A mobile phone that burst into flames after being caught and crushed in a seat recline mechanism on a Qantas flight was one of 22 similar occurrences recorded by the airline, of which seven produced smoke or heat.
The revelation comes in an Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) report on an incident in June 2016 in which a mobile phone was caught and crushed in a reclining seat on a Qantas B747-400 flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. See: Seat crushes phone and starts fire on Qantas LAX flight
Airlines and aircraft seat manufacturers are now working together to prevent mobile phones being caught in seats and crushed.
The ATSB report tells it as it happened and includes a smart suggestion by Qantas passenger and some by the airline. Qantas procedures in battling the blazing phone win praise from the safety regulator.
The incident began when a cabin crewmember responded to a request for assistance from a passenger seated in business class seat 3A.
“The passenger advised the crewmember of a missing personal electronic device (PED) containing a lithium type battery,” the ATSB reports states:
“The crewmember, along with the passenger, searched for the missing PED. While searching, the seat position was moved. As the seat moved, the passenger in the next seat observed the PED within the seat mechanism. The seat was then inadvertently moved, resulting in the PED being crushed. The crushed PED immediately began hissing and emitting smoke. Moments later, the PED ignited. A second crewmember then initiated the basic fire drill.”
The ATSB report continues:
“When the cabin crewmembers arrived at seat 3A, they observed an orange glow emanating from the seat. A crewmember discharged a fire extinguisher into the seat, extinguishing the glow.
“Two passengers reported feeling unwell after the event, but it was unclear if this was as a result of the incident. The aircraft seat sustained minor damage.
“After confirming the PED fire had been extinguished, the cabin crew attempted to remove the PED in order to place the device in water, in accordance with lithium type battery fire procedures. The PED could not be removed without further damage and risk of fire. Therefore, the cabin crew elected to leave the device in place and position a crewmember with a fire extinguisher near seat 3A for the remainder of the flight. About 10–15 minutes after the incident, this crewmember identified further heat coming from the crushed PED. They again discharged the fire extinguisher onto the PED, eliminating the heat.”
The ATSB said the incident served as “an excellent example of an effective response to an emergency situation”.
“The cabin crew quickly implemented the basic fire drill procedure. This defined the roles and responsibilities of the responding crew, enabling a rapid and coordinated response to the incident using all available resources. As a result, the incident was quickly and effectively contained. The effective implementation of this procedure also ensured the flight crew were kept informed as the situation developed.
“This incident also highlights the hazards of transporting lithium-ion battery powered PEDs aboard aircraft.”
The ATSB report includes a comment from the passenger in seat 3A (presumably the owner of the PED), who suggested that the amenities pack provided to passengers in this seat type could be changed to include PED storage. “This could assist preventing PEDs entering the seat structure.”
The aircraft operator [Qantas] investigated the incident and provided a copy of their investigation report to the ATSB.
The investiation report included the following, the ATSB revealed:
“A review of reported events revealed 22 similar occurrences of trapped or crushed PEDs. Seven of these occurrences resulted in smoke and/or heat being produced. This incident was the first event to result in fire.
“The investigation determined that the likely area for the PED to intrude into the seat mechanism was adjacent to the seat belt anchor point. This area becomes more exposed as the seat reclines towards the flat position.
“Mesh netting within the seat structure is designed to capture objects that fall behind the seat. Damage to seat 3A consisted of an approximate 5 cm melt area to this mesh netting. There was no other damage noted to the seat structure.”
“As a result of this occurrence, the aircraft operator has advised the ATSB that the seat manufacturer is developing design solutions to prevent ingress of PEDs into the seat structure.”
Qantas, as reported here, is already warning passengers not to move their seat if they happen to mislay a PED in flight, but to ask a flight attendant for help.
The ASTB report can be read on the ATSB site here or downloaded from same site.
Written by Peter Needham