Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fiery plane crash follows a summer of other aviation scares

The NASCAR legend was with his wife and 15-month-old daughter when their plane bounced twice and landed hard in Tennessee, bursting into a billowing ball of smoke and fire.
7:17 | 08/17/19

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Transcript for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fiery plane crash follows a summer of other aviation scares
Eyewitnesses caught the terrifying moment on their cell phones. A small plane bouncing down the runway and then suddenly it's in flames. NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr, his wife and their baby daughter. There's a baby in there. There seems to be an airplane that's crashed. The fireball swallows the plane's wing It's on fire. That is insane. Witnesses call for help. It came out of the airfield through the fence and it is on fire. And then the plane's broken jetway pops open. The baby is one of the first to come out as everyone else runs for their lives. It's a daring and miraculous escape for the Earnhardt family, the plane's two pilots and the family dog. Yeah, a dude just pulled a baby out of there. It's a private jet. Everyone watching, holding their breath breathes a sigh of relief as the family makes it out with seconds to spare. There's a girl, there's one, there's a baby. There's a dog. Ems personnel did put Dale on a cot and take him to the hospital. Dramatic video shows first responders racing to the scene. That fire is picking up, man. They're putting out flames that can be seen for miles. Well, the first arriving unit found heavy flames coming from the fuselage of the plane and the occupants were exiting the plane at the time our first unit arrived, just before our first unit arrived. The 11-seat Cessna citation is owned by Earnhardt Jr., and registered to his North Carolina based company. It took off from statesville, North Carolina Thursday afternoon and landed in elizabethton, Tennessee. Then something went terribly wrong. Authorities say surveillance video knows the plane hitting the ground so hard the landing gear was destroyed. The airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right landing gear the airplane continued down the runway off to the end through a fence and it came to a stop behind me on the highway. They're telling us that the plane could be here for two days while investigators do their work. I don't know if you can see it but there's a fence that's wrapped around the body of the plane. That's the fence the plane crashed into when it skidded off the runway. So the real question from investigators will be why after the pilots knew that this landing was not going well on a perfectly nice day, they didn't just push the throttles up take off again come around and try the landing. Was it mechanical failure or was it poor pilot judgment? The plane's voice data recorder is being sent to Washington to be analyzed. The NTSB says they've talked to both the Earnhardt family and the two pilots. Earnhardt's sister Kelley tweeted shortly after the crash, that "Everyone is safe." The earnhadrt family was very lucky that the airplane wasn't damage to the point where they couldn't open the doors. Everything worked in their favor after the initial mishap. Earnhardt's close call follows another stunning mid-air save that same day. Perhaps even more miraculous was the Russian crash outside of Moscow. Why? Because here we had another sully Sullenberger, an extremely rare event. All 233 people aboard this Russian aircraft miraculously survived after being forced to land in a cornfield. The pilot descended seconds after taking off outside Moscow when birds flew into both jet engines causing one to catch fire. This passenger video shows a seagull outside the window moments before the strike. The pilots made a quick decision. They said we can't fly but we do have a big corn field out in front of us. And so they kept the airplane flying and they brought here plane to a very soft landing inside this cornfield and everybody walked away without serious injury. Extraordinary airmanship in a very, very rare situation. 76 people, including 19 children, had minor injuries. The pilot is now being hailed a hero. The Russian mishap could have been much worse. It had just taken off. So all of the fuel tanks were full. If that airplane had touched down on say a frozen cornfield where maybe there were stumps sticking up or rocks, it could ripped open the belly of that airplane, it could rip the engines off in a way that could have created a fire with lots of fuel in the airplane. It could have been a much, much different outcome. But yesterday's events highlight a summer of aviation accidents that began with two tragic float plane crashes in Alaska, killing five passengers and a pilot. A month later in June, this skydiving plane crashed in Hawaii. The beechcraft 65 king airplane went down shortly after takeoff. Assist battalion 4 and battalion 5 with a downed aircraft near mokuleia beach park. Killing all 10 men and one woman on board, making it the deadliest accident involving a civil airplane in the united States since 2011. In my 40 years as a firefighter here in Hawaii, this is the most tragic aircraft incident that we've had. This isn't the first time this plane has had trouble. This harrowing video from 2016 shows the plane packed with sky-divers. Forced to bail out during the emergency. Pieces of the plane falling off in midair. I saw something fall down from the plane. Incredibly, no injuries were reported but the plane sustained substantial damage, according to the NTSB. After tail repairs, the plane was back in the air until it's fateful crash this summer, a wake up call for people looking to book trips on smaller aircrafts. The safest place you can be is on a commercial airliner. Anytime you get on some other kind of an airplane whether it's a skydiving airplane, or an excursion helicopter, a charter business jet, or a private aircraft, they are much, much more likely more dangerous many times. Back in Tennessee, investigators continue sifting through the wreckage. We're going to be releasing a preliminary report in about seven days. It will give basic factual information, we don't draw any conclusions at this time, this is a fact, this is the fact-finding phase only. These are some of the things they left behind in the rush, a child seat, and other signs of what should have been an enjoyable start to the weekend. Earnhardt, who now works as a NBC sports analyst, was supposed to appear at a race this weekend. In a statement, NBC sports says he is taking the weekend off to be with his family. For Earnhardt Jr., the accident isn't his family's first brush with death. The third generation NASCAR driver comes from a family of daredevils. He's won 26 races including the daytona 500 twice. His legendary father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., died in 2001 after crashing in the final lap of the daytona 500. Earnhardt junior continued racing for years after his dad's death. While semi-retired now, he was scheduled to return to the track for a race at the end of the month. The status of whether he'll compete now is unclear. In a statement, his spokesman thanked the public for their concern in the wake of the crash. I look at this and I'm like, someone walked away from that? It's hard to believe. It's hard to believe. The good lord was in charge on that flight. For "Nightline," I'm Steve osunsami in elizabethton, Tennessee.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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