The NTSB is investigating a Tesla Model S crash that killed two teens after the car’s battery caught fire (TSLA)

Tesla Model S
The NTSB said the investigation will focus on the emergency response related to the battery fire that followed the crash.
Bryan Logan/Business Insider

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced on Wednesday that it will investigate Tuesday’s Tesla Model S crash that killed two teenagers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The agency said in a press release that the investigation will focus on the emergency response related to the battery fire that followed the crash, “including fire department activities and towing operations.” The agency said it does not expect Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot technology to be a part of the investigation.

“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,” NTSB chairman Robert S. Sumwalt said in a press release. “The goal of these investigations is to understand the impact of these emerging transportation technologies when they are part of a transportation accident.”

The NTSB didn’t give a specific timeline for the investigation, but said investigations that involve fatalities tend to take 12-24 months.

The fire reportedly prevented people from helping the victims

The crash occurred on Tuesday after the vehicle hit a concrete wall at around 6:46 p.m. and caught fire, killing the driver, Barrett Riley, and front-seat passenger, Edgar Martinez, who were both 18-years-old. The backseat passenger, 18-year-old Alexander Berry, was thrown out of the vehicle after the crash and taken to a nearby hospital. Berry’s condition has not been reported.

The vehicle’s speed is believed to be a factor in the accident.

A local resident told CBS affiliate WFOR that the fire made it difficult for observers to help the car’s occupants.

“Two people trapped in the front seats,” the person, who was not identified by name, said. “Nobody could help because the car was on fire. The fire was so intense that nobody could reach them. There were people trying to get there but it wasn’t happening.”

A Tesla representative told Business Insider that the company is “working to establish the facts of the incident” and will cooperate with local authorities. You can read the company’s full statement below.

“Our thoughts are with the families and friends affected by this tragedy. The family who owned the car has been a close friend of Tesla for many years, and this hits us particularly hard. We are working to establish the facts of the incident and offer our full cooperation to the local authorities. We have not yet been able to retrieve the logs from the vehicle, but 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. Tesla’s billions of miles of actual driving data shows that a gas car in the United States is five times more likely to experience a fire than a Tesla vehicle. This doesn’t change how devastating an event like this is for our customer’s family and friends, and our hearts are with them.”

Tesla and the NTSB argued after an accident in March

After a fatal Model X accident in March that involved the vehicle’s battery catching fire, Tesla said the batteries in its vehicles are designed to decrease the rate at which a fire can spread.

“Tesla battery packs are designed so that in the rare circumstance a fire occurs, it spreads slowly so that occupants have plenty of time to get out of the car,” the company wrote on its website.

In the aftermath of the March accident, Tesla helped the agency retrieve and interpret data from the vehicle’s logs, but Tesla clashed with the agency over the company’s decision to disclose information about the crash on its blog.

As a result, Tesla is no longer a party to the agency’s investigation, though it said it would continue to assist the agency. Each side disagreed over who ended Tesla’s party status. The NTSB said it revoked it, while Tesla said it voluntarily chose to remove itself from the party agreement.

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