NTSB Has Details of Earnhardt Family's Escape From Plane

It was harrowing: He and pilots were unable to open exit door of burning aircraft
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 17, 2020 1:40 PM CDT
Earnhardt Family's Escape From Plane Was Harrowing
Elizabethton Deputy Fire Chief Steve Murray looks over the crash site Aug. 16, 2019, in Elizabethton, Tenn.   (David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP)

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s escape from a crashed plane with his family last year was more dramatic than realized, according to new details released by the National Transportation and Safety Board. Earnhardt, a NASCAR television analyst and retired driver, was with wife Amy, 15-month-old daughter Isla, two pilots, and the family dog when their Cessna Citation Latitude crashed, per the AP. In a preliminary report, NTSB investigators have said part of the landing gear collapsed and a section of the right wing hit the runway as the plane bounced twice before touching down a third time with about 1,000 feet of paved surface remaining. The plane went through a chain-link fence before coming to rest on the edge of Tennessee Highway 91. Earnhardt and the two pilots were unable to open the emergency exit door over the wing after the plane came to a hard stop, the report said.

"As they were attempting to get the rear exit door open, heavy smoke was coming from the lavatory," the report said. “Mr. Earnhardt reported that he told Mr. Melton to try the main cabin door. At this time fire was now visible in the lavatory.” Melton then kicked open the main cabin door wide enough so that he could exit. “Earnhardt then handed his daughter, who was in his arms, to the pilot, and then they each squeezed out the opening,” which was roughly the size of a conventional oven, the report said. Witness Cheryl Campbell came upon the scene, telling the NTSB she encountered a man not in uniform who was "struggling and not walking." It was Earnhardt. “He tried to get up and could not and was asking if his wife and child were out and ok,” Campbell wrote. “I assured him I had checked his wife and child and both were ok. I also told him his dog was ok when he asked.”

(More Dale Earnhardt Jr. stories.)

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