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Woman's Headphones Caught Fire Midflight, Australian Authorities Say

Mar 15, 2017

A passenger on a flight from Beijing to Melbourne, Australia, was listening to music on her own personal headphones when the headphones suddenly caught fire, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau says.

The ATSB assessed that the batteries within the headphones were probably the cause of the fire.

The Australian safety agency released information about the incident on its website, omitting the woman's name and any details about the kind of headphones she was using. They quoted the woman's description of what happened, beginning with the loud explosion she heard while she was sleeping:

"As I went to turn around I felt burning on my face. ... I just grabbed my face which caused the headphones to go around my neck.

"I continued to feel burning so I grabbed them off and threw them on the floor. They were sparking and had small amounts of fire.

"As I went to stamp my foot on them the flight attendants were already there with a bucket of water to pour on them. They put them into the bucket at the rear of the plane."

The ATSB says the battery and cover of the headphones melted to the floor of the aircraft, and the smell of melted plastic and burnt hair filled the aircraft.

The press release doesn't identify the type of battery. But lithium-ion batteries, the kind widely used in rechargeable small electronics, have caused issues on planes before.

Between March 1991 and December 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration documented 138 incidents at airports and in airplanes of devices smoking and catching on fire. The tally "should not be considered as a complete listing," the agency says. Culprits included e-cigarette devices, laptops, loose batteries and small devices crushed in seat-adjusting mechanisms.

There are several documented incidents of fires erupting on cargo planes carrying large volumes of lithium-ion batteries, causing at least one deadly crash. Last year, the U.N. urged national aviation regulators to ban such batteries from being carried as cargo on passenger planes.

And the Galaxy Note 7, a Samsung smartphone whose lithium-ion batteries infamously caused explosions and fires, were banned on all U.S. flights months ago.

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