ALAMEDA, Calif. — A California doctor allegedly threw his family hundreds of feet off a coastal cliff in what authorities described as an assassination attempt, but their unlikely survival was likely down to luck and a well-built vehicle, experts said .
Dharmesh Patel, 41, is accused of ejecting a Tesla Model Y from «Devils Slide.» probably flip the SUV several times on its way up the roughly 250-foot cliff 20 miles south of San Francisco on the morning of Jan. 2, the California Highway Patrol said.
Images captured by a rescue team it showed the battered SUV right side up, perched precariously on a rocky ledge just above the Pacific Ocean.
Jingwen Yu, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, said his survival was «sort of a miracle, considering the severity of the impact.»
“The driver probably underestimated how safe a vehicle could be, giving us ‘hope’ for the vehicle’s safety,” Yu said in an email.
Patel, a 41-year-old woman and two children ages 4 and 7, both in car seats, were also in the van, California Highway Patrol spokesman Mark Andrews said.
Andrews declined to specify their conditions Thursday, but said they all remained hospitalized.
It’s unclear how fast Patel was driving when his vehicle left the scenic stretch of Highway 1 at about 11:00 a.m. It’s also unclear what driving mode Patel was using before the SUV plunged off the cliff, Patrol said. of California Highways.
«However, that does not appear to be a contributing factor in this incident,» the agency said Tuesday.
flipped several times
In a video of the scene, a fire officer involved in the rescue effort, Cal Fire San Mateo Santa Cruz Battalion Chief Brian Pottenger said the SUV flipped over «several» times on its way down. Yu said the SUV appeared to have hit the cliff as it fell into the ocean.
«Rollover» incidents tend to be much more lethal than frontal or side crashes, Yu said. While the images showed a car that had sustained extensive damage, Yu said its integrity appeared to have remained intact.
“The occupants still have a survival space,” he said. «That’s remarkable.»
Yu pointed to the strength of the SUV’s roof and the design of the seat belt. He also said that its low center of gravity (the car’s batteries are in the undercarriage) may have helped it land on its wheels instead of its roof.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research and educational organization, has given the Tesla Model Y its highest safety scores since the SUV was introduced in 2020, a spokesperson said.
But the organization’s director of research, David Zuby, cautioned that no automaker prepares for an event like the Devils Slide.
“In my 35 years of working in vehicle safety, I’ve never had an automaker say to me, ‘Look at this crash test we’re doing for extra credit,’” he said. «No car you can buy today is designed to protect the driver when they go off a cliff like that.»
His survival, he said, was «mostly luck.»
Safety improvements over the years.
Still, Zuby said that cars in general have gotten safer in the last three decades. They are built with stronger materials, such as high-strength steel and a better designed «roll cage,» or the area that protects a car’s occupants.
Those improvements mean people are less likely to die in accidents than they were in the 1970s and 1980s, Zuby said.
“People wear seat belts more than 30 years ago,” he added. «That sure or probably played a role in the survival of those peoples.»
Whether it was the seat belt, luck or the Model Y’s well-constructed roof, Pottenger said that while rescuers were developing a recovery plan, through binoculars they noticed someone moving in the front seat of the SUV.
«It was very shocking,» he told NBC News NOW. «We didn’t expect that. It really changed my mind on a different track, that this is not a recovery, this is an active rescue.»
Helicopters were dispatched and the family was removed from the vehicle using rescue baskets, he said.
Authorities have not identified a motive in the alleged crime. Patel, who works at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles, will be booked into the San Mateo County Jail on charges of attempted murder and child abuse after he is released from the hospital, the Highway Patrol said. Of California.
It’s unclear if Patel has an attorney. In a statement, the hospital said it was «deeply saddened to learn of a traffic incident involving one of our physicians and his family. We are extremely grateful that there were no serious injuries.»
The hospital declined to comment further.