In August 2019, on his way to Bristol, Tennessee, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family were involved in one of the most terrifying experiences of their lives – a fiery plane crash.
The plane was coming in to land at a small municipal airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee, near Bristol – where Dale Earnhardt Jr. was headed for his job as a news broadcaster for NBC Sports. He was scheduled to be working during that weekend’s race.
But, around 3 p.m. local time, tragedy struck – and the Cessna Citation that was carrying Dale Jr., his wife Amy, their baby girl Isla, dog Gus, and his two pilots crashed and burst into flames.
Miraculously, all aboard the plane were able to escape with nothing more than cuts and bruises. The cause of the plane crash was immediately placed under investigation and remained there for over a full year.
One NTSB investigator, Ralph Hicks, explained at the time that the teams were looking at two possible causes of the crash – a crash in which the airplane attempted to land and went careening off the runway before breaking through a fence and ending up on a public highway.
“The airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right main landing gear,” Hicks told ABC 7 / WSOC-TV. “You can actually see the right main landing gear collapsing on the video. The airplane continued down the runway, off to the end, through a fence and came to a stop behind me here on Highway 91.”
— Taste of Country (@TasteOfCountry) August 16, 2019
CBS Evening News reports that the two suspected causes are either pilot error – where the pilot either came down far too hard or completely overshot the runway. The second suspected cause is that the landing gear failed on the right side and caused the pilots to lose control of the plane.
In a brand new report from the NTSB that was released on Wednesday, September 23, 2020 – the investigators have determined that the cause of the crash is directly related to the actions taken by the pilot and co-pilot.
In the final accident report, the NTSB investigators say that the pilot’s continuation of an unstable approach for landing and his choice to not try a new approach before first making ground contact “resulted in a bounced landing, loss of airplane control, and landing gear collapse, and a runway excursion.”
“Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to deploy the speedbrakes during the initial touchdown, which may have prevented the runway excursion,” investigators added.
Furthermore, the report states that the pilot’s “inability to attain or maintain airspeed and the descent rate, plus the decision-making of the pilot” as the cause of the crash.