Dale Earnhardt Jr. released from hospital, family uninjured in plane mishap

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family were not seriously hurt when the plane they were on crashed Thursday afternoon at an airport in Tennessee, officials said.

Authorities said the Cessna Citation owned by JR Motorsports in Mooresville North Carolina skidded off the end of the runway at 3:30 p.m.ET after landing at Elizabethton Municipal Airport. It then caught fire.

Elizabethton Fire Chief Barry Carrier told CNN that all five people were out of the plane when the fire department arrived.

“When our first unit arrived, there were heavy flames coming from the airplane,” said Carrier. The fire burned for 20 minutes.

Carrier says they were transported to Johnson City Medical Center as a precaution.

The jet crashed through a fence, the chief said. The airplane fuselage was wrapped with a portion on the fence when it came to a stop.

“If the fence had blocked the exit that could have been really bad,” Carrier said during an evening news conference. “They were very lucky.”

The aircraft was on fire when the pilots and passengers escaped, Carrier said. He described the aircraft as “pretty much destroyed.”

When a reporter asked about Earnhardt’s condition, the fire chief noted, “He was having a little bit of trouble. They transported him non-emergency.”

The retired driver’s sister, Kelley, tweeted that those on board were OK.

“Everyone is safe and has been taken to the hospital for further evaluation. We have no further information at this time. Thank you for your understanding,” she wrote.

Earnhardt spent a few hours at a hospital before he was released.

The National Transportation Safety Board is sending two accident investigators.

In 2017, Earnhardt, 44, was voted as NASCAR’s most popular driver for the 15th straight year.

Earnhardt, son of the late racing legend Dale Earnhardt, is now a NASCAR analyst for NBC. He was heading to Bristol Tennessee to call this weekend’s races at Bristol Motor Speedway a .533-mile track. about 15 miles from the airport.

A network spokesperson said: “We’re incredibly grateful that Dale, his wife, Amy, daughter, Isla, and the two pilots are safe following today’s accident. 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 (September 1) at Darlington.”

Earnhardt has survived a fiery crash in the past.

In 2004, he was driving a Corvette during a practice session at an American Le Mans Series race at the Sonoma Raceway in California. After a seemingly innocent looking one vehicle wreck, Earnhardt’s car suddenly burst into flames — engulfing his yellow Corvette in fire. In multiple interviews since that accident, Earnhardt credits a spiritual being for pulling him out of the fire to safety.

Bristol has an infamous history when it comes to NASCAR drivers and tragedy. On April 1 1993, Alan Kulwicki who had won the Cup title the year prior was killed in a plane crash along with three others as he was headed to the track for the race on April 4.

Greg Engle