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Dale Earnhardt Jr. thanks all who have ‘lifted us up’ since plane crash

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. issued his first public comments Monday since he and his family survived a plane crash last Thursday afternoon at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport.

Earnhardt offered thanks to “everyone who has lifted us up with phone calls, messages and prayer since last Thursday. We are truly blessed that all on board escaped with no serious injuries, including our daughter, our two pilots and our dog Gus.”

Earnhardt also thanked the pilots, emergency personnel, law enforcement and hospital staff.

He stated that wife “Amy and I continue to be very appreciative of the privacy extended to us to process everything. It has been important to do that together and on our own time.”

Earnhardt stated that because of the ongoing investigation “we will not be speculating or discussing the cause of the accident.”

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board is expected this week. Ralph Hicks, a senior investigator for the NTSB said in a briefing last Friday that “the airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right wing landing gear. You can actually see the right wing landing gear collapsing on the video (from nearby buildings). The airplane continued down the runway, off to the end, through a fence and came to a stop … on highway 91.”

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.

NTSB: Dale Jr.’s plane bounced twice after firm landing

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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.”

Modified driver Ted Christopher killed in plane crash

Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images for NASCAR
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Modified champion Ted Christopher died in a plane crash Saturday afternoon in Guilford, Connecticut. He was 59.

Christopher, the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Tour Modified champion, was scheduled to compete in Saturday night’s race at Riverhead (New York) Raceway. Track officials planned to honor Christopher by having his car driven for a ceremonial lap followed by a moment of silence.

NASCAR issued a statement on behalf of Chairman and CEO Brian France:

“We are all saddened to learn of the tragic plane crash this afternoon that claimed the lives of NASCAR driver Ted Christopher and the aircraft’s pilot.

“As a championship driver on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and New England short tracks, Christopher was a throwback to NASCAR’s roots. He was a tough racer’s racer, and his hard driving style and candid personality endeared him to short track fans throughout the country. He will be missed throughout the racing community, in the garage and, especially, in the hearts of his many fans. NASCAR has his family and friends in its thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that a Mooney M20C plane crashed at 1:53 p.m. ET Saturday in a wooded area near Guilford. The FAA confirmed two people were onboard.

NBC Connecticut reported that both people on the plane were killed. NASCAR confirmed that Christopher was one of those killed in the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the incident.

Christopher was selected as one of the top 25 drivers in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series history in 2006. Fans voted him as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s most popular driver three times.

Christopher captured 13 track championships and competed at every level of NASCAR. He made six Cup starts (the last in 2009), 21 Xfinity starts (the last in 2001) and two Camping World Truck Series starts (the last in 1999).

He won nine track championships (1987, ’96, 2000, ’01, 04, ’07, ’09, ’12 and ’14) at Stafford (Connecticut) Motor Speedway

Christopher’s death reverberated throughout NASCAR and the racing community.