iPhone Causes Fire, Tornado Of Smoke On British Airway Flight

 A British Airways passenger’s mobile phone caught fire on a long-haul flight after it slipped down the side of her seat and was crushed in the mechanism, a report has revealed. 


The Boeing 787 was flying from Miami to Heathrow when a fire alert was raised less than an hour before it was scheduled to land last October. 

The passenger had been asleep in the business class Club World cabin and did not notice her red iPhone had become trapped when she moved back into the upright position. 

When she returned from a visit to the washroom she smelled a strong ‘sulphur’ odour and noticed a charging cable plugged into the seat socket with the phone-end buried down the side of the seat. 

After waving over members of cabin crew they heard a ‘hissing’ sound before a ‘tornado’ of smoke began billowing into the cabin. 

The freak accident was the latest in a series of similar aircraft fires caused by passengers’ electronic devices getting stuck in seats and lithium batteries igniting. 

The report by Air Accidents Investigation Branch has now prompted aircraft safety regulators to call for new seat designs and improved practices to reduce the risk of phone fires. 

It set out how the latest incident occurred when the passenger moved her seat into the upright position after an announcement was made saying the aircraft was beginning its descent. 

She had been sleeping in the flat-bed seat and did not notice her red iPhone had dropped down the side while it was on charge. When she got back from a visit to the washroom, she noticed a ‘strong odour’ which she likened to ‘sulphur’ and waved over a senior member of cabin crew. 

The report goes on: ‘At this point they heard a ‘hissing’ sound and a large plume of grey smoke emitted from the seat in a “tornado” motion. 

‘They remembered seeing an orange glow in the seat area amongst the smoke.’ Flight attendants pulled back the seat padding which exposed the trapped phone and let off ‘several bursts’ from a fire extinguisher to put out the flames before cutting power to the seat. 

Other crew members rushed to fill an ice bucket with water and contacted the pilots who had also ‘smelt an acrid odour on the flight deck’. 

The crew were able to clearly see the phone trapped in the seat mechanism when the smoke cleared, but it was jammed and they were unable to move it. 

One member was ordered to stay by the seat with an extinguisher as a precaution until the plane landed 20 minutes later at 8am on October 1 last year. Fire crews were awaiting the arrival of the jet, which was carrying 53 passengers and ten crew. 

Firefighters boarded the plane at Heathrow and removed the phone. The report said that the Civil Aviation Authority had 166 previous reports of passenger’s electronic devices becoming trapped in seats in the last five years with 42 of the incidents resulting in a fire or smoke in the cabin. 

Aircraft seats currently do not have to be designed to prevent phones and other devices from being trapped or crushed. The report described the problem as a ‘known issue’ and said manufacturers had been trying to design seats to reduce the risk. 

It added: ‘However, it has been challenging to design moving seats that eliminates the chance that a device can fall into its mechanism.’ 

As a result of the AAIB report, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has called for ‘design standards and/or recommended practices to address the issue’. 

British Airways flight attendants are currently instructed to tell passengers that electronic devices must be disconnected from seat power when not in use.

 Passengers in business class and first class seats are also warned of the dangers of phones getting trapped in seats. 

The report said that BA had promised to review its training and procedures to see if anything could be learned from the incident. 

A British Airways spokesperson said: ‘Safety is at the heart of everything we do, and our highly trained cabin crew worked quickly and safely to resolve the situation.’

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