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Exploding headphone batteries cause scare on Beijing to Melbourne flight

16 March 2017

A woman’s headphones caused disruption on a flight to Australia after they exploded when she fell asleep listening to music. The unidentified passenger awoke two hours later when she began to feel a burning sensation on her face, according to a release from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). She suffered burns to her face and hands in the incident. 

ATSB image of affected woman after incident
ATSB image of affected woman after incident

ATSB photos show the woman’s face covered with what appears to be soot, with her hair and hand singed from the exploding electronics. She says she threw the headphones to the ground when they began to spark, and eventually put them in a bucket of water for the rest of the flight.

“People were coughing and choking the entire way home” as the smell of burnt metal and plastic lingered, the woman said.

The ATSB, which did not identify which airline was involved, assessed that the lithium-ion batteries in the device likely caught fire rather than the headphones.

"As the range of products using batteries grows, the potential for in-flight issues increases," it said, adding that such devices needed to be stored safely if they are not being used. Spare batteries should be kept in carry-on luggage and not checked in, the bureau said.

The ATSB general manager Stuart Godley said it was the first report of headphones catching fire in Australia, but there have been a number of other phone and device battery incidents.
Last year, a flight due to leave Sydney had to be evacuated when smoke was seen coming from a passenger's hand luggage. It was later found that lithium batteries had caught fire.

Also last year, an electronic device began belching smoke, then caught fire on a Qantas flight from Los Angeles to New York, with a crew member needing to use a fire extinguisher to put it out, the ATSB reported.

In another Qantas incident last year, attendants were alerted to smoke on a flight from Sydney to Dallas. They found a crushed and burnt out device wedged in the seat.

"We've also had a case of a person using a personal air purifier and the batteries in that have caught on fire on a flight," Mr Godley told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Many airlines last year barred all Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones over fire risk concerns, following reports of exploding lithium-ion batteries.


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