View from a first responder helicopter during rescue operationsScreenshot: California Highway Patrol
A family of four are in the hospital — with the father awaiting arrest for purposefully causing the crash — after their Tesla Model Y plunged 250 feet off of a cliff to the rocks below in California earlier this week. The deadly steep cliffs on this stretch of road have claimed many lives, but these four people managed to survive thanks to excellent engineering and a bit of old fashioned luck.
Dharmesh Patel is accused of purposefully driving his family’s Tesla Model Y off a cliff known as the Devil’s Slide on Monday morning. The car fell 250 feet to a rocky ledge besides the Pacific Ocean with his wife and two children, ages seven and five, also in the vehicle. This area is so well known for fatal crashes that first responders on the scene assumed this was a recovery operation. It was only when they spotted movement in the crash that they realized there were survivors. The whole family is still in the hospital, with Patel heading to a jail cell in San Mateo, California, on charges of attempted murder and child abuse once released.
The Model Y is considered an incredibly safe car, boasting the lowest SUV rollover risk on the road according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing. It also earned top scores from the Institute for Highway Safety since introduced in 2020. It’s not crash-tested for 250-foot drops, nor is it rated to perform as a boat “…for a while.” Sure, the roof occasionally detached from the first few from the factory, but once it was back on, what a roof!
NBC reached out to two professors: Jingwen Yu of at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute and Jose Granda, a professor of mechanical engineering at California State University. Yu and Granda agree both the unique design of the Model Y and a particularly cushioned landing led to the family’s survival:
In Granda’s view, the SUV is likely to have plunged at speeds topping 80 mph — a fast fall that was most likely blunted by pebblelike rocks and sand. He compared the landing pad to a ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese.
“You have the reason why these people are alive,” he said.
The batteries in the vehicle’s undercarriage most likely kept the vehicle from tilting forward, as a car with an engine under the hood would have, he said.
To Yu, the SUV appeared to have struck the cliffside as it tumbled toward the ocean.
“Rollover” incidents tend to be far more lethal than front-end or side crashes, Yu said. While the images showed a vehicle that had suffered major damage, Yu said its integrity appeared to have remained intact.
“The occupants still have a survival space,” he said. “That’s remarkable.”
So far police have not discussed a motive for the crash. Neighbors in their Pasadena community describe the family as “… a beautiful, idyllic family, no indication of issues,” according to the Los Angeles Times.