Rescue efforts are underway in Maryland after the pilot and passenger of a small plane were trapped after crashing into power lines Sunday, local officials said.
Rescue units were dispatched at 5:30 p.m. to reports of a small plane that had flown into power lines in Montgomery County, according to Pete Piringer, chief spokesman for the Montgomery County (MD) Fire & Rescue Service.
When units arrived on 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.
Firefighters are in contact 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 is safe to access the tower until it is grounded or tied down,” Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Goldstein said during a news conference Sunday night.
This involves crews going up to put clamps or cables on the wires to make sure there is no static or residual current, the chief said. The aircraft must also be attached to the tower structure, he said. Foggy weather conditions in the area make things more complicated, he added, by affecting visibility.
The plane “will not be stable until it is chained and strapped into place,” Goldstein said. “Any movement, any unintentional movement, can make the situation worse.”
Goldstein said the department regularly checks in with the plane’s passengers and moderates the use of their cellphones to conserve their batteries.
After the tower is safe to access and the aircraft is secured, crews will “work to get the occupants of the aircraft out and down to the ground and transport (them) to area hospitals,” Goldstein said.
About 120,000 customers are without power after the crash, according to the Pepco utility, which provides electric service to about 894,000 customers in Washington, DC and surrounding areas of Maryland. Montgomery County is just north of Washington, DC.
“We have confirmed that a private aircraft came into contact with Pepco transmission lines in Montgomery County,” Pepco tweeted. “We are assessing damage and working closely with Montgomery County fire and emergency services.”
“We are awaiting site clearance before crews can begin work to stabilize the electrical 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 an announcement on its website. School officials are monitoring the situation, the release 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 that 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 happened, told CNN affiliate WJLA Sunday night that he was going out to dinner with his son when he saw “two big flashes” and then several fire trucks drive by.
“It’s unfortunate, but I’m glad they’re still up there. We can see the light in the cockpit on the cell phone from the pilot, we did here that they called in to say they’re OK,” Smouse said.
Smouse said the incident is “pretty scary” and that his house is in an area where planes and jets often pass through.
“I think about it a lot where they come in and they’re literally 200 or 300 feet above us,” he said.