Lessons from Dale Earnhardt’s Plane Crash

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Dale Earnhardt, Jr., wife and pilots exited CORRECTLY

Great example for everyday fliers

Elizabethtown Fire Station distant?

It is very premature to even suggest the probable causes for the crash at Elizabethtown Municipal Airport (0A9). However, it is timely to use the high profile of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., his wife (Amy), baby (Isla) and pilots as a platform for aviation safety.










As professionals, part of our job is to convey important safety messages to the general public. Oftentimes, like the predeparture passenger briefing, the communication is sent but not retained. The public attention to Cessna 680A Citation Latitude crash will grab their attention and most importantly, will retain the instructive image.


None of the pictures, all taken by cellphones, provide mush detail, but by expanding some of them, it is clear that NO ONE ON BOARD took anything with them in escaping the plane. The passengers all exited the door with nothing. Earnhardt had one car crash (in 2004 driving Corvette during a practice session during an American Le Mans Series race at the Sonoma Raceway in California) that ended an inferno, but more than likely, his many high pressure incidents helped him in this crisis.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. exits his car following a crash during the Sunday morning warmup for the 2004 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Aviation has attempted many, many times to educate passengers to follow the behavior of the Earnhardt team and depart without any baggage.


But obviously, as shown by these passengers laving their aircraft in flames, wheeling their bags and carrying other paraphernalia. Publicizing the Earnhardt example might get the attention of air travellers. #88 might carry the message.














In an interview, the town’s fire chief described his department’s response:

Elizabethtown fire chief Barry Carrier told NBC all five people aboard had gotten off the plane by the time the deputy fire chief arrived. The response time took about two to three minutes[1], Carrier said. “It looks like they were able to get out fairly quickly and under their own power,” he said.

Firefighters worked to extinguish the flames from the crash, Carrier said. He added that the crash caused a large fuel spill and that officials are working to prevent it from running into any nearby water.

Speaking with CNN, Carrier said the plane crashed through a fence. “If the fence had blocked the exit that could have been really bad,” Carrier told reporters at a press conference. “They were very lucky.

OA9 is not a Part 139 airport; so there is no fire response requirement. Given the level of traffic at this GA airport, it appears that the distance to the nearest station might well be considered. The projected response time is something closer to 10 minutes; the next accident might require quicker arrival of the emergency vehicles.   Next time, the passengers may not be as lucky or able in escaping.

An obscure airport becomes prominent with an accident like this. The correct emergency departing of the aircraft by the Earnhardt Party should be well publicized to instruct others how to exit a plane in such circumstances!!! This crash may also serve as a reason to reassess the fire response.


[1] This video shows that the response time of the fire leadership was a little over 3 minutes and the responders did not immediately aid the passengers. The video terminates after 4.5 minutes and no fire engine appeared to extinguish the flames.


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