Mobile Phone Battery Sparks a Fire on Qantas Flight

1st Jul 2016

One Qantas passenger learned on 21st June that he should always keep an eye on his mobile phone when traveling by plane. Namely, while traveling between Sydney and Los Angeles, the passenger's mobile phone slid between two seats and was crushed by the reclining mechanism, causing a fire to be sparked by the ion-lithium battery housed inside the device.

Fortunately, the crew of the Boeing 747-400 was alert and quickly extinguished the flame, but it was less than a pleasant situation for all present to see even a small fire on a plane.

The incident occurred some half way into a 13-hour (six-and-a-half hours into the journey to be precise) flight, near Kiribati, which is a group of islands consisting of Gilbert Islands, Phoenix Islands and Line Islands. Kiribati is located 7,989km NW of Australia, or 8 hours by plane.

Fortunately, the aircraft completed its journey without further problems and the passengers arrived safely at their destination.

A Qantas spokeswoman said after the incident:

"We find this tends to be more of an issue on longer flights and our Business Class skybeds, where people might have their phone next to them as they relax and it slips down the side of the chair. We are asking people to keep track of their phone in their seat and if they do lose it down the side to let a crew member know and to not move their seat. When the seat moves, that's when the phone may get crushed."

She also said that Qantas crew is trained to react in these situations and, just like in this particular one had "done a great job on the odd occasion where we've had a phone break and start to smoulder".

She also added:

"But obviously, we'd much prefer if we could avoid this happening altogether."

Interestingly enough, one theory as to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 claims that the plane was destroyed when an explosion in its cargo hold, containing ion-lithium batteries caused a fire to break out.

Whether that scenario is true or not, MAB imposed a ban on the bulk carriage of ion-lithium batteries shortly after the MH370 incident.

Qantas, as well as other Australian-registered carriers have also banned the ion-lithium batteries in their cargo holds as they pose a risk of fire. However, batteries inside personal devices, such as mobile phones, tablets or laptops are allowed.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is investigating the incident.