Tesla Model S Plunges Off Cliff, Catches Fire, Fatality Reported


Malibu Times is reporting that on Monday a 2013 Tesla Model S drove over the edge of a canyon, plunged 500 feet below and caught fire.  The blaze was intense:

The accident occurred just after 11 a.m. on Monday, June 21, when a 2013 Tesla registered to a 53-year-old male from Calabasas went over the edge of the canyon, falling an estimated 500 feet. The car then caught fire, quickly engulfing the surrounding dry brush in flames.

In total, the fire burned approximately three acres.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department classified the blaze as a two-alarm fire, with 180 firefighters on scene throughout the early afternoon working to extinguish the blaze.

According to L.A. County Fire Dept. Captain Mora, who spoke to The Malibu Times at approximately 12:10 p.m. Monday, the fire that was ignited by the car had begun to build, moving uphill to the north.

We believe that most all automobiles would ignite following a 500-foot plunge, so this incident has no negative connection to the safety of the Model S or of electric cars in general.

Malibu Times spoke to California Highway Patrol spokesperson Leland Tang.  Tang stated the following:

“We can’t confirm the identity yet. His body was so badly burned that we couldn’t even tell gender; we couldn’t tell if it was a human being.”

Firefighters did manage to contain and extinguish the blaze.  One firefighter suffered minor injuries.

The cause of the accident is unknown and will likely remain that way as the vehicle burned to nothing during the blaze.  Quoting Tang:

“We’re going to have to put together as best we can, because there’s no vehicle for us to look at, there’s nothing left of it, and there’s not a lot of physical evidence at the scene.”

“The fire did a real big number on everything there, so it pretty much almost. If the fire department didn’t get there, it would have cremated him too. There wouldn’t have even been a body there.”

“It melted the car.”

Source: Malibu Times

Categories: Tesla

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81 Comments on "Tesla Model S Plunges Off Cliff, Catches Fire, Fatality Reported"

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is this the second death in a Model S?

Yes, I am thinking that it is. The first was also a 500-600 foot plunge off a cliff, would not be survivable in almost any vehicle.
The first one was thought to have been a suicide.

I thought there was one other one, where a car thief (not wearing a seatbelt) was thrown through the windshield… or does that not count as dieing “in” a Model S?

You are correct Sublime. I totally forgot about that one.

Next earnings call:
Elon Musk: “It was the Cliff’s fault. It was at the wrong place. Tesla cars are safe. No one dies in it. It only kills others”.

Seems like the huge crumple zone would make it much safer for other cars as well, right?

Depends on the situation. A frontal or offset collision with another auto, would indeed provide the Tesla driver and passengers increased safety over traditional ICE vehicles.

But lets run down some numbers on this particular crash…

Model S drives off a cliff between 45 – 55 mph, weighs 4647+ .lbs (toss average driver weight in, too), falls a distance of 500 + feet, lands on a couple large boulders.

Some quick math suggests that terminal velocity could be about 400 mph, before impact.

Q: Who makes a sedan that can withstand those kinds of forces?

A: No one.

The unsurvivable outcome of this unfortunate situation, should not be a surprise to anyone; even trolls.

“falls a distance of 500 + feet, lands on a couple large boulders. Some quick math suggests that terminal velocity could be about 400 mph, before impact.”

Hmm… No.

For a free fall object with 9.8m/s in y direction of travel (since speed of 40-50mph does’t contribute to initial velocity of free falling), a distance of 170 meters (500+ft) would take less than 6 secs and final velocity of ~ 57.7m/s or 129mph, NOT your claimed 400mph speed…

I would buy 129 MPH.

Here is a video of a Ford being crashed into a concrete wall at 120 MPH by the guys at Fifth Gear:

Pretty stunning.

Pretty scary, I would say!


That is a lot of energy to dissipate through the car…

BTW, 129mph would be the free fall speed.

I seriously doubt it is a free fall from a cliff based on the pictures…

still, no car would survive it…

obviously not. The ground, like a concrete barrier, does not deform very much, unlike a car-on-car collision where both parties deform substantially, lessening the damage of each vehicle somewhat.

By the way, not strictly on topic but Tesla is far from the ‘safest’ car on EURO NCAP.


