Students react to closures, outages across the county after plane crash


Photo courtesy of Flickr

The plane hangs carefully within the power lines. Thousands of locals experienced outages.

When navigating through “dark night instrument meteorological conditions” (or fog), as described by the National Transportation Safety Board, pilots are instructed to fly by reference, rather than visuals. On the evening of Nov. 27, under the above conditions, a Mooney M20J collided into the Pepco power lines off Rothbury Drive, Gaithersburg at around 5:40 p.m., after the pilot struggled to locate the Montgomery County Airpark.

The small plane entangled itself in the high-tension lines and knocked out power to more than 120,000 people, 40 schools and infrastructure across Montgomery County. 65-year-old pilot Patrick Merkle and 66-year-old passenger Janet Williams were flying from White Plains, New York. Later that night, MCPS made the decision to cancel the next day of public school, citing numerous public safety concerns.

“We were looking for the airport. I descended to the minimum altitude and then apparently, I got down a little lower than I should have,” Merkle said to NBC Washington.

In a call to 911, Merkle, hanging from the wires, calmly notified the authorities of the predicament. Both passengers suffered non-life-threatening injuries and were rescued just after midnight, enduring brief treatment in the hospital before their release in the following days. Even with the power down for many, social media quickly caught wind of the now viral situation, as platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Twitter were flooded with references to the crash.

“I was at home getting ready to go to bed… I was scrolling on Instagram and saw that there was a plane caught on the power lines. After reading the comments on the Instagram post, I realized that lots of people have power out and we might not go to school the next day. So, I stayed up to see if MCPS would make an announcement,” junior Olin Kimball said.

Despite decades of clean flying experience, many criticized the pilot for his carelessness and county-wide repercussions. However, much of the younger audience, namely students, championed Merkle for providing an additional day of Thanksgiving break. According to a poll conducted by the Pitch, 89% of students were “excited” by the resulting closure. Students appreciated the extra time to make up work, rest and further digest their Thanksgiving dinner.

“I was super happy that school was canceled because the break drained my energy, and the extra day was really needed,” sophomore Maya Weissman said.

For student-athletes, the outlook was a little bit more nuanced. The closure of schools also meant the next day of practice was canceled.

“I was pleasantly surprised, I wasn’t really ready to go back to school but it’s unfortunate that it meant no practice,” varsity basketball junior Ian Hochman said.