North Carolina

Dale Earnhardt Jr. plane ‘bounced’ then crashed 1,000 feet past runway, officials say

Federal investigators say surveillance video of the Thursday plane crash involving retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family shows the aircraft bounced twice on the runway before skidding into and out of a ditch.

It then caught fire seconds after the family and two pilots escaped.

The National Transportation Safety Board began Friday morning investigating the crash in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and it expects to have a preliminary report in seven days.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., his wife, Amy, and their 1-year-old daughter, Isla Rose, escaped the burning Cessna 680 business jet as it started to catch fire. Earnhardt, 44, was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and discharged Thursday, officials said.

He was headed to a race at Bristol Motor Speedway at the time, to work as an on-air analyst for NBC Sports.

Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, issued a statement Friday morning saying the family is “assisting the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board in the investigation and will have no further comment.”

She added in a tweet Friday that “Dale, Amy, Isla and our two pilots are doing well.”

The NTSB said at a Friday press conference that surveillance video of the crash is being studied. It shows the plane bouncing twice before making a “firm landing” on the 4,500-foot runway.

It then “came down hard” on the right-main landing gear, which is seen on video collapsing. The plane is then seen skidding into and out of a ditch, officials said. It finally came to rest 1,000 feet past the runway, NTSB officials said.

Skid marks and “a few pieces of small debris” were found along the runway, officials said during the press conference. Investigators say the five passengers escaped via the doors before the fire started.

The NTSB declined to draw early conclusions at the Friday press conference. “This is a fact-finding investigation only,” said NTSB investigator Ralph Hicks.

Hicks said the plane took off from Statesville, North Carolina, about 20 minutes before landing in Elizabethton. NTSB officials had not heard of any problems the plane may have had before the crash, WBTV reported.

It was announced late Thursday that Earnhardt intends to “take the weekend off” from broadcasting duties to be with his family, the Associated Press reported.

Earnhardt has yet to comment on the crash, which happened when his plane skidded off a runway about 3:40 p.m. and crashed at an airport in Elizabethton, a small town in far east Tennessee, according to a release from the Carter County officials.

However, Miller offered thanks in a statement posted on Twitter: “Want to say thank you to God, the angels among us, our pilots, first responders, medical staff, our NASCAR family and everyone that has reached out in whatever way to support us all.”

Atlanta Air Recovery will “disassemble” the remains of the aircraft and transport it to Atlanta “where they will be stored for more investigation,” according to WBTV.

Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunsford said at the news conference Thursday that the plane had already started to burn as the Earnhardt family and flight crew escaped, including “flames coming from where the family had just been sitting,” The Charlotte Observer reported.

Photos and videos from the scene reveal the fuselage cracked down the middle “and a combination of flames and black smoke was billowing from the opening,” the Observer reported. The plane was largely destroyed by the fire, photos show.

Jet fuel from the plane also leaked into a nearby creek and pond, WBTV reported, prompting checks by a hazmat team Friday morning. EMS told the news station that levels had returned to normal.

Elizabethton’s municipal airport is 14 miles south of Bristol Motor Speedway, where Earnhardt was schedule to do race coverage, the Observer reported.

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