Montgomery County

‘I'll Be With You': How a Maryland 911 Operator Helped 2 Trapped in Tower After Plane Crash

Two people were rescued from the plane that was dangling about 100 feet from the ground

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Imagine being the link to survival for the two injured people who were trapped for hours inside the small plane that hit high-tension power lines in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on Sunday.

News4’s Jackie Bensen spoke with the Montgomery County Public Safety employee who answered the 911 call from the plane’s pilot.

Laurel Manion answered the emergency call from Patrick Merkle of Washington, D.C. It started like any other: “Montgomery County 911; what’s the address of your emergency?”

Among the 911 calls made when a plane crashed into a power line tower was one from the pilot. News4's Susan Hogan reports.

From inside a plane dangling 100 feet above the ground, the pilot gave a staggering reply.

“I’ve flown into a tower to the northwest of Gaithersburg Airport. It’s one of the electrical towers. And believe it or not, the aircraft is pinned in the tower,” the pilot said.

With that, Montgomery County first responders were on a rescue mission unlike any they had seen before.

Two people were alive but trapped inside a Mooney M20-J plane wedged into the tower of a PEPCO high-tension power line near the Montgomery Airpark in Gaithersburg.

“Fortunately, we don’t have a lot of wind, but if we get some wind going, we’re goners,” the pilot told 911.

Manion tapped her training to keep the pilot and his passenger as safe and calm as possible, at one point urging them to stay inside the plane.

“I know that when we had talked through wanting to get out, them wanting to get while they were still in the plane, and it first started to shift due to the wind picking up, he had told me, 'I don’t think there’s even enough room for me to stand on this tower even if I do get out,'" Manion said. "So, from there we just said the best thing to do was to remain as still as possible and just wait until we could get up to them."

Manion was on the phone with them for about an hour and a half.

“Patrick, you're doing a great job, OK?” Manion said. “I know at this point, it seems like forever. I’m sorry that this happened. I’ll be with you guys here until they can get up to you, OK?”

At one point, the pilot talked about what happened right before the crash.

New audio has the moments a pilot of a plane that crashed into a power tower called 911 for help. News4’s Paul Wagner reports.

“Totally a visibility issue. 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,” he said.

Manion said that even after others took over the communication, and she went back to handling other 911 calls, she kept an eye on how the dramatic rescue played out.

“I just want to say: I’m really, really glad that both of the pilot and the passenger made it out safely. That was the ultimate goal, and I hope you guys are doing good. I wish you good health,” Manion said.

The pilot and passenger were brought to the ground about seven hours after the crash. They went to trauma centers with serious injuries, the fire department said. One was released by early Monday afternoon, officials said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to issue a preliminary report on the crash in two to three weeks.

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