Technical rescue team member says Sunday’s rescue was chance to show off their skills

By Paul Wagner, News4 Reporter

Sunday night’s plane crash in Gaithersburg, Maryland, presented a unique and dangerous challenge: how to safely get two people out of a small plane dangling from a tower holding high voltage power lines.

A small plane with two people aboard became embedded 100 feet above ground in a power transmission tower near the Montgomery Airpark about 5:40 p.m. Sunday.

Firefighters John Lann and Luke Marlow were on duty at Fire Station 25 Sunday night when the power went out and they began getting reports of a plane crash in Gaithersburg. As members of the technical rescue team, they knew their skills were about to be tested by a rescue they had never before seen.

“This is one of those things you have to say this is really, really happening,” Marlow said. “There’s a plane in the tower about a hundred feet up. There’s still people in there, still talking to us, so it gave us hope, like, we can go get ‘em.”

Lt. Lann had a slightly different reaction as he pulled up on the scene and saw the plane in the tower.

“Cool,” he said. “I mean, I don’t want to be, like, degrading to, like, them, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s, like, we’re going to get to show our skills, like, we’re going to show what we can do.”

It took hours of planning and getting the right equipment to the scene before Lann and Marlow were able to climb into a bucket with linemen from the power company and ascend to the plane.

“I’m not going to lie that when we were going up and the power line was a foot from my head, I was ducking,” Lann said.

Once there, they had the tricky task of securing the plane to the tower.

“So, we basically took some chains and wrapped the landing gear and hooked it onto the back side of it and just basically squeezed it together and to hold it in place,” Marlow said.

Then they got the passenger out of the plane.

“I was very surprised and relieved at how calm they were,” Marlow said.

After the crash, pilot Patrick Merkle told the 911 operator he could not see what was in front of him and thought he was closer to the airport than he was. Just before he crashed, he got back-to-back warnings about his altitude from air traffic control.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.