Investigators want to know how a passenger’s mobile phone burst into flames after being caught and crushed in a reclining seat on a Qantas B747-400 flight from Sydney to Los Angeles.
The phone caused an in-flight fire. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) issued a brief statement yesterday confirming it had launched an investigation into “an in-flight fire involving a Qantas Boeing 747, VH-OJS, near Los Angeles International Airport, United States, on 21 June 2016.”
During the cruise stage of the flight “a passenger’s mobile phone became trapped in a seat reclining mechanism,” the ASTB continued. “As the seat moved, the phone was crushed resulting in a fire. The fire was extinguished by the cabin crew.
“As part of the investigation, the ATSB will gather information from the aircraft operator.”
The ASTB said it expected to release a report “within several months”.
The flight affected was QF11. The authoritative Aviation Herald reported the phone caught fire when the aircraft was at 34,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean near Kiribati Island “about 6.5 hours into the flight”. If that’s where it happened, the plane was hardly “near Los Angeles International Airport” as the ATSB stated. Kiribati is about 8000km from LAX.
The lithium-ion batteries used in many smartphones and iPads have an unfortunate history of occasionally exploding or bursting into flame, particularly if mishandled. Sometimes they spontaneously combust for no particular reason, as in the incident in March this year when a woman’s iPhone caught fire on an Alaska Air flight from the US mainland to Hawaii. (See: Is in-flight cig smoke better than blazing mobile phone?)
An earlier case with some similarity to the Qantas incident happened in 2010, when a man dropped his phone under his car seat. When he moved the seat to retrieve his phone, he accidentally caught the phone in the seat mechanism and crushed it. The phone exploded (see photo above). The man escaped with minor injuries.
Qantas and other Australian airlines banned the carriage of lithium-ion batteries in their cargo holds last year, finding them to pose an unacceptable risk of fire.
As it happens, the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was carrying 200kg of lithium ion batteries in its hold when it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 people aboard, never to be seen again.
The batteries are one element in the current investigation into the mysterious disappearance of MH370.
The tragic mystery of MH370 is well documented, but anyone interested in the diverting history of exploding and combusting smartphones might try this article on Hongkiat.com: A Look Into: Cases And Causes Of Smartphone Explosions
Written by Peter Needham