The National Transportation Safety Board says it's investigating an incident earlier this week in Florida in which a Tesla Model S was engulfed in flames after an apparent high-speed crash. Two teenagers were killed and a third seriously injured.
The NTSB said Wednesday it was dispatching a four-person team to Fort Lauderdale. The probe will focus on the emergency response to the post-crash fire in the electric vehicle's battery pack.
The NTSB said it did not believe the car's autonomous driving system was engaged at the time of the crash. Tesla said in a statement after the crash that while it had not retrieved data from the vehicle, "everything we have seen thus far indicates a very high-speed collision and that Autopilot was not engaged. Serious high-speed collisions can result in a fire, regardless of the type of car.”
It's the second time in the past two months that the NTSB has investigated a Tesla fire. A probe is under way into a fire in a Tesla Model X SUV that crashed March 23 on U.S. 101 in Mountain View. The company has reported that that vehicle's Autopilot system was engaged when the car smashed into a barrier wall.
Lithium-ion batteries like those used by Tesla can catch fire and burn rapidly in a crash, although Tesla has maintained its vehicles catch fire far less often than those powered by gasoline.
Police say the Tesla in Fort Lauderdale with three teenagers inside crashed into a wall and caught fire on Tuesday evening. Two 18-year-olds were trapped and died when the car became engulfed in flames, police told WPLG-TV. Another teen was thrown from the car and was taken to a hospital. He was reported in fair condition on Wednesday.
One witness said the Tesla was being driven fast and spun out of control. He said he tried to help but the fire was too intense to get the teenagers out of the car.
Chris O'Neil, spokesman for the NTSB, said Wednesday that investigators don't know what caused the battery fire. He said the agency is investigating because there was a post-crash fire involving an electric vehicle.
"The goal of these investigations is to understand the impact of these emerging transportation technologies when they are part of a transportation accident," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Tesla and the NTSB got into an open feud over Tesla's release of information from the probe into the Mountain View crash.
The agency said it booted Tesla out of a group investigating the crash after the company prematurely made investigation details public.
Tesla, however, disputed the claim. The company said it withdrew from the investigation agreement after being told it would be kicked out if it made additional statements before the NTSB finished its probe in the next 12 to 24 months.
O'Neil said that despite the previous dispute, Tesla would be invited to be a party to the investigation of the Fort Lauderdale crash.
Messages were left Wednesday evening seeking comment from Tesla.
The NTSB normally makes recommendations to other federal agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has authority to impose regulations and seek recalls.