ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. — The plane carrying Dale Earnhardt Jr., his wife and daughter had a firm landing and bounced twice before it continued off the runway, went down a ditch, through a chain-link fence and came to rest on a nearby road, according to a senior investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Ralph Hicks stated in a media briefing Friday in front of the burned fuselage that video surveillance from nearby buildings caught the plane’s landing in what he described as “good weather, calm winds” at Elizabethton Municipal Airport.
“The airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right wing landing gear,” Hicks said. “You can actually see the right wing landing gear collapsing on the video. The airplane continued down the runway, off to the end, through a fence and came to a stop … on highway 91.”
Hicks said the video shows the plane “balloon up and come back down” on landing. He said he couldn’t tell how high the plane bounced via the video but will use data from the plane to determine that.
Hicks said the plane had a voice cockpit recorder, which will be sent to NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C. for analysis. The plane did not have a flight data recorder but he said there were some avionics that will be useful to the investigation.
Both pilots have been interviewed and Hicks stated that what they said was “very consistent” with what the video showed. Hicks also said investigators had talked to the Earnhardt family.
Hicks said the runway is about 4,500 feet and the plane was capable of landing on the runway. Investigators walked the runway and found tire tracks and skid marks consistent with the plane’s. Small pieces of debris also were found.
Hicks said investigators will be on scene for two to three days and document each of the systems.
A preliminary report is expected to be released in seven days on the NTSB website.
In a statement earlier in the day from Kelley Earnhardt Miller, she said: “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. Dale, Amy, Isla and our two pilots are doing well. We are assisting the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board in the investigation and will have no further comment at this time.”