2004 Hendrick Motorsports aircraft crash
A Beechcraft Super King Air 200, similar to the one involved in the crash
|Date||October 24, 2004|
|Summary||Pilot error resulting in Controlled flight into terrain, navigational issues and inclement weather ruled as contributing factors|
|Site||Stuart, Virginia, USA|
|Aircraft type||Beechcraft Super King Air 200|
|Flight origin||Concord Regional Airport
Concord, North Carolina
|Destination||Blue Ridge Airport
On October 24, 2004, a Beechcraft Super King Air aircraft, registered N501RH and owned by NASCAR team Hendrick Motorsports, crashed into mountainous terrain in Stuart, Virginia, during a missed approach to Blue Ridge Airport en route to the Subway 500 Nextel Cup Series race. All ten people on board were killed; among them, members of the Hendrick family including John Hendrick, president of Hendrick Motorsports, and former Busch Series driver and owner Ricky Hendrick.
The King Air took off from Concord, North Carolina, at 12 pm EST, carrying eight passengers and two flight crew. Among them were several key Hendrick Motorsports staff, including team president John Hendrick and his twin daughters, Kimberly and Jennifer Hendrick; Ricky Hendrick, son of Rick Hendrick; general manager Jeff Turner; and chief engine builder Randy Dorton. The other people on board were Joe Jackson, a DuPont executive; Scott Lathram, a pilot for driver Tony Stewart; and pilots Richard Tracy and Elizabeth Morrison. The plane was reported missing at 3:00 pm. Eventually 9-1-1 was called, and fire trucks and police cars patrolled the Virginia area during the race itself. Around midway through the race, searchers patrolling the nearby Bull Mountain's peak found airplane wreckage on the summit. When removing the wreckage from the summit they found the bodies of the Hendrick group at 11:05 pm. Everyone on board had been killed. A search by firefighters also discovered a scar on the mountain of moved dirt; the discovery proved that the airplane crashed on the side of the mountain and the explosion blew the wreckage and group upward.
NASCAR received word of the plane crash halfway through the race at Martinsville. Hendrick Motorsports won the race as a team victory but after the race was over, NASCAR immediately summoned all Hendrick Motorsports drivers and team officials– including the race winner Jimmie Johnson– to the Oval Office where details of the accident were disclosed to the team. Immediately afterwards, all victory lane ceremonies were cancelled.
An investigation conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) followed soon after the crash.
There were foggy conditions at the time of the plane crash.
Pilot error as a cause
The NTSB suggested that pilot error was the cause of the crash, partly by:
- the plane missing its first landing attempt before veering off course and crashing;
- the plane not climbing to its temporarily assigned altitude of 2,600 feet; it instead descended to 1,800 feet before crashing.
The NTSB concluded its investigation by suggesting that the pilots failed to execute an instrument approach procedure and that both failed to use all navigational aids to confirm the airplane's position during its approach.
On February 7, 2006, a lawsuit was filed against Hendrick Motorsports by the widows of two men killed in the plane crash. Dianne Dorton claimed "conscious and intentional disregard" for the life of her husband, Randy Dorton, the head engine builder for Hendrick Motorsports. The lawsuit places partial blame on John Hendrick, the President of Hendrick Motorsports. Her claim is based on a conversation with her husband shortly before the crash, as well as a conversation between John Hendrick and pilot Richard Tracy.
Dorton called his wife the morning of the crash. He told his wife that they were supposed to fly in a helicopter but the helicopter was delayed due to bad weather, and that they were going to fly in a Hendrick Motorsports plane instead. Dorton waited in the Hendrick Hangar for over an hour. He called Dianne and told her he didn't think they would go, only to call back 47 minutes later to tell her "we're going".
Pilot Richard Tracy allegedly suggested flying into Danville instead of Blue Ridge Airport, but Hendrick refused because Danville was further away and he didn't want to be late for the race. The grounded helicopter pilot witnessed the conversation and could be called to testify.
In a separate lawsuit, Scott Lathram's widow Tracy claims that at least 27 other aircraft scratched plans to land at Blue Ridge Airport on October 24 due to bad weather. Lathram was a helicopter pilot for NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.
Impact on Hendrick Motorsports
The week following the crash, officials at the Atlanta Motor Speedway held a moment of silence before both the Busch and Nextel Cup races and lowered the flags to half staff. All the Hendrick Motorsports cars, as well as the No. 0 of Hendrick-affiliated Haas CNC Racing, carried tributes on the hoods for those who were lost the week before. Jimmie Johnson (who won the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 race) and the rest of his teammates and crew wore their caps backwards in victory lane as a tribute to Ricky Hendrick, who had a habit of doing the same. At the Hendrick museum in Concord, North Carolina, 300 people showed up for a candlelight vigil in honor of the ten victims.
- NTSB. "Controlled Flight Into Terrain, Beech King Air 200, N501RH, Stuart, Virginia, October 24, 2004". Retrieved October 24, 2014.
- "FAA Registry". Federal Aviation Administration.
- The Martinsville Plane Crash, October 25, 2004. Accessed August 9, 2006.
- "Ten die in crash of Hendrick plane". Usatoday.Com. October 26, 2004. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
- Hendrick plane crashes en route to NASCAR race; 10 killed Archived June 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
- Kurz jr, Hank "Hendrick Motorsports Plane Crash Kills 10. Accessed August 11, 2006.
- MSNBC "All 10 bodies located from Hendrick plane crash, Associated Press. Accessed August 11, 2006.
- "NTSB: Hendrick plane did not climb before crash", Associated Press. Accessed August 11, 2006.
- NTSB (2004) NTSB Report on the Crash. Link updated October 15, 2011.
- WCNC (2006) "Widow working to find out what happened in crash". Accessed August 11, 2006.
- Clarke, Liz: Washington Post article. Accessed August 11, 2006.
- "Jimmie Johnson nabs poignant win". Associated Press. November 1, 2004. Retrieved September 22, 2006.
- Felix, Ron Tragedy At Hendrick Motorsports (insiderracingnews.com). Accessed August 11, 2006.
- Press Release (April 26, 2005). "Engine competition pays tribute to Randy Dorton - Apr 26, 2005". Nascar.Com. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
- "Clevite Engine Parts, NASCAR Technical Institute and Dianne Dorton Team Up to Honor Late Engine Builder Randy Dorton". aftermarket News. May 2, 2005. Retrieved August 9, 2012.