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Two killed in Tesla Model S crash; NTSB to investigate fire

by Justin King

Police believe speed may have been a factor when the vehicle hit a concrete wall and immediately caught on fire.

Police and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating a recent fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S.

Three 18-year-old teenagers were traveling in the Model S on Seabreeze Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale when the vehicle left the roadway and struck a concrete wall.

"The vehicle immediately caught on fire, becoming fully engulfed in flames," the FLPD said in a statement. "The speed of which the vehicle was traveling is believed to have been a factor in the traffic crash."

The driver and front seat passenger were pronounced deceased at the crash scene, while the backseat passenger was ejected and transported to a nearby hospital.

The involvement of a Tesla and battery fire has naturally attracted widespread media attention. The company has previously argued that its cars are statistically much less likely to catch fire than a gasoline-powered vehicle in an accident. Lithium-ion battery fires can be particularly challenging for first responders, however, with toxic vapors and potential repeated reignition of a partially extinguished fire.

"Battery fires can take up to 24 hours to fully extinguish," Tesla wrote in an emergency response guide. "Consider allowing the vehicle to burn while protecting exposures."

The NTSB has dispatched a small team that will "primarily focus on emergency response in relation to the electric vehicle battery fire, including fire department activities and towing operations."

The agency has clarified that it does not expect Autopilot to be part of the latest investigation. A separate team is still looking into the recent fatal Model X crash in California, which prompted a public spat with Tesla after the company released statements of the crash without clearing the releases with the lead investigator.

"NTSB has a long history of investigating emerging transportation technologies, such as lithium ion battery fires in commercial aviation, as well as a fire involving the lithium ion battery in a Chevrolet Volt in collaboration with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration," said 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."

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