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iFlame: An iPhone began smoking after landing in Sydney, Australia. The fire was extinguished by a flight attendant
An Apple iPhone has spontaneously combusted on a plane in Australia.
Witnesses said the phone, a must-have device for millions, self-combusted during landing, ‘emitting a significant amount of dense smoke, accompanied by a red glow’.
The fire was put out by a flight attendant and the device, thought to be an iPhone4, turned over to air traffic safety investigators for checks.
A picture released by Regional Express, Australia’s largest independent regional airline, shows the rear casing to be shattered in parts and scorched in others.
Apple Australia says it is ‘looking forward to working with officials’.
The cause has yet to be identified but experts say that it may be due to the phone’s battery overheating or to the device being a counterfeit model.
Earlier this month, Apple recalled first generation iPod Nano music players due to concerns about defective batteries overheating. However, these devices were made in 2005 and 2006 and so are much older than the exploding mobile phone.
The drama began when the crew smelt smoke in the cabin as a flight from Lismore in New South Wales landed in Sydney on Friday evening.
In a statement headed ‘mobile phone self-combustion’, Regional Express said: ‘In accordance with company standard safety procedures, the flight attendant carried out recovery action immediately and the red glow was extinguished successfully.
‘All passengers and crew onboard were unharmed.’
Battery issues: Customers have had problems with iPhone batteries in the past, though none have been dangerous in nature
It added that it has reported the incident to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
The ATSB, which has listed the incident as involving ‘smokes, fumes and fire’ will strop down the phone to ‘try and understand what happened’.
A CASA spokesman said that anecdotally he had never heard of a similar incident occurring during or after a flight.
Mobile phone experts said it is possible the fire was caused by the phone’s battery overheating.
Rechargeable lithium ion batteries are widely used in mobile phones and laptops and, when shipped in large numbers, have been linked to fires on planes in the past.
Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S. issued a safety alert after a cargo plane carrying a large shipment of the batteries went on fire and crashed near Dubai, killing both pilots.
It read: ‘Overheating has the potential to create thermal runaway, a chain reaction leading to self-heating and release of a battery’s stored energy.
Flames on a plane: The phone ignited on Regional Express Airlines
‘In a fire situation, the air temperature in a cargo compartment fire may be above the auto-ignition temperature of lithium.
‘For this reason, batteries that are not involved in an initial fire may ignite and propagate, thus creating a risk of a catastrophic event.
‘The existence and magnitude of the risk will depend on such factors as the total number and type of batteries on board an aircraft, the batteries’ proximity to one another, and existing risk mitigation measures in place.’
There are also suggestions that the phone – or battery – may have been fake.
Rob Temple, of Technology magazine T3, said: ‘This is a very rare thing and so it makes you suspect it might be a counterfeit battery.
‘When you think about the number of people who have iPhones and other smartphones, it doesn’t really happen.’
Chris Althaus, of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, told ABC News: ‘We urge people to be very careful if they are buying batteries that they buy them from a reputable dealer, look for products that are identified by the manufacturer of your phone as compatible and be very aware of cheap imitations.’
Many iPhone 4 users have already complained that their battery drains faster than expected.
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