AOPA: Incidents Like The Plane Crash In Montgomery County Are Rare

The organization says general aviation is very safe.

Plane Crash Sunday, Nov. 27th near Gaithersburg.  (Photo from the Associated Press)

Frederick, Md (KM) The plane crash on Sunday night near Gaithersburg in Montgomery County took place when an aircraft collided with an electric tower. While acknowledging that these incidents do happen, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, based at Frederick Municipal Airport, says these incidents re not very common. “The way that airports are run, especially airports like the one in Montgomery County, they’re sited by the FAA and obstacles are not allowed to be close to the airport within a certain height within a certain range,” says Richard McSpaddan, Senior Vice President, AOPA Air Safety Institute.

The small airplane struck the tower along Goshen Road and Rothbury Drive near Montgomery Village in the Gaithersburg area. The two occupants of the plane were  Patrick Merkle, 66, of Washington DC,, who was the pilot, and Janet Williams, 66, of Marrero, Louisiana, who  was a passenger. Both were taken to Suburban Hospital for treatment.

McSpadden says pilots usually fly routes, which are like highways in the sky, which avoid large structures such as utility towers. “We rely a lot on GPS. We have extra precise GPS’s that we use They have to be certified by the FAA to use in aircraft, especially when you’re using them in the weather,”: he says.

The airplane involved in this crash was flying at night during cloudy and rainy weather. McSpadden noted that a lot of general aviation pilots are certified to fly in inclement weather. “When they map approaches, which are what pilots fly in the weather when they can’t really see the airport for a while, those approaches are very tightly controlled,:” he said. “Those obstacles are not allowed to be over a certain height within a certain distance.”

The plane had been caught up in live power lines about 100 feet from the ground, according a media report. The occupants were in the plane for about seven   hours before rescuers could get them out.

Despite all the safety measures, McSpadden acknowledged that incidents such as what occurred Sunday evening in Montgomery County do occur and are often reported by the news media. “But what doesn’t get reported is we fly some 26-million flight hours to 5,000 different airports, and we have some 200,0000 general aviation planes in this country. All of those do more  than 30-million take offs and landings a year, and that doesn’t get reported.”

He says general aviation is the US is very safe.

The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation into this incident. But McSpadden AOPA will also be doing its own analysis. “We will typically do our own assessment as to what we think could be an issue, primarily for lessons  learned for pilots,” he says. “But we really never make a final determine until the NTSB makes a final ruling and then we follow their ruling.”:

By Kevin McManus