ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. — National Transportation Safety Board officials gathered in Elizabethton on Friday afternoon to continue investigating what caused the plane crash that injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., his wife Amy Reimann, and their 1-year-old daughter Isla.
While a spokesperson with NBST said the agency would not draw any conclusions as they are still in the "fact gathering" stage of the investigation, officials confirmed the Earnhardt family was able to evacuate the aircraft before the fire ensued.
It's also likely, they said, the fire that eventually destroyed the plane started about 1 to 2 minutes post-crash.
At this point in the investigation, officials can also verify that the plane experienced a "firm landing" and that the accident site is 1,000 feet passed the 4,500 foot long runway.
They also expressed gratitude that more people were not hurt, as the plane crashed near a well-used highway.
Officials also said there was a flight recorder on board that will be sent to Washington D.C. for analysis.
Investigators will stay on scene for 2 to 3 days documenting perishable items before methodically looking into the cockpit, fuselage, flight controls, and engine controls.
The agency will release a preliminary report in seven days.
EARNHARDT BACKS OUT OF BRISTOL TO RECOVER
Though he has been released from the hospital, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not be in attendance at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Night Race on Saturday night.
Shortly after the accident, NBC Sports tweeted that Dale Jr. would not be in attendance in order to recover from the accident.
Earnhardt Jr., voted NASCAR's most popular driver for 15 years, retired from full-time stock car racing in 2017. He does analysis for NASCAR on NBC.
The NASCAR circuit is racing in Bristol this weekend. The popular Saturday night race is scheduled to air on NBC Sports Network.
The airport in Elizabethton is less than twenty miles from Bristol Motor Speedway.
Jerry Caldwell, the executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, released the following statement to Tri-Cities NBC affiliate WCYB on Thursday about the incident:
“We were relieved to read Kelley Earnhardt’s tweet that Dale and his family and the pilots are safe. We fully support NBC’s decision to encourage him to take this weekend off to be with his family. On behalf of everyone at Bristol Motor Speedway, our thoughts and prayers are with him, his wife Amy and daughter Isla as they move forward from this incident.”
Earnhardt Jr. is not the first NASCAR legend to be involved in a plane crash en route to Bristol Motor Speedway.
Later that same year, another NASCAR driver, Davey Allison was killed in a helicopter crash while landing his helicopter at Talladega Superspeedway.
In 2004, a plane owned by Hendrick Motorsports crashed on it's way to the race track in Martinsville, Virginia, killing ten people including Hendrick family members and executives. Earnhardt Jr. raced for Hendrick Motorsports for the final decade of his career.