Work progressing on clearing Earnhardt plane crash site

John Thompson • Updated Aug 18, 2019 at 6:22 AM

ELIZABETHTON — The portion of Stoney Creek Highway around Elizabethton Municipal Airport appears to be getting back to normal after the Thursday afternoon crash of a Cessna Citation Latitude on the airport’s southwest perimeter.

Traffic was moving smoothly on road at midday Saturday. The detour around the crash site through the Watauga Industrial Park remained in place, but there were no traffic jams with the light weekend traffic.

Recovery crews have been picking up the remaining pieces of the crashed plane of Dale Earnhardt Jr. The largest remaining piece, the front section of the fuselage, was loaded around noon on Saturday and will join the rest of the plane parts in Griffin, Georgia.

Inspectors said the recovery of the plane would take about two days and that estimate appeared to be right on the money.

After taking the plane to Georgia, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are expected to have a preliminary report on the findings of the investigation in about a week.

With the removal of the plane nearly completed, activity at the crash site shifted to getting the highway fully in service.

Jet fuel continues to be a concern, and firefighters from the Elizbethton Fire Department were busy Saturday filling a tanker truck from a fire hydrant on the site. The truck then used the water to continuously flush the drainage lines.

The literal mopping up operation included catching the water before it emptied into the pond at the Workforce Development Complex in order to prevent contamination. The pond is a popular location for local waterfowl and the water from the pond eventually drains into the Watuga River.

There were no serious injuries in the Thursday afternoon crash of the jet plane carrying Earnhardt, his family, two pilots and the family’s dog. A National Transportation Safety Board officials said video of the landing showed that the plane bounced twice after coming down hard on the right main landing gear.

The leaking jet fuel fed a fire that sent a huge column of black smoke into the air, leading to the highway’s closing.