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Lithium battery explosion mid-flight prompts passenger warning
14 March 2017

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) reminds passengers using battery-powered devices that take good care of their battery powered devices during flight, following a recent incident.

On a recent flight from Beijing, China to Melbourne, Australia, a passenger was listening to music using a pair of her own battery-operated headphones.
About two hours into the flight while sleeping, the passenger heard a loud explosion. “As I went to turn around I felt burning on my face,” she said. “I just grabbed my face which caused the headphones to go around my neck….I continued to feel burning so I grabbed them off and threw them on the floor. They were sparking and had small amounts of fire. As I went to stamp my foot on them the flight attendants were already there with a bucket of water to pour on them. They put them into the bucket at the rear of the plane.”
The battery and cover were both melted and stuck to the floor of the aircraft.
Flight attendants returned to check on her wellbeing. For the remainder of the flight, passengers endured the smell of melted plastic, burnt electronics and burnt hair.

As the range of products using (lithium) batteries grows, the potential for in-flight issues increases.

The ATSB did not report the exact brand/model of the headphones but issued a more general reminder to passengers using battery-powered devices that:

  • devices should be kept in an approved stowage, unless in use
  • spare batteries must be in your carry-on baggage NOT checked baggage
  • they should locate their devices before moving powered seats
  • if a passenger cannot locate their device, they should refrain from moving their seat and immediately contact a cabin crew member.

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