A man in the Netherlands has died after his Tesla Model S smashed into a tree and burst into flames on Baarn, a town to the south-east of Amsterdam, on Wednesday morning, 7 September.

The man died instantly on impact, but firefighters attending the scene were unable to retrieve the man's body for several hours because of fears that they would be electrocuted, as the car's security systems stopped working and could not be operated.

"This car is so damaged that we are uncertain how to proceed without putting emergency responders at risk," a spokesperson for the fire department told Dutch public broadcaster NOS, stressing that this case was unusual, and that the firefighters had been trained on the correct procedure for dealing with electric car accidents (coincidentally, German firefighters have published tips here).

Autopilot wasn't on at the time of the crash

Tesla said car logs show the man was driving at over 155km per hour and that the Autopilot function was not engaged at the time, and that the damage caused to the car is consistent with being driven into a tree at high speeds.

The Autopilot computer system that comes with the Model S is designed to make intelligent decisions to keep drivers and passengers safe by using cameras, radar and other sensors to spot objects coming up in the car's path and stop the car to prevent a collision.

The Model S Autopilot also makes it possible for drivers to takes their hands off the steering wheel for minutes at a time, and for the car to alert emergency responders that the user might be hurt or in danger.

The crash was so severe that not only did the car hit the tree, but a portion of the automobile's battery detached itself and started burning up a little way down the road. The firefighters tried to extinguish the flames using a standard dry powder fire extinguisher, but the battery had short circuited and the fire could only be put out after the firefighters dumped some soil from the roadside on top of it.

The automobile manufacturer is now working with Dutch authorities to establish what exactly happened and plans to publish its findings as soon as possible.

Tesla Model S
A man has died in a high speed car crash involving a Tesla Model S in the Netherlands, but Autopilot was not enabled during the accident Reuters

Only one other Model S fatality, so far

In July, Joshua Brown, a well-known member of the Tesla community was killed in a motorway accident in Williston, Florida, despite Autopilot being activated in the car. A large white truck turning across the road ahead was missed by the car and the driver because the colour of the van, combined with the bright sky, caused an optical illusion, which Tesla said was an "extremely rare circumstance".

Due to not seeing the car in time, the Tesla Model S drove under the truck's trailer between the front and rear wheels, until the windscreen made contact with it, causing the full force of the impact to be met by the windscreen and A-pillars, and killing Brown instantly.

Nevertheless, the Model S is still widely regarded to be one of the safest cars currently on the road, and Tesla boss Elon Musk says that Autopilot can definitely save lives, although he is concerned that many drivers do not even understand how to switch it on.