Montgomery County Police Department.
“We are taking measured and risk balanced steps to approach this activity,” Goldstein said.
The Federal Aviation Administration told CNN the plane is a single-engine Mooney that departed from Westchester County Airport in New York. The agency will investigate the incident along with the National Transportation Safety Board.
William Smouse, who lives about a mile from where the crash took place, told CNN affiliate WJLA on Sunday evening that he was going out to dinner with his son when he saw “two big flashes” and then multiple fire engines driving by.
“It’s unfortunate but I’m glad they are still up in there. We can see the light in the cockpit of the cell phone from the pilot, we did here that they called in to say they are OK,” Smouse said.
Smouse said the incident is “pretty scary” and that his house is located in an area where planes and jets often pass through.
“I think about it a lot, where they come in, and, literally, they are like 200 or 300 feet over us,” he said.