ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WBTV) - Retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and members of his family were on board an airplane that crashed near an airport in Tennessee Thursday afternoon.
The call came in at 3:41 p.m. from the Elizabethton Airport in Tennessee, according to the Elizabethton Fire Department. Officials say Earnhardt, his wife Amy and daughter Isla were on board with two pilots when the plane went down.
The plane, which took off about 20 minutes earlier from Statesville, N.C., was caught on surveillance video as it came down at the airport, officials said during a news conference on Friday.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said the Cessna Citation bounced twice as it hit the runway, coming down hard on its landing gear. It then skidded off the end of the runway through a fence, hit a ditch and bounced back into the air before coming to rest and catching fire on the highway.
Earnhardt, his family and the two pilots were able to follow exiting procedures and escape the plane, officials said.
Officials said all those on board were taken to an area hospital to be evaluated and it appears that no major injuries were reported.
Earnhardt’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt, tweeted about the crash shortly after the news broke.
At the scene, the plane appeared to be heavily damaged from the impact and fire. Firefighters could be seen extinguishing the flames of the wreckage.
Elizabethton Fire Department Chief Barry Carrier said everyone on the plane was lucky to make it out alive.
“Whoever was on it was very lucky they made it out… That’s what I think,” Chief Carrier said.
Carrier added that the more than 1,000 gallons of fuel that spilled after the crash and caught fire kept officials busy at the scene well into Thursday evening.
Calls flooded the Carter County, Tennessee 911 Center from witnesses who saw the plane skidding off the runway.
“There’s been a plane crash over here at the airport here across from the BP and the plane is on fire,” one caller said.
“It came out through the fence and it is on fire in the middle of the four-lane right now,” another caller said.
WBTV’s Steve Ohnesorge was able to get video of what was left of the jet that Dale Jr. and his family were on. Ohnesorge says even hours later, the smell of fuel was still in the air.
Earnhardt Jr. will take the weekend off from broadcasting to be with his wife and daughter.
“We’re incredibly grateful that Dale, his wife Amy, daughter Isla, and the two pilots are safe following today’s accident,” NBC Sports said in a statement. "After being discharged from the hospital, we communicated with Dale and his team, and we’re all in agreement that he should take this weekend off to be with his family. We look forward to having him back in the booth next month at Darlington.”
During Friday’s press conference, NTSB officials said they had not heard any communications that indicated there may have been a problem before the crash. The NTSB said officials would be at the scene for the next 2 or 3 days to continue the investigation.
The plane’s cockpit voice recorder will be sent to D.C. to be analyzed, and a crew from Georgia will disassemble the plane and take it to Griffin, Georgia, to investigate further.
The senior investigator at NTSB said his team plans to cut the airplane up and look at systems “very methodologically,” as not to disrupt anything investigation-wise. Officials say the plane had nine passenger seats and two cockpit seats.
The NTSB will be releasing a preliminary report on their website in 7 days. It will be a factual report, officials said, and will not be providing a conclusion.