Headphones catch fire on flight: ATSB says Lithium-ion battery to blame

Lithium-ion batteries, which are commonly used in smart phones and headphones are culprit for another incident on a plane. On February 19, on a flight from Beijing to Melbourne, a passenger was burned when her headphones caught fire. It wasn’t until March 15 that the Australian Government’s Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) sent out a report saying that the headphones’ batteries were the likely cause of the blast.

Lithium-ion batteries, consisting of a lithium metal oxide cathode, are susceptible to what is known as “thermal runaway”. Essentially, in any circumstance where there is an increase in heat it can cause the electrolytes to react with the battery’s other chemicals. This causes a build-up of gases, which in turn increases heat further and can sometimes escalates into an explosion.

The passenger’s name, the name of the airline, and the brand of the headphones were not released. Passengers on board said that “a loud explosion” was heard about an hour or so into the flight. The victim had been sleeping when her headphones exploded. She told the ATSB that as she turned around “[she] felt a burning on [her] face.”

In a moment of panic, the girl threw her headphones to the ground after realizing that they were still on fire. Witnesses say that the headphones were sparking before a couple flight attendants doused them with a bucket of water. Once the fire was put out, the headphones could be seen melted to the floor sizzling in smoke.

It is still unclear what exactly happened on the flight, but it brings to mind previous incidents with thermal runaway, which was likely the cause of exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7s last year, which may have caused injuries and property damage.


-Loredana Del Bello, Assistant News Editor 

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