Wind gusts on Monday afternoon blew a Wasilla pilot off course at takeoff from a rural airstrip in the Matanuska Valley — and stuck him and his plane into a tree 40 feet off the ground.
The National Transportation Safety Board said 58-year-old Edward Merren’s Taylorcraft airplane came to rest in the tops of birch trees at 3 p.m. after he took off from a grass airstrip near Meadow Lakes, a subdivision 64 miles northeast of Anchorage. Linemen from Matanuska Electric Association helped Merren down from the trees, to safety. His plane remained in the treetops as of Monday afternoon.
Linemen — electricians who specialize in dealing with high-voltage transmission lines — are used to working in high places. They frequently employ a basket-lift truck to haul themselves, and their gear, up to 60 feet into the sky. But on Monday afternoon, two MEA workers were called to use their lift to help Merren get out of his plane and back on land.
MEA said a crew of three was called to the scene of the crash. Their lift truck had to be dragged to the site, which was located along the side of the runway and in an area covered on the ground by about a foot of ice and mud. Once in place, two of the MEA workers climbed into the truck’s lift basket and ascended to the plane — which dangled precariously, tangled in the branches of a stand of birch trees.
“I have seen some unusual things doing high voltage, but that ranked right up there,” MEA lineman Glenn Durkee said.
Durkee said that one of the branches keeping the plane suspended in the trees had broken, and his crew was worried it could give out while they tried to extricate the pilot. MEA said its crew was able to stabilize the plane by attaching a lift strap to the tail section and then tying that off to the trunk of one of the trees.
MEA lineman David Roby said he and his crewmate had to hook Merren into a safety harness and help him down to the lift basket — which Roby estimated was about 7 feet beneath the plane’s cockpit.
The entire operation took place 40 feet up in the trees. When it was over, the crew and Merren stood safely on solid ground, looking up in disbelief at the plane as it still hung in the trees.
“He gave us both a hug, and he was still shaking,” said Roby.
The NTSB said it is looking into the incident and will examine Merren’s plane once it is brought down.
Contact Sean Doogan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By SEAN DOOGAN