WASHINGTON -- The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday it will investigate a Tesla accident in Fort Lauderdale, Florida this week that killed two teenagers and injured another -- the agency's fourth active probe into crashes of the company's electric vehicles.
The NTSB said it was sending a team of four to investigate Tuesday's crash of a 2014 Tesla Model S that was reportedly traveling at high speed when it struck a wall and caught fire. The agency said it does not believe the Tesla's semi-autonomous Autopilot system will be part of the investigation.
This investigation is "primarily focus(ed) on emergency response in relation to the electric vehicle battery fire, including fire department activities and towing operations," the agency said.
A preliminary investigation showed the Tesla drove off the road and hit a concrete wall, immediately catching fire, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department said in a statement. The speed of the vehicle is believed to have been a factor in the crash, the police said.
On Thursday, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was reviewing the crash.
NHTSA said in a statement it was "gathering information on the tragic crash in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to understand all of the facts. The agency will take appropriate action based on its review.”
Tesla said its autopilot system was unlikely to have been a factor in the crash. Autopilot, a form of advanced cruise control that has come under scrutiny after two crashes this year, was not engaged when the Model S car drove off the road and hit a concrete wall, catching fire, the company said, adding it had not yet seen logs from the crash.
"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," a Tesla spokesperson said.
The new investigation adds to an already contentious relationship between the NTSB and Tesla.
Last month, Tesla lashed out at the NTSB after it took the unusual step of removing the automaker from the investigation of a fatal crash in March in which a Tesla vehicle’s driver-assistance Autopilot system was in use.
The NTSB defended the decision, saying Tesla released investigative information prematurely and in violation of procedure.
Tesla in return blasted the NTSB, saying the board was "more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety.” It accused the agency of violating its own rules while trying to prevent Tesla from disclosing all the facts.
The NTSB is also investigating an August 2017 Tesla battery fire in Lake Forest, Calif., after an owner lost control and ran the vehicle into his garage and a January crash of a Tesla vehicle apparently traveling in Autopilot that struck a fire truck in California.
While admitting that serious high-speed collisions could result in a fire, the Tesla spokesperson defended the car's safety record, saying a gas car in the United States is five times more likely to catch fire than a Tesla vehicle.
In the event of an accident, eight airbags protect front and rear occupants, and the battery system automatically disconnects from the main power source, Tesla has said previously in promotional materials for the car.
"Should the worst happen, there is no safer car to be in than Model S," according to a company brochure for the 2014 Model S.
NHTSA previously has said it is investigating two other Tesla crashes earlier this year, including a fatal March crash involving Autopilot in California.