Pilot’s 911 call reveals moments after small plane crashed into Maryland power tower

The release of a 911 call that may have saved the lives of a pilot and his passenger after the small plane he was flying crashed into a high-voltage transmission tower in Maryland on Sunday night has revealed some of the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Pilot Patrick Merkle, 65, of Washington, D.C., and passenger Jan Williams, 66, of Louisiana, were rescued in the early hours of Monday morning after the crash outside Gaithersburg, coming away with serious, but non life-threatening injuries.

“I’ve flown into a tower to the northwest of Gaithersburg Airport. It’s one of the electrical towers,” the pilot told dispatchers in a 911 call made public by the Montgomery County Police, according to NBC Washington. “Believe it or not, the aircraft is pinned in the tower,” he says.

“Fortunately, we don’t have a lot of wind, but if we get some wind going, we’re goners,” the pilot said, as he and his passenger remained trapped inside the plane.

At one point, the pilot described what happened in the moments leading up to the crash.

“Totally a visibility issue,” he said, according to NBC Washington. “We were looking for the airport. I descended to the minimum altitude and, uh, then, apparently, I got down a little bit lower than I should have.”

Eventually, first responders were able to rescue the pair.

“I just want to say: I’m really, really glad that both of the pilot and the passenger made it out safely,” Laurel Manion, the Montgomery County Public Safety employee who answered the initial 911 call from the plane’s pilot, told NBC Washington.

“That was the ultimate goal, and I hope you guys are doing good,” Manion said in a message addressed to the pilot and passenger. “I wish you good health.”

The Mooney M20J single-engine plane was initially reported down about 4 miles northwest of Montgomery County Airpark at about 5:40 p.m. Sunday, according to troopers and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Officials said at a news conference following the incident that the rescue was a complicated process, as any power line near the wreckage needed to be tested in person to ensure it wouldn’t harm first responders or the two people aboard the plane.

The pair was ultimately rescued by EMS personnel using two specialty trucks with cranes, state police said in a statement.

Both were rushed to trauma care following their rescue, Montgomery County Fire Department officials previously said at a news conference. One of them remained in the hospital as of Monday afternoon, officials said. It was not immediately clear what their status was as of early Wednesday morning.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board have said they are investigating the cause of the crash.

Officials said around 120,000 utility customers in the area were left without power at one point late Sunday and the outage prompted school closures on Monday.

A statement from Pepco, the Potomac Electric Power Co., said that crews responded to the crash site and worked with authorities to expedite the rescue and restoration of power, with power restored to all by 11:58 p.m. Sunday, according to Pepco region President Donna Cooper.

Dennis Romero and Mirna Alsharif contributed.

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