Plane crash renews Montgomery Co. residents’ call for airpark safety

Members of Citizens for Airpark Safety, in Montgomery County, Maryland, say more needs to be done to address safety at the Montgomery County Airpark, in Gaithersburg after an inbound plane crashed Sunday night.

The complaints posted on the group’s Facebook page come after Sunday night’s crash, in which a small plane was tangled in power lines for hours near Rothbury Drive and Goshen Road.

Catherine Wallenmeyer wrote a letter to members of the Montgomery County Council, saying, “Our communities are placed at risk on a daily basis while the County Council refuses to hold meetings allowing us a forum to discuss the real issues.”

Wallenmeyer wrote that along with safety issues, residents in the area are concerned about noise and exposure to lead through aviation fuel.

Sunday’s crash generated massive power outages affecting more than 85,000 households, and resulted in the closure of the county schools on Monday. The pilot and a passenger were rescued in what county officials said were “unimaginable” circumstances.

In a briefing with reporters Monday morning, County Council President Gabe Albornoz said, “All of us should sleep a little better at night — tonight and every night — knowing that we have the support of our first responders.”

Asked about the complaints from the civic group, Albornoz said “The [National Transportation Safety Board] is going to conduct an analysis to determine what happened, and whether or not that is in any way related to some of the concerns that have been raised by the community over the last several years.”

“Lives were saved,” Albornoz said of the rescue by first responders. He added that the county would learn from the incident in case something similar happens again.

Council Vice President Evan Glass pointed out that governance over the airpark doesn’t rest with the council, but the Montgomery County Revenue Authority, a public corporation.

Keith Miller, the authority’s CEO, said the corporation is responsible for such things as runways, lighting and clearances.

“When planes are operating in the air, they are under the jurisdiction of the FAA,” Miller said.

In response to the question about responsiveness to the community, Miller told WTOP, “We do work with the community, and with the airpark users.”

The airport’s manager reviews all the complaints that come in, Miller said, including those dealing with noise and safety. But a large majority show the pilots were “were operating and doing what they are supposed to be doing,” he said.

Members of the airpark safety group pointed out that, with the airpark’s own manager reviewing complaints, outside oversight should be introduced.

Among the considerations about noise at the airport, there’s an agreement by flight operators that flight instruction not be held between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., Miller said. But he explained that’s done on a voluntary basis.

Before wrapping up Monday’s meeting with reporters, Albornoz said, “This will obviously be an ongoing discussion, and there’s nothing more important than the safety and security of all of our county residents.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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