Two men were killed after a Tesla Model S crashed into a tree on a Texas roadway and burst into flames, with no one was in the driver's seat. According to authorities, the car was "on autopilot with no one driving" and immediately caught fire after crashing that took 32,000 gallons of water to extinguish.
The smash-up happened around 11:30 pm Saturday night in The Woodlands, a neighborhood in Houston, with the blaze continuing for four hours. Initial investigations have revealed that one of the passengers was sitting in the passenger seat at the front and the second sitting in the back.
According to police, the fully-electric 2019 Tesla Model S rammed into a tree in Carlton Woods at around 11.25pm on Saturday night before bursting into flames with the passengers still inside. The pricey automobile has an "autopilot" function, though it wasn't immediately clear if it was in operation.
Authorities told KPRC 2 that the $80,000 car was moving at high speed when it failed to negotiate a cul-de-sac turn, ran off the road and crashed. Firefighters and medics were immediately summoned to the scene after reports of the explosion. Eyewitnesses said that the fire was so massive that firefighters struggled to control it and finally had to use more than 32,000 gallons of water to extinguish it.
"With the physical evidence and the things of that nature on the scene, that night the position of the bodies the trajectory of the impact, they are 100% certain that no one was in the driver seat driving that vehicle at the time of impact. They are positive," Harris County Constable Mark Herman told KHOU 11.
Out of Control
One of those who died was 59, while the other was 69 years old, police said. According to a report in The Sun, one man's brother-in-law, who spoke to the outlet, said that he was taking the car out for a spin with his best friend. He said the owner managed to back out of the driveway, only to crash a few hundred yards down the road.
The brother-in-law of one of the victims said relatives watched the car burn for four hours while firefighters tried to put out the flames. So much so, that at one point, deputies had to even call Tesla to ask them how to put out a fire in the battery.
Tesla although hasn't said anything about the crash, as officials prepare to carry out autopsies on both the men. According to a New York Times report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now investigating as many as 23 crashes involving Tesla cars believed to be on Autopilot.
The autopilot mode uses sensors and cameras to detect lane markets, obstacles or other vehicles but have often resulted in crashes killing both passengers and pedestrians. Last month, the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) said that Tesla was using customers as 'guinea pigs' to test its autonomous driving technology before it is officially approved.
Although NTSB criticized the firm for its lack of safeguarding, the agency also slammed the NHTSA for its "hands-off approach" to monitor such testing on public roads.
Interestingly, the crash happened just hours after Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted to say that the company's vehicles with Autopilot engaged were "now approaching a 10 times lower chance of accident" than the average vehicle.