Dale Earnhardt Jr., wife Amy 'safe' after plane crash in Tennessee

Staff Report

Dale Earnhardt Jr., wife Amy and daughter Isla were safe and taken to a hospital for evaluation following a plane crash on Thursday afternoon in Elizabethton, Tennessee, Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, confirmed via Twitter.

Earnhardt Jr.’s plane, a Cessna Citation, rolled off the end of Runway 24 and caught fire after landing at Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Tennessee at 3:40 p.m. ET, according to a report from the Federal Aviation Administration. The aircraft registration is N8JR, which is the plane registered to Earnhardt Jr., according to FAA.gov.

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Earnhardt Jr. is an analyst for NBC Sports and was traveling to Bristol Motor Speedway for this weekend’s races.

“I got here within five minutes, and the airplane was fully engulfed (in flames),” Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said during an evening news conference. “All of the people were out of it … Five occupants, no one’s injured. Under the circumstances, we’re extremely blessed and fortunate.”

Elizabethton Fire Department Chief Barry Carrier confirmed that Earnhardt was talking to EMS staff and the family was transported to a local hospital in a non-emergency capacity.

“We’re extremely relieved to learn that Dale, Amy, Isla and the pilots of the aircraft are safe, and we commend the first responders and medical staff for their quick action,” NASCAR released in a statement. “We look forward to seeing Dale back at the race track very soon.”

Law enforcement officials said that a section of Highway 91 near where the plane came to rest would remain closed until the area could be secured. Lunceford said there were no injuries on the ground, a circumstance that the sheriff said was fortunate considering the roadway’s usual mid-afternoon traffic.

The FAA later released the incident notice on Friday morning. The cause of the accident, it said, was the airplane experiencing a hard landing, which led to it bouncing off the runway, where it caught fire. In the injury portion of the report, all five people onboard — the two pilots and the Earnhardt family — were marked as having no injuries.

Ralph Hicks, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said in a Friday briefing that footage from nearby surveillance cameras showed that the plane bounced twice on the runway in what he described as “a firm landing.” Hicks also said a portion of the landing gear collapsed upon touchdown.

Hicks said NTSB officials had interviewed the Earnhardt family and the pilots, saying their remarks were consistent with the video footage. Hicks indicated the NTSB would be on the scene for two or three more days conducting its investigation and that a preliminary report would be released in seven days.

NBC Sports PR released on social media that Dale Jr. would not be in the booth this weekend at Bristol but would return in two weeks at Darlington.

By Thursday evening, flights had resumed at the small airport tucked into the Tennessee hills, even as the events from just hours earlier had cast a national spotlight onto the normally quiet town.

“Nothing like this,” Lunceford said. “We have robberies, burglaries, pursuits, things of that sort. Armed people. We just have the standard, usual calls in a population somewhere between 58 and 60 thousand. … We stay busy, but no, nothing like this.”

Contributing: Zack Albert in Elizabethton, Tenn.

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