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This is the moment a portable charger caught fire in a plane’s overhead bin

Exploding batteries are back in the news after one of the devices went up in flames on a passenger plane in China on Sunday.

While extremely alarming for those on board the China Southern Airlines aircraft, the jet was fortunately still on the ground when the incident took place, with passengers taking their seats prior to the plane’s departure.

A video (below) of the incident shows an object burning in an overhead bin. A flight attendant can be seen squirting water at the flames before throwing the entire bottle at the fire, apparently extinguishing it in the process. But with smoke continuing to billow from the bin, a passenger then grabs another bottle of liquid to pour onto the ruined power bank.

Power bank fire on board China Southern CZ3539, Feb 25 2018.????????

— ChinaAviationReview (@ChinaAvReview) February 25, 2018

The airline said in a statement picked up by Channel News Asia that passengers were boarding flight CZ3539 when they spotted the flames coming from the portable charger. The make of the device hasn’t yet been revealed.

The fire was fully extinguished and no one suffered any serious injuries, the airline confirmed. Passengers were quickly evacuated and flew later on Sunday on a replacement aircraft.

Police questioned the owner of the power bank and learned that the device had not been in use when it started burning.

Lithium-ion batteries, whether built into devices like smartphones or as stand-alone power banks, are well known to be a fire risk, especially if they’re faulty, badly made, or have incurred damage during their daily use.

The most famous incident of recent times involved Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7, which was shipped in 2016 with faulty batteries that led to numerous reports of overheating and fires. The issue was so serious that the U.S. Department of Transportation banned the device from being taken onto American planes.

Shortly before the ban was announced in October 2016, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warned that the Note 7’s battery could “overheat and catch fire, posing a serious fire and burn hazard to consumers.”

Hoverboards also hit the headlines in 2015 after a spate of incidents which saw the personal transporter suddenly catch fire. They too were banned from passenger aircraft.

Airlines around the world now have strict rules in place preventing passengers from placing spare, uninstalled lithium-ion batteries in their checked baggage. Power banks are considered as spare and so can only be taken on as carry-on luggage.

While reports of such fires are thankfully rare when you consider how many lithium-ion batteries are in use today, Sunday’s incident shows just how fierce such a fire can be, with quick action needed to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control. You certainly wouldn’t want it to happen at 36,000 feet.

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Trevor Mogg
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