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A pair of headphones caught fire on a woman’s head as she slept during a flight

Why it matters to you

This is another reminder to take extra care with your battery-powered tech gadgets and be aware if they start to overheat.

There’s never going to be a good time to have a pair of headphones ignite on your head, but you certainly don’t want it to happen while you’re cooped up in coach at 38,000 feet, and asleep. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to a very unlucky woman on a recent flight from Beijing to Melbourne, Australia.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has just released details of the February incident, reporting that it occurred around two hours into the flight as the woman was taking a nap. It’s believed the battery inside the wireless headphones caught fire after overheating. Safety officials have declined at this stage to release details of the device’s make and model.

More: Scientists shed light on why lithium-ion batteries sometimes go boom

As you can see from the shocking images, the harrowing incident left the unnamed passenger with a blackened face and burned hair, though it’s not clear if she suffered more serious injuries.

The woman described what happened in a statement to the ATSB: “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.”

A quick-thinking flight attendant extinguished the fire with a bucket of water, preventing the incident from becoming even more serious. The ATSB said both the battery and its cover melted and stuck to the floor of the plane, adding that for the rest of the flight the passengers “endured the smell of melted plastic, burned electronics, and burned hair,” while the woman at the center of the incident said people were “coughing and choking the entire way home.”

More: Lithium-ion battery inventor unveils new ultra-efficient glass battery

The frightening episode appears to be another reminder that badly or cheaply made lithium-ion batteries that power many of today’s gadgets really do have the potential to cause serious havoc. Last year hoverboards were in the spotlight after multiple reports of exploding batteries, while Samsung’s reputation took a massive hit just a few months ago when its Galaxy Note 7 shipped with faulty batteries, a number of which caught fire.

The ATSB assessed that “the batteries in the [headphones] likely caught fire,” and reminded plane passengers who carry gadgets powered by lithium-ion batteries that:

  • Batteries should be kept in an approved stowage, unless in use.
  • Spare batteries must be in your carry-on baggage NOT checked baggage.
  • If a passenger’s smartphone or other device has fallen into the seat gap, locate their device before moving powered seats.
  • If a passenger cannot locate their device, they should refrain from moving their seat and immediately contact a cabin crew member.