A woman suffered burns to her face, neck and hands after the batteries in her headphones exploded on a flight from Beijing to Melbourne. The incident occurred just two hours into the flight. It has been reported that the passenger dozed off to sleep while listening to music on her own battery-operated headphones when the device caught fire. The passenger woke after hearing a loud explosion - she then felt a burning sensation on her neck and face. The incident only serves to highlight the dangers of using battery-operated devices in-flight.
The passenger, who was not identified - gave the following account to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, she said, “As I went to turn around I felt burning on my face. 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.”
The fire was extinguished after flight attendants poured a bucket of water on the headphones, but already at that stage the battery and its cover had melted and was embedded into the floor. Pictures which emerged showed the passenger with a blackened face and neck. Fellow passengers had to endure an overwhelming smell of melted plastic, burnt electronics and singed hair for the duration of the flight.
The transport safety bureau, which did not identify which airline was involved, assessed that the lithium-ion batteries in the device likely caught fire. "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 were not being used. Spare batteries should be kept in carry-on luggage, and not checked in, the bureau said.
Stuart Godley, of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said it was the first official report of headphones catching fire in Australia - but added that there had been a series of incidents in relation to phone and battery incidents onboard flights. Twelve months ago, a flight that was due to leave for Sydney was evacuated when smoke bellowed from a passenger's hand luggage. It later emerged that lithium batteries stored inside the case had caused 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 in 2016, attendants were alerted to smoke on a flight from Sydney to Dallas. They found a crushed and burnt out device wedged tightly in the seat. "We've also had a case of a person using personal air purifier and the batteries in that have caught on fire on a flight," Godley told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.