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Firefighters detail harrowing 'once in a lifetime' rescue from Maryland plane crash

A rescue crew describes efforts to rescue a pilot and passenger from a crashed plane
A rescue crew describes efforts to rescue a pilot and passenger from a crashed plane 02:34

BALTIMORE - For the first time, we are hearing from the first responders who carried out the successful rescue of a pilot and his passenger after they crashed into large power transmission towers in Gaithersburg Sunday night. 

They were left dangling in mid-air for more than seven hours.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Lt. John Lann, the leader of the rescue team. "I was just thinking about them the whole time because I couldn't imagine what it would be like sitting there scared to move."

Lann and the team used a special truck with a bucket that could be hoisted more than 100 feet in the air. He was one of two people inside as they were carefully lifted to the aircraft. 

"Our thought was get these people, get them secured into our patient packing devices, get them clipped into the bucket and get them to the ground," he said. 

Firefighter and paramedic Luke Marlowe went up beside him. 

"Once we secured the plane to the tower, we were able to move the bucket around on the other side," he told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. 

He said they used chains to hook the landing gear to the tower structure for stability. 

Lieutenant Logan McGrane was monitoring every development from the ground.  

"Initially when we got there, it was teetering a little bit," McGrane said. "We quickly established a safe area underneath trying to keep people away from It."

Rescuers told Hellgren the bucket never made any direct contact with the tower. 

They feared a residual electric shock even though the power was turned off. 

"When we were going up and the power line was a foot from my head, I was ducking," Lt. Lann said. "You just break those components down to their simplest form. You can get through it, and not let it overwhelm you."

The pilot and passenger were anxious, and unable to move much.

"We did tell them to hold still. There were several times they felt unsafe and wanted to evacuate the plane, but we were still concerned with static energy," Lieutenant McGrane said.

The crew brought the passenger out first through the plane's side door followed by the pilot.

"I actually had to talk to the gentleman—the pilot—because we removed the lady first, and he was trying to come out right behind her,"

Lann said, "and I was like, 'Just stay where you're at.'"

After they were in the bucket, Marlowe recalled the two "just leaned back on me. You could just tell they were relieved and were tired and wanted to get on the ground safely."

The crowd of onlookers watching cheered when they were all on the ground.

"We brought a lot of different aspects of what we do all into one, and it worked out well," Lt. Lann said. "We're very happy with the outcome."

The firefighters train for difficult aerial rescues as they demonstrated for WJZ Tuesday, but they will not soon forget what happened on that tower.

"I'm just glad that we made it happen and my guys made it down with both patients," Lt. McGrane said.

Marlowe noted, "We train for high-angled rescues all the time, but I've never experienced something like this."

Recordings of air traffic control from Live ATC showed the experienced pilot was warned several times before landing his altitude was too low. 

He said in an interview the foggy weather made visibility difficult. 

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash. 

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