Airport to remain open as NTSB officials investigate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. plane crash

Published 10:00 pm Friday, August 16, 2019

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials are still investigating what caused an airplane, which has been identified as a Cessna Latitude 680, that was landing at the Elizabethton Municipal Airport, to continue off a runway, cut through a fence and finally come to a stop in a ditch right on the edge of Highway 91 in Stoney Creek Thursday afternoon.

The private airplane was carrying NASCAR celeb Dale Earnhardt, Jr., his wife Amy, his daughter, 15-month-old Isla and their dog, when it drove off the runway around 3:30 p.m. The Earnhardts and the two pilots flying the aircraft made it out to safety just moments before the plane, which was already starting to burn, let out a pillow of noxious smoke and engulfed into flames.

According to emergency crews, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was taken to Johnson City Medical Center for minor injuries where he was later released.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In a Tweet posted by an NBC Sports spokesperson, it was announced that they had been in communication with “Dale and his team…we’re all in agreement that he should take this weekend off to be with his family.”

Stoney Creek Highway near the scene of the accident remained closed as of Friday, and according to officials the closure could possibly continue into the weekend.

“Right now, the federal authorities are working on the investigation. They have clean up crews, some here, some coming; they will be working on removing the aircraft,” Elizabethton City Police Chief Jason Shaw said. “The last update I got is [we] shouldn’t expect that aircraft to be removed from the roadway until late this evening. I think we will be lucky if that happens late this evening. At the same time, we are hearing from TDOT that they have some engineers to check the integrity of the roadway that was exposed to the fire.”

Steve Murray, deputy chief of the Elizabethton Fire Department, echoed Shaw’s statement.

“I think it is undetermined when the road will be open. I think it is still undetermined when they will start removing the wreckage. All that hinges on NTSB when they finish their investigation. When the airplane wreckage removal company [begins to remove the wreckage]. Then there will be an environmental crew to come in and get the hazmat cleaned up,” Murray said.

NTSB regulations require approved and specially trained special companies to remove airplane wreckage not only because of the safety hazards involved but to preserve the plane intact while in transport to a NTSB facility so that a more in-depth examination can take place.

Atlanta Air Recovery and Storage is one such approved company chosen by the federal officials to remove the aircraft at the scene.

The special storage removal company’s representative at the scene, Ron Powers, says, “When they [NTSB] are done with their preliminary investigation, they will let us remove the aircraft…they will tell us how to remove the aircraft to keep what they are looking at intact. We will in turn put it on our trailers and take it back to Griffin, Ga., and there will be another layout there and they will finish their investigation there so they can write their report.”

NTSB senior investigator Ralph Hicks, from Atlanta, said during a press conference, that the flight started in Statesville, N.C., and it was only 20 minutes later until the accident. Hicks said that weather was normal and the winds were calm.

“We were able to obtain surveillance videos from buildings around the area that include footage of the accident happening, and we were able to observe those footages this morning, and it showed us quite a bit. The airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right main landing gear,” said Hicks. “And you could actually see the right main landing gears collapsing on the video. The airplane continued down the runway off to the end, through a fence and it came to a stop…”

Hicks said that NTSB expects to be on the site for two days going over the “perishable” evidence before moving on to the still intact cockpit. Hicks added that the plane did include a voice data recorder that would be sent off to Washington for downloading next week.

Hicks said that the NTSB would be releasing a preliminary report in about seven days at that will be giving some basic factual information only.

City Airport Manager Dan Cogan said that the airport would remain open despite the accident. Cogan declined to comment on whether the wreck caused any additional damage.