Local pilot talks training, safety following Dale Earnhardt Jr. crash


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – For one local pilot, Thursday afternoon’s plane crash in Elizabethton really hits home. Over the years he’s flown NASCAR drivers to different speedways.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family were on board and walked out alive.

“It really affected me, when I first read about it I was really concerned for their safety,” said pilot Michael Copeland.

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The story has gripped many here in East Tennessee and across the country, but it takes on a different meaning for Copeland. He’s flown some NASCAR drivers and their families.

“We practice all of that. We practice aborted landings, aborted take-offs, engine failures, engine fires,” he said.

For situations like this, and on planes like the Earnhardt’s, Copeland says pilots prepare for the worst case scenarios. And the training, he says, is intensive.

“An airplane to this level would normally take about 19 days of initial training on that particular aircraft. And then every year they are mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration to get re-trained and recurrent training every year, and not only re-trained but re-examined,” he said.

Still, he’s reminding us of the things we all can do as airplane passengers to make sure we’re as safe as possible.

“Pay attention to the safety briefing. Pay attention to where the exits are,” Copeland said. “It’s really so important if you get in a situation like that to be prepared and to be ready to get out as quickly as what they did.”

Meanwhile in Elizabethton, the National Transportation Safety Board said investigators expect to be on site there for two to three days documenting evidence.

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