Lithium Battery Fire on Airline Flight Raises Concerns


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An increase of incidents involving faulty lithium batteries also increases dangers in air travel.

An airline crew in a flight from Kochi, India to Colombo, Sri Lanka, averted a major accident after a lithium battery caught fire mid-flight. According to a news report, the incident occurred when at least one lithium battery caught fire on the flight. Alert cabin crewmembers aboard SriLankan Airlines flight UL 166 managed to put out the fire that occurred when a lithium battery pack in
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a passenger’s hand luggage ignited. Many products contain lithium ion batteries with the propensity to ignite and if you have been injured as a result of an unreasonably dangerous product, do not hesitate to contact an experienced burn injury lawyer.

How Was The Fire Extinguished?

Flight attendants noticed smoke coming out of a bag stored in an overhead bin. After spraying down the bag with a fire extinguisher, the crew removed the bag from the bin. However, more smoke swirled out of the bag. At that point, the crew enacted their lithium fire procedures and immersed the bag in water. Once the fire was extinguished, flight attendants found a lithium battery pack with two cell phones inside. No one was injured. With over 200 passengers on board, the airline has launched an investigation into the incident. This is not the first time a lithium battery has caught fire in a flight. In May, a JetBlue Airbus A321 traveling from New York to San Francisco, was forced to make an emergency landing in Michigan after a lithium battery fire in the overheard bin.

How Big Of a Problem Are These Batteries?

There has been a significant increase in the number of smoke and fire incidents on airlines from passengers’ malfunctioning lithium batteries. So far this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has reported at least 18 incidents involving lithium batteries on airplanes and in airports. There were 31 such incidents in 2016. That compares with 16 incidents in 2015, nine in 2014 and eight in 2013.

Even though the chance of a device igniting is slim, lithium battery fires are reportedly now occurring once every 10 or 11 days on a flight somewhere in the United States. The unique characteristics of battery fires pose serious challenges for airline cabin crews. Battery fires are particularly dangerous because they burn very hot, emit toxic byproducts and tend to flare up even after it seems like they’ve been put out.

What Precautions Can Passengers Take?

Airline passengers do have a role to play in preventing lithium battery fires. First, follow the FAA guidelines regarding transporting and storing these batteries. They should not be stored loose in checked luggage, but be stored instead in a carry-on bag. The electrical terminals should be taped or otherwise protected to prevent the battery from coming into contact with any stray metal devices, which could pose the risk of a short circuit. It’s a good idea to carry these batteries in your carry-on luggage because if the battery catches fire, it will be noticed and handled right away.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul d’Oliveira
Attorney Paul d’Oliveira has been practicing personal injury and disability law for over 29 years. He started his personal injury law practice in 1989 with two offices in Fall River, MA and East Providence, RI. Today his firm has 15 offices in RI and Southeastern, MA.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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