After failing to “go-around” following two bounces along the Elizabethton Municipal Airport runway, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s jet touched down a third time with just 1,000 feet of pavement remaining, according to a National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report.
The NTSB released its initial report Friday following the fiery crash Aug. 15.
Earnhardt, a retired NASCAR driver currently serving as a sports broadcaster, his wife and daughter were en route to race events at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend. With a pilot and co-pilot, the family departed around 3 p.m. from Statesville Regional Airport in North Carolina in their private Cessna business jet.
Typical for such flights, no air traffic control services were requested, according to the NTSB report. The preflight, departure and en route portions of the flight were routine.
Approaching Elizabethton, the flight crew announced their intentions to land via the airport’s common traffic advisory frequency, which allows pilots to communicate at non-tower controlled airports. They planned to land on Runway 24, which is more than 5,000 feet long and long enough for jets such as Earnhardt’s to land, according to the NTSB.
Airport surveillance video captured the subsequent mishap on the runway. The video revealed that the right main landing gear collapsed, and the outboard section of the right wing contacted the runway shortly after the third touchdown, the report states.
The airplane then went into the grass, through a chain-link fence and up an embankment before coming to rest along state Route 91.
The pilots told the NTSB that after the second bounce they attempted a “go-around,” but the airplane did not respond as expected, so they landed straight ahead on the runway and could not stop.
After the plane stopped, the crew secured the engines and assisted the passengers with evacuation. A post-accident fire was in progress during the evacuation.
Earnhardt was taken to the Johnson City Medical Center for minor injuries. He said he still plans to drive in the Xfinity race in Darlington on Aug. 31.
“Yes. I plan on driving still,” he wrote on Twitter. “My lower back is bruised up real bad. 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.”
Data from on-board equipment is being downloaded and reviewed, the NTSB said.
The pilot, who has not been identified, held an airline transport pilot certificate. He reported 5,800 hours total flight experience, the report states, including 765 hours in the type of jet that crashed. The copilot, who also had a certificate to fly, reported 11,000 total hours of flight experience, including 1,165 on the Cessna jet.
The NTSB continues its investigation.