Based on passive safety equipment missing?

It seems pretty hard to beat the massive crumple zone.

lol 400mph.

Please, you know See Through will find something say about this.

Skydivers diving head first out of a plane with arms tight into their body can only manage about 330mph. So unless the driver was accelerating all the way down the cliff with rockets attached to the car he wouldn’t have reached your estimated speed…

A Tesla is much heavier compared to similar size cars on the road. It is as dangerous as any large SUV for small car drivers.
Morever, the PSI on impact is even higher due to smaller impact area with Tesla’s aerodynamic nose cone.

Um, the nose cone isn’t solid (it’s a thermoplastic panel). Your ‘psi’ statement isn’t valid or rational.

Please stick to trolling about other things you might (?) know more about.

“Morever, the PSI on impact is even higher due to smaller impact area with Tesla’s aerodynamic nose cone.”

Apparently being a Tesla-bashing troll has caused complete failure of any critical thinking on your part.

The front of the Tesla Model S is a superb crumple zone. The exact way in which that crumples in a severe impact has little or nothing to do with the exact geometry of the nosecone.

I knew it.

Who cares? We were talking about cars driving off cliffs and plunging over 400 ft. No car survives that, big or small, heavy or light.

That is absolutely false. What about this?


Yes, I just checked and this was the first one back in 2014.

As far as i know, this is the first.
Sell your tsla stock, i think it might go down because of this.

TSLA up nearly $5 today. Up $13 since the low point of $256 on 6/22.

Agree, but this is brand new news to me and insideev. True that it went up this morning but, once the news gets more attention, i expect it will go down, like it did for the 3 previous fires 2 years ago. I see it as an opportunity in the hours and days to come, but that’s just a guess on my part out of experience, that’s all.

The accident happened on Monday. The stock dropped on Tuesday and is up $13 since then.

I think knowledgeable investors won’t be scared off. Any car the goes over a 500 foot cliff could catch on fire.

I can’t see people selling their stock because somebody died in a Tesla after going down a 166 meters high cliff. Which car could save you from that?

Anyway, TSLA would have been down 2 minutes after Malibu Times published it article if people would have care.

The bad news could have been much worse. If the fire started by the Tesla became an out of control wild fire that destroyed homes and killed people. It would be leading story on the national news: Tesla EV accident starts a massive out of control wild fire, # dead and # houses destroyed. A dozen Tweets by Elon would never counter all the bad PR from such a news story.

As a Brit, I have been brought up with the understanding that ALL American built cars explode and catch fire at the slightest tap, crash or wallop.
I have watched many hours of tv and movie footage to back this up 🙂

The stock is on fire.

I see what you did there.

Anyone who sells stock in a fantastic company simply because a driver drove one of their cars off a cliff on his own volition is, safe to say, a moron.

Find better motives to sell stock rather than blaming a company for failing to design a car that survives driving off a cliff.

“We believe that most all automobiles would ignite following a 500-foot plunge, so this incident has no negative connection to the safety of the Model S or of electric cars in general.”

Aside from the grammatical error, I wouldn’t be so sure about the statement above. Calling Mythbuster for a science test!

Truth is, modern cars that are properly maintained do not actually burst into flame in many crashes. One also has to account for a crash of this type – going down a cliff. Was it rolling down rather than plunging down? Was the fire caused by the impact, or puncture of the battery pack? There are many questions, but to generalize that an ICE car will most likely have the same result – that’s just questionable.

I would have to agree with you there. The car that went off the cliff on Hwy 1 with the first fatality, the car did not catch fire at all. It is actually for sale on COPART now as a salvage, although not much left. The car in that accident looked like it took a hard impact and the rolled many times.
Without seeing where this car went off, we would not know, as you said, was this a roll down the cliff or sudden impact into the ravine.

Bursting into flames, exploding is what only ICE cars do.
A gas tank is … full of gas! 🙂

The only thing questionable here is the chance of surviving. I think it is safe to say that going down a 500 feet cliff is a bad idea either going straight down, flying or rolling. The difference is probably only with the fire intensity. A battery pack on fire is much more intense than a gas fire for sure.


