ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (AP) — The plane carrying NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family bounced multiple times during a crash landing and veered off the runway before ending up on a Tennessee highway, investigators said Friday.
“It’s just the grace of the good Lord that a vehicle didn’t get struck by the plane,” Elizabethton Police Chief Jason Shaw said at a news conference. “It’s a very heavily trafficked roadway.”
Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, said in a statement that all five people aboard the plane Thursday are “doing well.” Earnhardt, now a NASCAR television analyst, was taken to hospital for evaluation Thursday and discharged that day.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Ralph Hicks said the Cessna Citation Latitude had left Statesville, North Carolina, about 20 minutes before the crash at 3:40 p.m. Earnhardt was with wife Amy, 15-month-old daughter Isla, two pilots and a dog.
Hicks said investigators have obtained video footage.
“The airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right main landing gear,” he 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.”
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,” she said.
Earnhardt retired as a full-time racer in 2017. He was to have been part of NBC’s broadcast team for Saturday night’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He is now taking the weekend off to be with his family.
THURSDAY STORY: ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. is safe and in a hospital for evaluation after his plane crashed in east Tennessee, the NASCAR television analyst and retired driver’s sister tweeted.
Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, tweeted that the driver’s wife, Amy, and 15-month-old daughter, Isla, also were on the plane along with two pilots.
“Everyone is safe and has been taken to the hospital for further evaluation,” she tweeted. “We will have no further information at this time.”
Federal Aviation Administration officials said a Cessna Citation rolled off the end of a runway and caught fire after landing at Elizabethton Municipal Airport at 3:40 p.m. Thursday. FAA officials said the preliminary indication is that two pilots and three passengers were aboard.
The National Transportation Safety Board tweeted that it’s sending two representatives to Elizabethton to begin investigating the crash.
Carter County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Thomas Gray confirmed Earnhardt was aboard but said he wasn’t one of the pilots.
Earnhardt retired as a full-time driver in 2017 and has been working as an analyst for NBC. He is part of the scheduled broadcast team for Saturday night’s Cup Series event in Bristol, Tennessee.
This incident comes 26 years after former driver and 1992 Cup champion Alan Kulwicki died in a plane crash while on his way to the spring race at Bristol from a promotional appearance in Knoxville, Tennessee. That crash at Tri-City Regional Airport in Blountville, Tennessee, killed a total of four people.
Earnhardt was part of Rick Hendrick’s racing team in 2011 when Hendrick broke a rib and a collarbone while on a small jet that lost its brakes and crash landed in an airport at Key West, Florida. Hendrick’s son, brother and twin nieces were among 10 people killed in a 2004 crash of a plane traveling to a race in Virginia.
This isn’t the first fiery crash for Earnhardt. He still has a burn scar on his neck from a crash at Sonoma in 2004 during warmups for an American Le Mans Series race that left him with second-degree burns.
Earnhardt has a history of concussions that plagued him over his final years as a driver.
He won NASCAR’s most popular driver award a record 15 times with 26 career Cup victories.
TOP PHOTO: FILE – In this Saturday, June 3, 2017 file photo, Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks on in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Cup series auto race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. NASCAR television analyst and former driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. was taken to a hospital after his plane crashed in east Tennessee. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports