Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Riveting Events of Ms. Chao's Drowning in a Tesla X

Click for the full article by Michael L. Sena 

Wiki: Ms. Angela Chao was chairwoman and chief executive of her family's shipping business, the Foremost Group, which operates a global fleet of bulk carrier ships. The Chaos have a net worth of $14.2 billion, according to Forbes.

<quote>This incident became international news for two reasons: 1) the person who drove the car was well known and very wealthy; 2) the person was the sister of Elaine Chao, who is both a former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and the wife of the current U.S. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell. The fact that the car was a TESLA added to the interest because the reason the car ended up in the water was linked to TESLA's unconventional gear-shifting design.

Approximately 400 people die each year in the U.S. in car accidents involving vehicle submersion. That is, the car enters the water and the person cannot get out before the inside of the car fills up with water and the person drowns. Four hundred is around 1% of all U.S. traffic-related deaths. We don't know how many of those deaths were intentional, or 'autocide' to use the official term, with the driver using the vehicle and water rather than intentionally colliding with an oncoming car or purposely steering their car into a tree. What we do know is that it is effective, because once a car is in the water and sinking, it is not easy for the driver or occupants to get out of the car, especially with most newer-model vehicles that have power windows and automatic door locks. That's the problem. A great deal of care is dedicated by car designers to how we enter and exit cars under normal conditions, and doors and windows are controlled, but cars are not designed for easy exit once they have entered into and are submerged under water, as the Angela Chao incident illustrates. 

It is not often that a car accident is described in such detail as the one involving Angela Chao. The entire event had many witnesses as the drama played out over two hours between when the car entered the water and when the victim was pronounced dead. Among the witnesses was Ms. Chao herself, who made a phone call to a friend as soon as the car was in the water, and she continued to talk to this person for eight minutes, relating the status of the water level rising inside the car and providing details of how the car ended up in the water. What we know about the incident is what was released by the police in a public report. Ms. Chao had invited seven close friends to the 4,500-acre ranch owned by her and her husband for a weekend party to celebrate the Chinese New Year. 

The party took place in a cottage on the ranch some distance from their home. The cottage is in close proximity to a pond. At around 11:37 p.m., security footage captured Chao walking alone and unsteadily to her vehicle, a Tesla Model X, wrapped in a blanket and holding a phone in her right hand. As she attempted a three point turn, the vehicle suddenly "shot backwards" down an embankment (or over a retaining wall; there are two variants of the story) and into the pond at 11.38. A toxicology report, ordered as part of the investigation into her death, revealed that Chao had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.233, well above the legal driving limit of 0.08 in Texas. Chao called one of her friends who was at the party at 11:42 p.m. At this point she had not followed the first rule of surviving a water-related accident, and the call violated the second rule.

Rule #1: When a car is entering the water, open a window and prepare to exit the vehicle as soon as it hits the water. The vehicle's electrical system should continue to function for at least a few minutes, so even electric window controls should work.

Rule #2: Don't waste precious time calling the emergency services until you are out of the vehicle. They won't get to you in time to keep you from drowning. A car can fill up with water in 60 seconds; the Tesla Model X took eight minutes.

The vehicle at this point was apparently floating but sinking slowly during the eight-minute phone call. Chao told her friend she had put the car in reverse instead of drive—a mistake she had made before, she told her friend—causing the vehicle to go over an embankment and into the pond. She told her friend that the water was rising inside the car, and she was going to die.

Someone (Another friend at the party?) called 911. Emergency units arrived at 12.23. a.m. We don't know if the inside of the car had filled with water at this point. Rescuers stood on top of the submerged vehicle and tried unsuccessfully to enter the vehicle, attempting to break the windows with a pole. A tow truck arrived, but the Tesla was over 20 meters from the shore, too far into the pond for the truck's chains to reach it. Additional emergency responders then arrived with diving gear and managed to break a side window, extracting Chao from the vehicle at approximately 12:56 a.m. EMS responders performed "advanced life support" for 43 minutes in an attempt to resuscitate her, but she was ultimately pronounced dead at 1:40 a.m. <end quote>