National Transportation Safety Board releases final report on Dale Earnhardt Jr. plane crash

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. — The National Transportation Safety Board released its final report Wednesday regarding the Dale Earnhardt Jr. plane crash, which occurred August 15, 2019, at Elizabethton Municipal Airport.

According to the NTSB, the preflight, departure, and cruise portions of the flight were uneventful. However, during the initial approach, the flight crew discussed having some difficulty visually acquiring the airport. The crew also discussed traffic in the area and were maneuvering around clouds which may have increased the pilots’ workload.

The NTSB added the crew also made several comments about the airplane flying too fast and allowed the airspeed to increase well above the reference speed for the approach. About 1 minute and 52 seconds before landing, the pilot pulled back the throttles to idle where they remained for the rest of the approach. The pilot also partially extended the speedbrakes when the plane was 500 feet above ground level, which is prohibited in the airplane flight manual (AFM). Five seconds before touchdown the plane’s descent rate was 1,500 feet per minute (FPM), which exceeded the maximum allowed landing per the AFM of 600 fpm.

When the plane first touched down, the NTSB said the pilot did not extend the speedbrakes, which the landing checklist required, but instead attempted to deploy the thrust reversers immediately after touchdown which was a later item on the landing checklist.

“The thrust reversers did not unlock because the airplane bounced and was airborne again before the command could be executed, which was consistent with system design and logic: the thrust reversers will not unlock until all three landing gear are on the ground,” the NTSB added.

The NTSB added the following regarding the landing:

The airplane touched down four times total; on the third touchdown (after the second bounce), when all three landing gear contacted the runway, the thrust reversers unlocked as previously commanded during the first touchdown. Although the pilot subsequently advanced the throttles to idle, which would normally stow the thrust reversers, the airplane had bounced a third time and had already become airborne again before the thrust reversers could stow. When the airplane became airborne, the system logic cut hydraulic power to the thrust reverser actuators; thus the reversers would not stow. The thrust reversers were subsequently pulled open due to the aerodynamic forces. The pilot attempted to go around by advancing the throttles when the airplane was airborne. However, the electronic engine controls prevented the increase in engine power because the thrust reversers were not stowed.

When the airplane touched down the fourth and final time, the pilot attempted to land straight ahead on the runway; the airplane touched down hard and the right main landing gear then collapsed under the wing. The airplane departed the paved surface and came to rest about 600 ft beyond the runway threshold. The passengers and crew eventually evacuated the airplane through the main cabin door, and the airplane was destroyed in a pastaccident fire.

The NTSB indicated that there were no issues with the engines or other parts of the aircraft when it crashed.

Dale Jr., his wife, daughter, and their dog, and the two pilots escaped from the aircraft soon after it came to rest and caught fire.

The NTSB found the probable causes of the accident to be:

The pilot’s continuation of an unstabilized approach despite recognizing associated cues and the flight crew’s decision not to initiate a go-around before touchdown, which resulted in a bounced landing, a loss of airplane control, a 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, and the pilot’s attempt to go around after deployment of the thrust reversers. 

This story was originally reported by WCYB.

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