“We had to make this unfortunate decision”: MCPS closes schools after Gaithersburg plane crash leaves thousands without electricity


Ava Ohana

In an email to families on Sunday night, the school system wrote that more than 44 of its 209 schools had lost electricity, along with six central office buildings. 

By Meredith Lee

MCPS officials closed schools and offices yesterday after a small plane crashed into a power line transmission tower in Gaithersburg on Sunday evening, leaving more than 120,000 Montgomery County residents without power. 

In an email to families on Sunday night, the school system wrote that more than 44 of its 209 schools had lost electricity, along with six central office buildings. The outages impacted “key services” like traffic lights, heat, plumbing and school safety systems,  MCPS Public Information Director Jessica Baxter wrote in an email to The Black & White.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue services responded to the scene of the collision at Rothbury Drive and Goshen Road at 5:40 p.m. on Sunday. The plane had departed from Westchester County Airport earlier in the day and collided with power lines while approaching the Montgomery County Airpark. The aircraft became lodged in a nearby Pepco transmission tower nearly 100 feet above the ground, where the pilot and a passenger remained for nearly eight hours while first responders and Pepco utility workers coordinated a rescue operation. Workers ascended the tower to perform grounding and bonding before securing the plane to the tower.

“As of 11:15 p.m., information coming to MCPS from the county’s Emergency Command Center and PEPCO could not confirm a timeline for power restoration,” Baxter wrote. “At that time, emergency responders had just begun their efforts to extricate the individuals in the airplane.”

Yesterday’s school closure came as a surprise for students like junior Gemma Davitian, who wasn’t aware of the complexity of the rescue process. Although the crash damaged the power lines, utility workers were unsure if the lines were operational and needed to ground the wires before rescuing the trapped individuals, Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said at a press conference on Monday. Police also secured the site to prevent onlookers from exposure to live wires.

“I didn’t expect school to be canceled because I hadn’t realized how bad the situation really was,” Davitian said. “I thought that they would be able to get power restored much quicker than it was, however I also didn’t realize that the people were in the plane for as long as they were.” 

Although many MCPS buildings had regained power by 4:00 a.m. on Monday, Baxter wrote that district administrators kept schools closed to allow staff to assess the impact of the power loss on food distribution and electronic systems.

 “This takes manpower and time that would have had a significant impact on an attempt at normal school operations,” Baxter wrote. “We had to make this unfortunate decision.”