The State of Maryland's plan to free $281 million in deposits at the crippled First Maryland Savings & Loan Association collapsed yesterday when the financial institution that had planned to buy the Silver Spring thrift suddenly withdrew from the long-pending deal.

Yorkridge-Calvert Savings & Loan Association of Baltimore issued a terse statement saying it was abandoning its planned acquisition of First Maryland deposits because it appeared unlikely that U.S. government regulators would grant federal insurance to those accounts once they came under Yorkridge control.

Yorkridge's decision marks a severe blow to the efforts of Gov. Harry Hughes to resolve Maryland's year-long savings and loan crisis and could set the stage for the eventual liquidation of First Maryland's assets. Liquidation -- under way at another Maryland thrift, Old Court Savings & Loan of Baltimore -- would delay the complete reopening of the thrift's 35,083 accounts for several years.

Hughes, who for the past four months spoke reassuringly about prospects for a planned merger between First Maryland and Yorkridge-Calvert, also has said that other, unidentified institutions were waiting in the wings if the deal fell through.

However, senior officials in Hughes' administration recently have characterized the interest of those prospective purchasers as lukewarm at best.

"I am deeply disappointed," Hughes said in a brief statement issued late yesterday from the State House in Annapolis. "First Maryland depositors should be assured that . . . we will continue to do everything within reason to effect a sale or merger for First Maryland."

Those words did little to console Bob Rees, a woodworker in Anne Arundel County who has about $10,000 at First Maryland that has been frozen since last August, when Hughes banned withdrawals from the troubled institution.

"All he's doing is prolonging the agony at the depositors' expense," said Rees. "I believe the governor should have, months ago, gone after another prospect instead of hanging on to this one."

Maryland state officials said they had no alternative but to work for the merger with Yorkridge-Calvert. They believed the Baltimore thrift was their best hope for eliminating the First Maryland portion of the gigantic liability the state assumed when it agreed last year to insure deposits in the shaky state-chartered thrift industry.

In a $45 million lawsuit filed earlier this year against former directors of First Maryland, the state alleged that those officers caused the thrift's insolvency by engaging in an "uncontrolled lending spree" for several years.

The many questionable loans have burdened First Maryland with a $26 million debt, according to state officials, and were a major reason that Citicorp, the giant New York bank-holding company, dropped the idea of buying First Maryland last summer after initially considering it.

The Yorkridge-Calvert transaction failed largely because of grave federal concerns about Yorkridge-Calvert's own management -- and speculation about what might happen to it after acquiring First Maryland, according to state and federal officials.

Officials at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which regulates Yorkridge-Calvert and had final say over the merger with First Maryland, "could not bless the assumption of one troubled institution by another," said one federal source familiar with board's thinking. "It made no sense."

The transaction hit a fatal snag last week when federal regulators insisted that the two principal owners of Yorkridge be barred from gaining any windfall profit in the merger with First Maryland.

Yorkridge officers maintained through a spokesman yesterday that their association is quite healthy.

Meanwhile, thousands of depositors at Old Court gained access yesterday to as much as $5,000 for the first time since last June 7. Depositors with more than $5,000 will receive additional payments over the next four years as the assets of Old Court are liquidated.