US investigating battery fire in fatal Tesla crash

<i>Image: Scott Olson / AFP</i>
<i>Image: Scott Olson / AFP</i>
Scott Olson

San Francisco - The United States National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate a Tesla Model S crash that left two people dead and another injured in Florida.

The 2014 Tesla was reportedly traveling at high speed when it hit a wall then caught fire on Tuesday. Autopilot self-driving capabilities of the Tesla were not expected to be involved, according to the NTSB.

Tesla controversy

Two 18-year-old Florida men died in the crash, while a third was hospitalized. According to local media reports, it remained to be determined why the Tesla went off a road and slammed into a wall.

READ: Tesla on deadly Model X crash: 'Autopilot was engaged', driver didn't heed warnings

NTSB investigators dispatched Wednesday were to focus on a battery fire ignited by the crash in the coastal city of Fort Lauderdale.

"NTSB has a long history of investigating emerging transportation technologies, such as lithium ion battery fires in commercial aviation," according to NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt.

"The goal of these investigations is to understand the impact of these emerging transportation technologies when they are part of a transportation accident."

Autopilot feature 'not engaged'

A Tesla statement published in Florida media reports said the car maker is cooperating with investigators and it did not appear that the Autopilot feature was engaged at the time of the crash.

In a spat with NTSB, Tesla last month said it "withdrew" from an agreement to participate in the investigation into a fiery 23 March crash in California that involved its "Autopilot" feature.

Image: AFP

But the NTSB announced the "removal of Tesla," after the company disclosed information the agency said could taint the public understanding of what happened, in violation of the agreement.

Tesla hit back at the statement from the independent federal agency that investigates aviation and transit accidents, and questioned its motives.

"Among other things, they repeatedly released partial bits of incomplete information to the media in violation of their own rules, at the same time that they were trying to prevent us from telling all the facts," Tesla said at the time.

The automaker said: "We don't believe this is right and we will be making an official complaint to Congress."

The NTSB is investigating the accident that led to the death of a 38-year-old father of two, Walter Huang.

Tesla has released several statements on the accident, including a 30 March blog post that expressed sorrow for the family but defended its technology and pointed responsibility for the crash on the driver.

Huang's hands were "not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision," Tesla said in the blog.

The company also noted that the accident occurred at a confusing highway interchange, and the protective shield on the concrete barrier involved in the crash was not in proper condition

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
What's more important when you're deciding to purchase a vehicle?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
28% - 567 votes
Safety features
10% - 209 votes
38% - 779 votes
Good fuel consumption
11% - 225 votes
6% - 117 votes
Power figures
7% - 147 votes