Investigator Ralph Hicks of the National Transportation Safety Board held a press conference at the crash site at 2 p.m. Friday. He said one of the first steps was to secure video of the landing of the Cessna Citation Latitude on the runway. The video showed that the plane bounced twice after coming down hard on the right main landing gear.
Investigators walked the length of the runway, but did not find evidence of skid marks made by the plane or other evidence.
Hicks said the plane flew a short 20-minute flight from Statesville, N.C. to Elizabethton. The weather was good and the winds calm.
Hicks said that since there is no tower at the Elizabethton Airport, pilots have the option of approaching the runway from either side.
There were no serious injuries in the Thursday afternoon crash. Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander was at a 2 p.m. press conference on Friday and said that as unfortunate as the accident was, there was plenty of good news, including the survival of the Earnhardt family and the crew of the plane. He said it was also fortunate that there were no cars hit during the crash, which ended close to state Route 91 on the perimeter of the runway.
As leaking jet fuel fed a fire that sent a huge column of black smoke into the air, the highway was closed. A detour was set up around the crash site through the Watauga Industrial Park. Elizabethton Police Chief Jason Shaw said plans are to open two lanes of the highway furthest away from the wreckage. That will be done if the Tennessee Department of Transportation determines there is no structural damage to the bridge over the stormwater drainage line that was heavily involved in the fire after the jet crash.
Hicks said the crash investigators began by recovering the perishable evidence from the site. He said a crew from Griffin, Ga. will disassemble the plane and prepare it for transport. The work is done according to a precise method to preserve all the evidence. He said that procedure should take two days to clear the crash site.
Reported at 2:51 p.m.:
ELIZABETHTON — Safety investigators believe damaged landing gear may have caused a private plane occupied by retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family to crash Thursday at the Elizabethton Municipal Airport.
National Transportation Safety Board Senior Air Safety Investigator Ralph Hicks said video from nearby the airport at the time of the crash indicated the jet may have had a collapsed right main landing gear when it rolled off the end of the small airport’s runway, through a fence and onto State Route 91.
Earnhardt, his wife, Amy, their daughter, Isla, the pilot, copilot and the family dog were able to climb out of the wreckage before emergency workers arrived at the scene. The popular driver and commentator was taken to the Johnson City Medical Center for examination, but authorities said neither he, nor anyone else in the crash were seriously injured.
The NTSB is still investigating the crash, and has yet to make an official determination of its cause. After evidence is preserved at the scene, a contractor from Georgia will disassemble the plane.
State Route 91 was still closed Friday afternoon, as investigators worked at the scene and Tennessee Department of Transportation workers inspected the roadway and underlying structures for damage caused by the crash and fire.
Traffic was detoured through the Watauga Industrial Park. Officials said two lanes of the road will be opened soon, and all lanes will be opened once the jet is disassembled and removed.