By TOM KRISHER, AP Auto Writer
A federal safety agency is investigating a severe crash and fire involving a Telsa electric car that killed two teenagers in Florida.
The National Transportation Safety Board said a four-person team will focus on the emergency response to the post-crash fire in the battery of a Tesla Model S in Fort Lauderdale. The agency does not expect Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system to be a part of the investigation.
It’s the second time in the past two months that the agency has investigated a Tesla fire. A probe is under way into a fire in a Tesla Model X SUV that crashed on a freeway near Mountain View, California, on March 23. 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 where his condition was unknown.
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 (photo above) 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 based in Palo Alto, California, 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.