ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. — The plane carrying NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family bounced, veered off the runway and ended up on a Tennessee state highway during a crash landing, investigators said Friday.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators obtained surveillance video that included footage of the crash. Investigators plan to issue a preliminary report in about a week.
NTSB investigator Ralph Hicks said the Cessna Citation Latitude had left Statesville, North Carolina, about 20 minutes prior to the 3:40 p.m. crash. Earnhardt was with wife Amy, 15-month-old daughter Isla, a dog and two pilots.
NEW: Video shows thick, black smoke rising from the site of a small plane crash that was carrying Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his family. Everyone on board, including Earnhardt, escaped the wreck, said the local sheriff. https://t.co/2nqljR6C5C pic.twitter.com/noizctpZVk
— ABC News (@ABC) August 15, 2019
A cellphone video obtained by WSOC-TV in Charlotte from a witness shows the plane on fire after it had come to a stop. Just seconds after a big burst of flames near the aircraft’s door, the door opens and one of the pilots jumps out. The pilot then was handed the baby and ran to safety.
Earnhardt, his wife, his dog and the other pilot then quickly followed, scrambling to get out and away from the burning plane, which seconds later was engulfed in flames.
Earnhardt, 44, was taken to a hospital for evaluation. Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said there were no serious injuries beyond cuts and abrasions.
“The airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right main landing gear,” Hicks said. “You can actually see the right main landing gear collapsing on the video. The airplane continued down the runway, off to the end, through a fence and came to a stop behind me here on Highway 91.”
Federal Aviation Administration officials had said the plane caught fire after landing. Hicks said everyone aboard was able to evacuate through aircraft doors.
“As bad as this accident was, there’s a lot of good things that happened,” Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander said. “One being that everyone walked away. The second being at 3:40 in the afternoon, after school had just let out a couple of miles up the road, there were no cars involved in this accident.”
Said Elizabethton police chief Jason Shaw: “It’s just the grace of the good Lord that a vehicle didn’t get struck by the plane.”
Hicks said investigators have spoken with the Earnhardt family and the two pilots, all giving accounts consistent with what was seen on video. Hicks expects investigators to release a preliminary report in about seven days that will provide basic facts but no conclusions about the cause. He said the cockpit voice recorder will be sent to the NTSB’s Washington headquarters.
Earnhardt’s sister said the family is assisting FAA and NTSB officials.
“We want to reiterate our appreciation to the NASCAR community, first responders, medical staff, and race fans everywhere for the overwhelming support in the last 24 hours,” JR Motorsports general manager Kelly Earnhardt Miller, the sister of Dale Earnhardt Jr., said in a statement Friday. “Dale, Amy, Isla and our two pilots are doing well.”
Earnhardt was scheduled to be part of NBC’s broadcast crew for Saturday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway but opted after the crash to take the weekend off to be with his family. His manager told ESPN that they were traveling to their North Carolina home by car Thursday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.