MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md. (DC News Now) — Members of the Montgomery County Technical Rescue Team are recounting how they brought the pilot and his passenger to safety after a plane crashed into a transmission tower on Sunday night in Montgomery Village, Md.
The team trains regularly for high-angle rescues, but no one trains specifically for a plane stuck in a tower. Members said it was a once-in-career save, and they’re happy to have had a positive outcome.
Master Firefighter Luke Marlowe reflected on the operation that freed pilot Patrick Merkle and passenger Jan Williams who spent seven hours trapped in their plane dangling 100 feet in the air.
“Once we got them into the bucket at one point I was kind of down with them and they kind of just leaned back on me. You could just tell that they were just relieved,” said Marlowe.
“Surprisingly, by the time we got up there after all the power was shut off and everything and we got up there, they were actually very calm,” Marlowe continued. “They understood what was going on. They were with it.”
To get to that point, Marlowe and Lt. John Lann had to do a lot of planning on the ground.
“Depending on whether the patients were conscious or unconscious, whether we would be able to access using the tower like we did or whether we’d have to climb. And then we had contingency plans for each one of those plans,” Lann said.
Lann, the rescue team leader, said even though the power was off, it was a bit nerve-wracking going up.
“I’m not gonna lie that when we were going up and the power line was a foot from my head I was ducking. I didn’t want to find out,” Lann said.
But he says the basics of a high-angle rescue and stabilizing the plane were routine.
“If you just break those components down to their simplest form you can get through it and not let it overwhelm you,” Lann said.
Williams was taken out first with Lann having to shut the plane door on Merkle after he tried coming in the bucket too.
“Those buckets were rated at 1,000 pounds and we would have been able to get both of them in there, but due to their injuries and everything like that, we needed to take them one at a time, care for one and then come back up,” Lann said.
The whole team is grateful for a successful and once-in-a-career rescue.
As for how the plane didn’t fall for more than seven hours before crews secured it, rescuers say the nose of the plane was jammed in between the structural supports and the wing was caught on part of it as well.