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Tesla in fatal crash sped up before wreck

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A Tesla that re-ignited five days after a fatal, fiery crash in Mountain View in March while it was on “auto-pilot” accelerated three seconds before the crash, according to an initial report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

San Mateo resident Wei Huang, 38, was driving his Model X south on U.S. Highway 101 and approaching the interchange with state Highway 85 at 9:23 a.m. on March 23 when it struck a crash attenuator at the exit ramp.

Two other vehicles subsequently struck the Tesla, resulting in an additional injury. The Model X sustained major damage, causing the front end to separate from the rest of the car. The electric vehicle’s 400-volt lithium ion battery was breached and caught fire, according to the NTSB report.

Huang was still belted into the driver’s seat but bystanders rescued him from the vehicle before it was consumed by flames. He was transported to a hospital but died from his injuries later that day.

It took firefighters nearly 10 minutes to put out the fire with roughly 200 gallons of water and foam. They eventually escorted the vehicle to an impound lot in San Mateo, but it started smoking around 4:30 p.m.

Five days later the battery re-ignited.

The crash sparked a national debate over the challenges firefighters face when responding to electric vehicle crashes as well as whether Tesla owners can trust their vehicles’ autopilot system.

According to the performance data recorded by the vehicle, Huang’s last drive lasted about 32 minutes. During that time, he engaged the autopilot system four times, including one continuous period of nearly 19 minutes.

Huang’s hands were detected on the wheel for just 34 seconds of the last minute before the crash, and his hands were not detected at all for the last six seconds before the crash, according to the report.

During the last 8 seconds, the Tesla was following another vehicle at about 65 mph. It moved to the left and slowed down slightly.

Four seconds before the crash, the Tesla’s on-board computer was no longer following that vehicle, and three seconds before the crash it sped up from 62 mph to 70.8 mph.

The crash still remains under investigation, with assistance from the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans. Back in April, the NTSB announced that Tesla had been taken off of the investigation for releasing information before it could be vetted and confirmed.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the NTSB’s report.

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