Qantas Warns of Fire Risk After Device Combusts on New York Trip

  • Passenger device caught fire after being crushed inside seat
  • Airline tells all passengers not to move seats if phones lost

Qantas Airways Ltd. is warning all passengers of the risk of phones catching fire on board after a device with a lithium battery was crushed inside a seat and ignited on a flight to New York.

Crew have started to tell customers not to move their seats to hunt for their electronic devices, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said in a report on Wednesday into the June 21 incident. A spokeswoman for Qantas in Sydney said the briefings are now on all flights.

The fire started in the business class on a flight from Los Angeles to New York as crew searched for a passenger’s phone. The device became crushed inside the seating mechanism, immediately hissed and smoked, and then ignited. An orange glow came from the seat and the crew twice used a fire extinguisher before the plane landed safely in New York 40 minutes later, the ATSB said. The report didn’t disclose the brand of the device.

The measures show the mounting risks of lithium-based batteries on aircraft, which have been linked to three accidents on cargo carriers, two of which were fatal. This month, aviation regulators in Asia, Europe and the U.S. advised against turning on or charging Samsung Electronics Co. Note 7 smartphones because the batteries can explode.

A Qantas investigation into the June incident showed it was the first time fire had broken out in 22 similar events, the ATSB report said. The bureau said the Qantas crew reacted quickly and effectively to the emergency.

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