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Mystery deepens in Dale Earnhardt Jr. plane crash after new federal report released

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his wife involved in Tennessee plane crash

Dale Earnhardt Jr,, his wife and their daughter were involved in a plane crash in Tennessee. No serious injuries have been reported.
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Dale Earnhardt Jr,, his wife and their daughter were involved in a plane crash in Tennessee. No serious injuries have been reported.

Federal investigators released new details Friday about former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s plane crash in Tennessee last week.

The report only added to the mystery of the crash.

Investigators revealed the two pilots attempted a “go-around” after the Cessna 680 business jet bounced twice as they tried to land it on the lone runway of Elizabethton Municipal Airport on Aug. 15.

Earnhardt, his wife, Amy, their 1-year-old daughter, Isla Rose, and their dog, Gus, as well as the pilots were in the aircraft when it skidded off the runway about 3:40 p.m. and crashed, officials said.

Earnhardt, 44, was treated for minor injuries at a nearby hospital.

“The airplane did not respond as expected,” so the pilots had to land the plane “straight-ahead on the runway and could not stop” the nine-seat jet, investigators said in Friday’s report.

“The airplane departed the paved surface beyond the runway 24 departure end threshold, through an open area of grass, down an embankment, through a chain-link fence, and up an embankment, coming to rest on the edge of Tennessee Highway 91,” according to the report.

Investigators did not speculate about a possible cause.

Earnhardt details injuries

The plane took off from Statesville, North Carolina, about 20 minutes before landing in Elizabethton, officials said.

Earnhardt was headed to a race at Bristol Motor Speedway to work as an on-air analyst for NBC Sports at the time of the crash. He ultimately took the weekend off to be with his family, The Associated Press reported.

He confirmed on Twitter this week that no one was seriously injured in the crash and thanked fans for the outpouring of support.

But Wednesday, Earnhardt indicated the extent of his injuries in another tweet confirming he will still drive next week in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.

“My lower back is bruised up real bad,” he wrote. “Lots of swelling, and I just need that to go down and the pain to chill out. I been treating the area every day solely to get well to race. I have a plan B but hope not to use it.”

Investigators reported the morning after the crash that surveillance footage captured the moment his plane attempted to land in Elizabethton, bouncing twice before making a “firm landing” on the 4,500-foot runway.

It then “came down hard” on the right-main landing gear, which is seen on video collapsing.

Friday’s report states the pilots’ account of the landing was generally consistent with the video, adding that they tried to abort landing after the second bounce but could not. The jet instead “continued airborne” until touching down a third and final time 1,000 feet before the end of the runway, where the plane’s momentum carried it forward.

Plane bursts in flames

When the aircraft finally came to rest upright, investigators reported, the Earnhardts and their pilots escaped through a main entry door as the cabin erupted in flames.

“They were extremely lucky,” Elizabethton Fire Chief Barry Carrier said at a news conference Aug. 15, streamed on WCYB, the NBC affiliate in Bristol, Tenn. “It looks like everything worked in their favor, instead of against them.”

Carrier said then that the plane was “pretty much destroyed,” which was confirmed by the NTSB report.

“The fuselage aft of the main entry door, the right wing, and the empennage were consumed by the post-accident fire,” according to the report. “The left main and nose landing gear were separated from the air frame during the impact sequence. The right-main landing gear remained under the right wing and was heavily fire damaged.”

There were no recorded issues during preflight, departure or en-route.

Investigators are now examining a Garmin G5000 flight deck that recorded certain data from the aircraft as well as a cockpit voice recorder, according to the report.

The pilots had a combined 16,800 hours of flight experience, investigators said, including 1,930 hours in the “accident plane.”

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