Case Closed: Battery explosion mid-flight and we’re not going to know what brand

ATSB not investigating - CASA has no information to inform Australian passengers

Get this.  Despite a woman receiving injuries from an exploding battery while wearing headphones on-board a flight to Melbourne, we’re not going to know what brand of battery or headphones she was using because it didn’t happen in Australian airspace

EFTM has spoken to representatives from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau who have confirmed the incident occurred on a flight from Beijing to Melbourne – and specifically happened around two hours into the flight.

Why this matters?  Because that puts the plane over Chinese airspace, or at the very least not in Australian airspace.  Additionally, the flight was not an Australian airline, so the ATSB is not obligated and may not even have the authority to investigate such an incident on a Chinese airline.

I also spoke with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority who would normally put out warnings to passengers about issues such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 dramas late last year.  Because there has not been (and will not be) an ATSB investigation they have nothing to report on.

The passenger reported that she had been listening to music on her battery operated headphones.  Two hours into the flight she 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 ATSB notification reports that the battery and cover were both melted and stuck to the floor of the aircraft.

All we know formally is that the ATSB assessed that the batteries in the device likely caught on fire, and have issued a reminder that passengers using battery-powered devices:

  • batteries should be kept in an approved stowage, unless in use
  • spare batteries must be in your carry-on baggage NOT checked baggage
  • if a passenger’s smart phone or other device has fallen into the seat gap, locate their device 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.

Frankly, none of that is satisfactory.

The brand of headphones has not been reported, that is because it is not the headphones which were deemed to be at fault.  The headphones were a brand that allows external batteries (AA for example) to be inserted – thus, it was those batteries at fault.

However, at the same time, the brand of batteries is also not being reported.

Surely for a battery to explode and or catch fire is a serious enough incident for passengers to be given more comprehensive warnings.

There are so many possibilities:

  • The batteries were faulty
  • The batteries were low grade
  • The batteries were damaged before use
  • The headphones were faulty
  • The headphones were damaged before use
  • The passenger sat in such a way which caused the batteries to react this way.

Mostly far-fetched, but if we have another incident – who’s to blame?

Seems like we deserve to know a bit more.  What do you think?

 

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Tech

Trevor produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He has a weekly radio show on 2UE, as well as appearances across the country and regularly provides Technology Commentary to Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
4 Comments on this post.
  • Andrew
    17 March 2017 at 2:23 pm
    Leave a Reply

    I think we should at least know what type of battery. If they don’t want to release brand names, surely they can provide enough info so us passengers are aware odf such issues?

  • Bosko Tadic
    20 March 2017 at 9:33 am
    Leave a Reply

    Hi Trevor,

    My initial thought that stood out was the the passenger was coming from China back to Australia. As most people that go to China they may be tempted to buy (cheap) electronic products while over there – and as we all know just because it may have a known brand name stamped on the unit, this may not be a genuine product. ATSB may know or suspect this and hence wont say the brand as it could be bad PR for the wrong reason.
    Having worked in the consumer electronics industry for 30 years now i have seen many cases of this sort of stuff.
    Just a thought.

  • Mikhail Miguel
    23 March 2017 at 5:33 am
    Leave a Reply

    All this smells like fake news. Some girl using some phone with an unknown brand. Lack of details, the blurred photos, no interviews, no eyewitnesses. Am I the only one to find all this very questionable?

    • Trevor Long
      24 March 2017 at 7:36 pm
      Leave a Reply

      Ahh, No. the ATSB put out the release mate.

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