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Indiana investigators want to know if Autopilot is involved in a fatal Tesla crash

Police investigators are trying to determine if the Autopilot feature was on when a Tesla model S crashed and burned in Indianapolis, this morning. Two people were killed.

The Indianapolis Fire Department says a Tesla Model S was traveling at a high rate of speed early this morning when the driver apparently lost control. The Tesla hit a tree and then crashed into a building. Indianapolis police have contacted Tesla to help determine if the Autopilot was on at the time of the incident.

In a news conference, Indianapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Jones said the vehicle disintegrated, leaving an extensive debris field with several large and small fires. The fire department had to put out a number of the fires before they could get to the two people inside the vehicle. A 27-year-old woman driving the Tesla was dead at the scene. Her 44-year-old male passenger died at the hospital.

Jones said that even though his department has trained for electric and hybrid vehicle crashes, they had never encountered anything like this. Jones said that the battery cells continued firing off “almost like projectiles” while crews were trying to get to the injured.

In a video of the ten minute news conference, Jones said that “Lithium ion batteries burn very hot. To extinguish that type of fire with those batteries involved, it’s necessary to apply copious amounts of water.” Jones estimated that it took the crews five-to-ten minutes to extinguish the battery fires so they could get to the car.

Tesla has said in the past that the Autopilot feature will not allow the vehicle to travel more than five miles an hour over the speed limit. However, Tesla recently cut ties with Mobileye, the manufacturer of that Autopilot system and announced a new system called “Hardware Two”. Tesla says the new self-driving hardware will be installed in all of its vehicles currently in production and software to make them fully autonomous will be added in the coming years.

Tesla intends to send the new vehicles upgrades every two to three months, while the company works out the bugs in the system. “Hardware Two” will deactivate parts of Tesla’s controversial Autopilot software. Some customers have blamed the Autopilot program for accidents. Earlier this year, a Florida driver was killed when his Tesla slammed into a truck, while on Autopilot. Tesla has countered that some drivers don’t understand the limits of the autonomous driving systems.

The police estimate that it will take at least a week to determine what factors caused the crash. Hopefully, they will be able to know if Autopilot is or is not involved. Either way, it is tragic for the families of the two who perished.