Exactly.. as far as the occupant was concerned, I’m pretty sure he’d be dead whether there was a fire or not.

Actually, rolling gives you the best chance of survival, on a modern day car with side airbags and those toughened roof.

Not that I’ve tried it myself in any of those 3 styles (or I won’t be commenting here)…but in terms of physics, the energy impact on a rolling vehicle is actually far less than a direct impact as in the flying or plunging straight down.

Now, being conscious or not in rolling, that’s a different question, which will then lead to another question – will the rolling caused fire in ICE vs Tesla case? Forensic should be able to find out if the lung is still there.

“A battery pack on fire is much more intense than a gas fire for sure.”
I’m pretty sure that it is not true. While the battery pack fire will go on longer and has a possibility of re-ignition (because of the internal oxygen source within batteries), I’m pretty sure the “intensity” of the fire is much higher for gasoline (there is more available energy and quicker release).

It depends on how much of the gas is available to burn. If it’s sprayed everywhere, yes–but if most of it is still in the tank, or is slowly leaking, it will be limited by oxygen. Tesla batteries are widely spaced with firewalls, but if the firewall is breached there is plenty of space for oxygen. A Tesla is more likely to be fully charged than a car is to have a full tank, but that’s equivalent to only 2.5 gallons.

I thought the prime benefit of the battery technology Tesla use is their fires are slow-burn and easily compartmentalized? Obviously, you cannot compartmentalize a fire when the car just flew off a cliff and deformed into the ground, but car designers do not design cars to withstand that!

The energy stored in a Tesla battery of 85 or 90kWh is equivalent to two and and a half gallons of gasoline. Most cars have more than that in their tanks most of the time. Still a lot of energy to release over a short time though whether it comes from a battery or a fuel tank.

Londo Bell said:

“…modern cars that are properly maintained do not actually burst into flame in many crashes.”

Yeah, but not many car crashes involve plunging off a cliff and crashing at the bottom of a 500 foot drop!

I don’t know what the actual odds are on whether or not a gasmobile would burst into flames on such an impact — almost certainly it would depend on how full the gas tank was* — but I do know one thing: If a gasmobile burst into flames after such a crash, nobody, but nobody would be surprised.

*The more empty space inside the gas tank, the more explosive vapor present inside. A full gas tank should actually reduce the chance of explosion.

In this situation it would all be based on randomness. I’d guess it would be pretty similar possibilities of explosion/fire just based on the energies involved. For the gas car you have fuel that can ignite. How much is in the tank? If the fuel hits either an electrical spark or impacts the hot engine you would very likely have a fire. At the right moment it could even be explosive if the fuel was turned into an aerosol as a result of the impact. With batteries it’s just a different type of fire. The pack will be penetrated and a battery burst with enough energy inside to cause ignition. Considering the energies involved, it is just as likely for either. IMO No one should be surprised by what happened.

Yes, most modern cars are designed to resist puncturing to the gas tank. It can flex a bit, unlike batteries.

But it really depends on the situation. If most of the chassis can absorb and shield it, or if it plunged and rolled over to directly expose the tank to hitting a boulder for example.

With the Tesla there may be more battery puncture risk with the entire bottom of the car exposed and thin shield.

IEV tends to slip subjective editorializations like these into their stories which bring unneeded and unwanted bias into the reporting.

Charlie Sheen or Toonces the cat?

Our sympathy goes out to the driver and his family.

Sympathy indeed. This is just terrible.

R.I.P. and sympathies to the family.


Someday in the not too distant future, drivers who’ve had heart attacks, seizures, etc., behind the wheel– won’t die or cause others accidents while driving.

I wonder if auto-pilot was available today, if it would have prevented this.

Dunno. Auto-pilot in fact might facilitate driving off cliffs for people with suicidal thoughts. Sitting in the back seat sipping a glass of champagne while the car plays chauffeur to one’s final destiny….

It really should be noted that the melting point of aluminum is less than half that of steel and instead of ending with the sentence “It melted the car” maybe clarify that it wasn’t necessarily an unusually intense fire but that it is made of unconventional materials.

I believe the firefighters mentioned that aluminum cars usually “disappear” when involved in fires, likely for the reasons you point out.

