The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that the August 2019 plane crash that involved Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his wife Amy and daughter Isla was likely caused by the pilot and co-pilot’s actions.
Junior’s plane crashed on Aug. 15 as it was approaching an airport in Elizabethton, Tennessee. The plane bounced when it first hit the runway and eventually skidded off the runway and came to rest after crashing through a chain link fence.
The Earnhardts and the flight crew were able to get out of the plane after it caught fire. No one on board suffered serious injuries in the crash.
Pilot Richard Pope had told the NTSB that the plane was flying faster than normal on approach because the Cessna Citation Latitude slowed down so easily. The plane ended up bouncing on the runway three times.
In Wednesday's final report, the NTSB said the pilot's continuation of the unstable approach for landing and the decision not to initiate a “go-around” before the first touchdown “resulted in a bounced landing, a loss of airplane control, a landing gear collapse, and a runway excursion.”
The descent rate was also just one of the factors cited by the NTSB.
“Contributing to the accident was the pilot's failure to deploy the speedbrakes during the initial touchdown, which may have prevented the runway excursion,” the report said.
The report listed the pilot's inability to attain or maintain airspeed and the descent rate, plus the decision-making of the pilot, as probable causes of the crash.
The crash happened as the Earnhardts were flying to Tennessee for the Bristol NASCAR race weekend where Junior was set to call the races for NBC Sports. He ended up taking that weekend off after the crash but returned to the booth to finish the season and has continued in his role in 2020.
Junior said in February that he had done a lot of research on flying in the months after the crash to help regain his confidence in traveling to races by air.
Since retiring from full-time Cup Series racing in 2017, Junior has made limited starts in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. He raced his only Xfinity Series race of the season in 2019 at Darlington just over two weeks after the crash. He finished fifth.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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