Woman who was electrocuted as plane crashed dies

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

A woman electrocuted by a live wire downed by a crashing plane has died, more than a week after she was declared brain dead, according to officials and a family friend.

Theresa Surles, 38, died Wednesday, according to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office. She is scheduled for an autopsy Thursday.

Surles initially was reported by police to be 45 years old.

“She leaves behind six kids, two grandbabies, a grandbaby on the way and a host of family and friends,” longtime family friend Lisa Jones said. “We all had hope. That’s a lot to leave behind.”

Jones is godmother to Surles’ 19-year-old daughter and knew the woman for more than 20 years, she said. Other children range in age from 17 to 24 years old, including two sets of twins.

“The children took it hard,” Jones said.

Funeral arrangements are pending, but there are plans for the women in Surles’ life to serve as pallbearers at a Monday service, Jones said.

“We all grew up with her,” said Jones, who will be a pallbearer. “Her sister said she wanted (Surles’) friends to be part of it.”

Family and friends were there when Surles was struck by a live wire around 9 p.m. June 27 outside her home at Shoemaker and Cooper, Jones said.

“She was preparing to go to the fireworks with her children, so they witnessed this ordeal,” Jones said. “As Theresa was getting out of the car, the wire hit her in the chest and she fell. She stopped breathing, she died, they tried to resuscitate her and her heart started.

“But she never regained consciousness through this whole ordeal and they decided to take her off life support.”

The single-engine Cessna 150L was registered to Drake Aerial Enterprises, LLC, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board. It crashed while helmed by an 18-year-old commercial pilot who ran out of fuel on his way to the Coleman A. Young International Airport on the city’s east side, officials said last week.

It struck a utility pole, bringing down the wire that electrocuted Surles. She was rushed to Detroit Receiving Hospital, initially listed in serious condition. The pilot suffered minor abrasions and was able to climb out of the plane.

The plane crashed after the pilot flew for too long and ran out of fuel, according to the NTSB.

“To avoid fuel exhaustion situations, it was (Drake Aerial Enterprises) company policy that all banner-tow flights in the Cessna 150 be limited to 2 hours 45 minutes. According to the pilot’s statement, the accident flight was at least 3 hours 9 minutes in duration,” officials said. “The FAA examination of the fuel system established that the left fuel tank was empty, the right fuel tank contained residual fuel, and the gascolator contained a few ounces of fuel.”

The plane first encountered trouble when its “engine began to run roughly” while returning to the airport after towing a banner over the Detroit River during the fireworks, according to the report. The pilot enriched the fuel mixture and turned on the auxiliary fuel pump before the plane experienced a total loss of power.

“The pilot informed the tower controller of his emergency, released the banner, and completed a forced landing to a nearby street,” NTSB wrote in its report. “The airplane collided with a power line during the forced landing. An individual, who had been retrieving items from her parked vehicle, was seriously injured when she came in contact with the severed live power line.”

The report was later updated to reflect Surles’ death.

The pilot was not taken into custody last week at the crash scene. Detroit police referred questions to the FAA and NTSB, which are investigating the crash. Officials with both agencies could not comment on the pilot’s status.


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Twitter: @HollyPFournier