A mobile phone that started emitting smoke when trapped under a business class seat on board a Qantas Airbus A380 has highlighted the need to inform passengers about the dangers of travelling with lithium batteries and the importance well-practiced crew procedures for dealing with potential fire situations.
An Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) report on an incident that took place on May 16 2016 showed the charred remains of the mobile phone cabin crew retrieved from under seat 19F on the upper deck of the A380, VH-OQD, after it started emitting smoke.
The report said a passenger alerted cabin crew to the presence of smoke in the cabin about two hours before the flight from Sydney was due to land at Dallas/Fort Worth, at which point the crew initiated the “basic fire drill procedure”.
“Two of the cabin crew proceeded to the source of the smoke with fire extinguishers,” the ATSB report said.
“At the same time, the customer services manager (CSM) made an all stations emergency call on the aircraft interphone to alert flight crew and other cabin crew to the presence of smoke.
“The crew removed the seat cushions and covers from seat 19F while the CSM turned off the power to the centre column of the seats.
“When the seat was further dismantled, the crew found a crushed personal electronic device (PED) wedged tightly in the seat mechanism. The cabin crew assessed that the crushed PED contained a lithium battery.”
While the mobile phone was no longer emitting smoke, there was a “strong acrid smell” still in the cabin.
The mobile phone was placed in a jug of water and then put in a metal box and monitored for the rest of the flight.
The ATSB report said Qantas estimated there were about one billion lithium batteries transported by air each year.
Further, the ATSB has received 17 notifications of similar incidents over the past six years.
As a result, education of both its cabin crew and passengers was a “key component to managing these events”.
Qantas on-board announcements specifically tell passengers that if they lose their device to tell a member of the cabin crew and not to move the seat as it may crush the device and be a fire hazard.
“Raising passenger awareness of the potential hazards of PEDs commences at check-in, through to the pre-flight safety demonstration, and aims to minimise the risk of PED thermal runaway events,” the ATSB said.
The ATSB praised the Qantas cabin crew’s response to the incident, noting the airline’s basic fire drill was based on a teamwork approach.
“This incident provides an excellent example of an effective response to an emergency situation,” the ATSB said.
“The crew were able to quickly implement the basic fire drill procedure which defined the roles and responsibilities of the responding crew.
“This enabled a rapid and coordinated response to the smoke event using all available resources. The effective implementation of this procedure also ensured the flight crew were kept informed as the situation developed.”