Yep, aluminium melts pretty easily. I have seen pics of a car that got caught in a forest fire, the rims were just puddles of molten aluminium on the tarmac, they looked like something out of a Dali painting.

Ironically, when talking about Tesla safety didn’t Elon Musk explicitly mention the case of someone driving off a cliff as a situation where they could not prevent a death?
Yes . . .
Addressing an approving audience in Mountain View, Calif., Musk emphasized his vehicles’ performance and safety record, boasting that Teslas have driven a total of 344 million miles without “a serious permanent injury.”

Tesla shareholders meeting
“And there have been some pretty crazy crashes,” he said. “There was a guy who drove through two concrete walls at 110 mph.”

He used to tell people the car was safe unless it was driven off a cliff, he joked.

“Then someone drove it off a cliff,” he said. “Fine!”

Musk mentioned that, to show that even falling off the cliff didn’t cause permanent damage.
Too bad, he couldn’t boast of such claims made in this year’s meeting.

Three for Tesla so far. That is if you don’t count the five incinerated in the Toyota Corolla rear-ended by one. 🙁

Correction: Only three of the five died. But I forgot the bicyclist run down, so make that four.

You forgot the two killed in a HOnda Accord on LA mountains, when a Tesla owner/doctor was racing a Mercedes Benz, driving on the wrong side of the road and had a frontal collision..

The battery in the Tesla burns intensely; the battery chemistry in the Leaf…doesn’t.

It appears in this aspect the Leaf is safer:

In any case the 500 foot drop probably killed the driver before the fire started.

Fast cars invite people to drive more dangerous. Never buy your children a fast car.

These are the coordinates: 34.0632997,-118.6962419

You can look in Google Earth. The slope is steep and rocky. There are large boulders. Over 500 feet of rolling down and bouncing over the boulders there was zero chance of survival. Airbags would only protect you on initial impact; they rapidly deflate. Here there would have been a series of impacts, with more and more energy, and the car would have been demolished.

In reality, this biggest safety problem with the Model S is having features like “insane” mode in the hands of incapable drivers.

Porsche has the same problem. Most of the buyer’s skills only consist of being able to afford one.

California Cliff 2, Californi Tesla owner 0…

This is getting really bad for Tesla, they now need to have the the option like the Cirrus aircraft for a Ballistic Recover Chute:

Tesla has 3 death now…

LEAF still has 0 death, right?


Prius Plugin?

Do we have a running total?

Not sure about the Leaf and Volt but there was a couple of Prius death reported on PriusChat forum in the past, now they simply don’t even mention it.

Geez, this Tesla S really is a green car. About nothing is left of it. Totally “biodegradable”.


Well, it was “degraded” or “degradable”, certainly NOT “bio”degradable…

I would also like to point out that this scenario illustrates why mass produced, government regulated cars are not magically safer than purpose built cars.

That seems to come up often when comparing races between custom EVs and the Tesla Model S, implying that just because it had gone through NHTSA testing, it must be safer than the custom EV, which don’t even have airbags.

Well, look at the EVSR 84 crash in Pike’s Peak:

Look at other accidents where people fly off the mountain in Pikes Peak. I’m not saying there’s no risk, but the no-airbag, fully trestle tube chassis or full roll caged modified cars are much safer than stock cars.

I would personally pick a tube chassis with 5 pt harness seat over a typical car with a ton of airbags too.

Typically modified ICE cars use “fuel cells” instead of normal gas tanks. They are designed to resist massive impact. I would hope the Pikes Peak EVs have better battery protection too.

I highly recommend watching the video about the Jeremy Foley crash at Pikes Peak 2012 with freaky video both outside and inside the car, where the driver was able to walk away from such a horrific crash:

I’m sure we’ll soon see government requirements requiring cars to be equipped with parachutes.

Driver identified:


As someone who drives the same roads it is an eye opener.

BTW a Roadster owner drove off a cliff in Malibu in 2009. https://www.facebook.com/Teslaclubla/photos/a.361633717290532.1073741825.327560194031218/361633747290529/?type=3&theater
Lucky he got caught in a tree! He has since bought two more Teslas. And he occasionally waters the tree.