Plane that hit Maryland tower was reportedly flying below minimum altitude, NTSB says

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — A preliminary report found that a small plane that crashed into the electricity transmission tower in Gaithersburg, Maryland, last month was reportedly flying below minimum altitude.

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The pilot and the passenger were seriously injured when the Mooney M20J they were in crashed into an electricity transmission tower in Maryland on Nov. 27, according to The Associated Press. The plane was also damaged in the crash.

The crash knocked out power for tens of thousands of people in the area and the plane was left hanging 100 feet above the ground, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board, which was released on Monday, according to the AP.

The preliminary report said that the plane was operating on a flight plan that was used normally in reduced visibility as it was heading back to the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg from White Plains, New York, according to the AP. The pilot identified as Patrick Merkle, 66, was advised by air traffic control communications to expect one approach procedure.

The air traffic controller directed him to an area about 13 miles from the airport, but the plane made a wrong turn, according to NTSB per the Washington Post.

The air traffic controller tried to provide multiple corrections, but Merkle reportedly entered the wrong information into his system and was correcting it, according to the preliminary report obtained by the AP. This is when another plane had asked to be diverted to another airport due to the reduced visibility conditions.

A former NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration crash investigator, Jeff Guzzetti, told the Washington Post that Merkle should have found another location to land the plane due to the conditions.

When Merkle’s plane got closer to the airport, it was below the minimum altitude at three waypoints, according to the preliminary report obtained by the AP. The plane was as low as 475 feet mean sea level. The airport’s published elevation is 539 feet mean sea level. When Merkle’s plane crashed, NTSB said the plane was at an elevation of 600 feet mean sea level.

Merkle and the passenger were stranded in their crashed plane for over six hours. Officials told the AP that this was due to crews trying to secure the plane to the tower to get them out safely.

According to the Washington Post, a final NTSB report with an official cause of the crash won’t be available probably for another few months.





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