Witness to Dale Jr. plane crash: "There are people in there!"

Sissy Moody walked back up the grassy embankment for one more look at the remains of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s plane.

Witness to Dale Jr. plane crash: "There are people in there!"

It was difficult to forget what she had witnessed just hours earlier.

Around 3:38 p.m. ET Thursday, Moody, who works across the street from Elizabethton (Tenn.) Municipal Airport at The Alliance for Business & Training, had rushed to her office windows after hearing a “loud thud.”

“The plane was sliding down to the road, it was already in flames and smoke billowing,” she said. “As soon as it stopped, a dog came out and then I guess it was Dale with his baby and then his wife and then the two pilots were right behind them.

“Then Dale went on to the ground about 30 or 40 feet from the plane. This tunnel was in a blaze, the plane was in a blaze. I was already running across the ground saying, ‘There are people in there!’ but I was amazed they had already came out.”

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According to Carter County (Tenn.) Sheriff Dexter Lunceford, Earnhardt’s Cessna Citation 680 ran off the end of the 5,000-foot airport runway, traveled about 200 feet across a grass field then plowed into a fence which surrounds the airport property.

The torn fencing wrapped itself around the plane’s fuselage as it came to a stop just alongside Tennessee Highway 91. Jet fuel poured across the highway, down the nearby culvert and across the street into an adjoining stream.

Lunceford said EMTs were on the scene “within minutes” and Earnhardt, his wife, Amy, their daughter, Isla, the two pilots were already out of the plane when he arrived. 

“The pilot did an excellent job of keeping the plane off the roadway,” the sheriff said.

The FAA confirmed that a Cessna Citation 680 – belonging to JRM Air, LLC based in Mooresville, N.C. – had “rolled off the end of a runway.” 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. plane crash wreckage

Dale Earnhardt Jr. plane crash wreckage

Photo by: Jerry Jordan - KickinTheTires.net

Video footage from the scene showed the plane came to rest near a road, and its rear section was completely burned out by the time fire trucks arrived.

Online information shows that the 10-seater turbofan plane was certified for flight in 2015, with permits not up for renewal until 2021. 

Earnhardt was transported to Johnson City (Tenn.) Medical Center, where he was treated and released for what were described as “minor injuries.”

Earnhardt arrived at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway hours later but NBC Sports released a statement in the early evening saying they had given Earnhardt the weekend off to spend with his family after the accident.

"I've never seen anything like this"

Thursday night, sheriff’s deputies and Elizabethton (Tenn.) Police were securing the plane wreckage site and would guard it throughout the night awaiting for investigators from the National Transportation and Safety Board, which were expected early Friday morning.

As local traffic was rerouted and the location was secured, police reduced the perimeter around the wreckage, allowing Moody and others to get a closer look at the wreckage which had only two large identifiable airplane parts remaining – the cockpit and the left wing.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. The president of my company said she has been here 25 years and never seen anything like this happen,” she said. 

Moody said onlookers were at first uneasy about approaching the plane because there were fears it would explode.

“The gas flowed into the (culvert) tunnel. There were flames shooting maybe 20-30 foot out of the tunnel. You could see smoke coming up through the ground. It was amazing how fast everyone showed up,” Moody said.

“I’m just glad they all made it out alive.”

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About this article

Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Author Jim Utter
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