An accident caused a Tesla to catch fire Friday morning, closing all four lanes of southbound U.S. Highway 101 in Mountain View and causing significant delays during the morning rush hour.
According to the California Highway Patrol, a blue Tesla Model X was driving southbound on US-101 and state Highway 85 junction at freeway speeds when the driver lost control and ran into a median barrier causing the car to catch fire. The Tesla was then hit by a white Mazda as it landed on a lane and then hit by a gray Audi in the next lane. A total of three vehicles were involved.
"We saw a big cloud of smoke and then all of a sudden, there was a fireball in the air," witness Aiden Sanchez said.
The driver of the Tesla, who was identified by the Santa Clara County medical examiner's office as Wei Huang, 38, was taken to Stanford University Medical Center where he succumbed to his injuries.
No other injuries were reported. Images from the scene showed the front of the Tesla completely destroyed as firefighters tried to get the fire out.
Tesla sent an employee over to investigate the crash and the subsequent fire. An exposed battery was visible inside the car. A Tesla Model X is a mid-sized, all-electric, luxury crossover SUV made by Tesla with falcon wing doors. It starts at $79,500.
CHP officers said the accident was just south of the junction where Highway 101 meets state Highway 85.
The CHP thinks the car's battery may have been involved in the explosion. So officers kept their distance and called for backup.
"We're used to regular vehicles, now that we have the batteries in these vehicles, we don’t know what’s in them so we're learning as we go," said CHP officer Art Montiel.
A Good Samaritan who was riding his motorcycle down Highway 101 shared what he saw at the scene of crash exclusively to NBC Bay Area after heading over to help. The Good Samaritan has asked that his identity be kept anonymous.
"I saw, past the smoke of the smoldering and sputtering Tesla Model X and saw a man running up with a fire extinguisher," he said. "I rounded towards what used to be the front of the car and saw, remarkably, an intact man that was covered in a light layer of dust. The front of the car was simply gone."
The Good Samaritan said he checked to see if the man had a pulse and shortly after determining the man was alive he noticed the Tesla wasn’t just smoking, but "actively emitting full flames from the battery bank."
The Good Samaritan and two other men were able to take the man out of the burning car and according to him, the man was completely unresponsive.
"We brought him what we hoped was a safe distance from the wreck, hoping the LiPo batteries weren’t prone to exploding," he said. "Another man placed the victim in the recovery position."
The Good Samaritan said he wished he could have done more to help.
CHP officials are investigating what caused the Tesla to catch fire.
The driver of a Tesla Model X that crashed on U.S. Hwy 101 and caught fire has been taken to Stanford Hospital with major injuries. https://t.co/6uLwZhLgG3 pic.twitter.com/1xDzwUXAz5 — NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) March 23, 2018
TRAFFIC ALERT: 2 lanes of SB Hwy 101 remain closed after accident causes Tesla Model X to catch fire near Mountain View, per CHP. https://t.co/mFSifiiVyr pic.twitter.com/jMriTnh3mG — NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) March 23, 2018
Update on collision on US-101southbound at SR-85
Blue Tesla driving southbound on US-10, driving at freeway speeds on the gore point dividing the SR-85 carpool flyover and the carpool lane on US-101 southbound collided with the attenuator barrier and caught fire — CHP Redwood City (@CHP_RedwoodCity) March 23, 2018
The Tesla was then hit by a Mazda as it landed on the #2 lane of US-101 and then hit by an Audi on the #1 lane. Total 3 vehicles involved — CHP Redwood City (@CHP_RedwoodCity) March 23, 2018
Driver of the Tesla transported to Stanford for major injuries, no other injuries reported at this time. — CHP Redwood City (@CHP_RedwoodCity) March 23, 2018
This is a Google Maps image of the location where the collision occurred. We don't have a current picture available but this is the type of barrier the Tesla collided with at freeway speeds. pic.twitter.com/cuXP4ivjdC — CHP Redwood City (@CHP_RedwoodCity) March 23, 2018
#DEVELOPING CHP waiting for @Tesla to arrive on scene of US 101 crash bc officers don’t know what Tesla battery contains @nbcbayarea pic.twitter.com/pefw1gyrQt — Anoushah Rasta (@Anoushah_Rasta) March 23, 2018