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iPhone Auto-Combusts On Australian Airplane

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the shield-your-iballs dept.

Australia 277

First time accepted submitter thegreymonkey writes "Last Friday, an iPhone caught fire on flight ZL319 operating from Lismore to Sydney. This incident is under investigation from Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). This accident might be related to the iPhone battery again." Whether it "caught fire" may be a matter of semantics; as reported in the above linked story and by Network World (hat tip to reader alphadogg), though, the iPhone "started glowing red and emitting dense smoke."

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277 comments

First post (0, Redundant)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202336)

You know, my iPhone has been getting a little warm since I dropped it earlier tod^W^W^ NO CARRIER

Car DVD PLayer (5, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202678)

Coincidentally yesterday I was driving while the kids watched movies on DVD players. Then Bang a huge explosions and plastic and metal go flying. The cigarette lighter power adapters conditioning electronics had exploded. I didn't drive off the road but could have. It looks like the culprit was a kink in the cord, perhaps from getting caught in a door at some point, causing a short. The violence of the explosion was surprising both literally and figuratively. You just don't realize how explosive your consumer electronics can be when they go bad.

Re:Car DVD PLayer (4, Informative)

omglolbah (731566) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202826)

Sounds like hardware with inadequate fusing.
Any power adapter should be able to survive a complete short on the output if it is designed properly.

Re:Car DVD PLayer (4, Funny)

Xest (935314) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203418)

"You just don't realize how explosive your consumer electronics can be when they go bad."

This isn't about consumer electronics going bad, this is about your testimony against the boss.

We'll get you next time!

Re:Car DVD PLayer (4, Insightful)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203458)

That would probably have been an exploded electrolytic capacitor. The small ones inside low power devices usually just blow their tops which are scored to act as a safety valve. The larger type capacitors can literally blow up like an M80 firecracker. I've seen photos of TV sets that had a hole blown in the side of the cabinet by a capacitor going "bomb".

Re:First post (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202682)

In the past four days you've posted more than 50 times, and have been modded up fewer than 10. Perhaps it's time you realize you're not as funny or interesting as you think you are and you don't need to share with us every goddamn thought that comes into your head.

Nano battery? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202344)

Has anyone else gotten their shipping package to send their Nano back to Apple? I put in my request ages ago and haven't seen anything.

Re:Nano battery? (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202432)

Yes, my sister got hers a couple of days ago. They are getting round to it, it's just taking time. This is in the UK, fwiw.

Re:Nano battery? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202554)

Step 1 - Request - November 23, 2011: Product received
Step 2 - Service - November 23, 2011: Issue identified
Step 3 - Return - November 23, 2011: Product replacement pending

This is in Canada.

Re:Nano battery? (1)

wygit (696674) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203128)

I received the box in ( I think ) two days. I sent it in the same day. Since then:
Step 1 Request - November 15, 2011: Product received
Step 2 Service - November 16, 2011: Issue identified
Step 3 Return - November 16, 2011: Product replacement pending

sigh...

Re:Nano battery? (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203188)

Got the box in three days, sent the old beastie back.

I wonder what they'll think about the install of Rockbox on it...

Re:Nano battery? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38203380)

Shit, I did the request 2 weeks ago and haven't gotten the box.

Glowing red and emitting smoke? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202346)

Sounds more like a job for an exorcist. I banish thee, Steve!

From XKCD to life?? (2, Funny)

sohmc (595388) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202358)

http://xkcd.com/651/ [xkcd.com]

Seems like Randall has predicted the future again!

I don't want to start a "TSA is a bunch of idiots" thread but I'm honestly surprised that this hasn't happened more often.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (0, Troll)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202452)

Seems like Randall has predicted the future again!

If spending 30 seconds illustrating something which has been well-known for years to anyone with half a clue is "predicting the future", then yes, once again xkcd is at the forefront. Are you also impressed by the number of innovations in Apple products which have never been seen before?

The fact is that batteries in portable electronic devices have the potential to start fires if they fail in various unlikely ways. I don't know of any failure mode in a smartphone battery will explode with enough force to blow a hole in an aeroplane - any regulatory tests done by a window mock-up? Directly against the metal fuselage? But they're all sufficiently dangerous that there certainly needs to be the means to extinguish an electrical fire.

The lack of extra shielding on Apple unreplaceable batteries is going to make things a bit more interesting, but you knew that when you bought the product.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (2)

catmistake (814204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202608)

there certainly needs to be the means to extinguish an electrical fire.

Might I humbly suggest each passenger be issued standard a bottle of water?

Re:From XKCD to life?? (1, Funny)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202684)

there certainly needs to be the means to extinguish an electrical fire.

Might I humbly suggest each passenger be issued standard a bottle of water?

If you are smart enough to throw water on an electrical fire, might I suggest you do the gene pool a favor and lick the fire?

Re:From XKCD to life?? (3, Insightful)

omglolbah (731566) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203016)

Actually, the standard "Do not use water with electrical fires" is based on the danger of electrocution.
'Throwing' water on something would work fine as there is no stream connecting you to the electrified component.

In battery-powered systems this is usually not a concern and water is a fine medium to put it out with ;)

Hell, in any modern house the GFCI (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Residual-current_device) should trip long before you're in any danger of serious damage. More likely than not the power has already tripped if there is an electrical fire, or it will trip the instant the stream of water causes leakage current from the burning piece of hardware.

High voltage is of course a completely different scenario, luckily one most wont have to deal with... Like a water cooling system next to a 132kV transformer... ugh...

Re:From XKCD to life?? (4, Insightful)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203148)

"In battery-powered systems this is usually not a concern and water is a fine medium to put it out with ;)"

Not by any means are you correct. Battery fires are classified as metal fires, and require a class-d extinguisher.

You try putting out a lithium fire by throwing water on it - I dare you.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (1)

synapse7 (1075571) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203288)

Is it true the iphone4(s) use lithium polymer batteries? Those seem to be the more volatile and less tolerant to abuse than lithium ion. Lithium polymer batteries can start unfavorable chemical reactions going slightly outside their voltage range, seems a poor choice for consumer electronics.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38203386)

"Not by any means are you correct."
  You sir are incorrect, if it is the electronics burning, and not the battery, he is 100% correct in hist statement. If the fire is a result of the battery overloading then it is an chemical/metal fire. In which case water is a bad idea; chemical splash/just wont work on metal.

Li + H20 = LiOH + H (3, Funny)

mangu (126918) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203512)

You try putting out a lithium fire by throwing water on it - I dare you.

Your fire will be extinguished by the hydrogen + air explosion. Even if it doesn't, the original fire will be the least of your concerns.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (1)

Goaway (82658) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202770)

Try throwing water on an exposed lithium battery and see how well that works out.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (2)

catmistake (814204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202840)

Try throwing water on an exposed lithium battery and see how well that works out.

like this? [youtube.com] Thanks for the tip... better issue every passenger some pliers, gloves and a bucket of water.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202474)

I don't want to start a "TSA is a bunch of idiots" thread but I'm honestly surprised that this hasn't happened more often.

I somehow doubt the TSA was involved in any way, shape, or form for a domestic Australian flight. At all... call it a hunch.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (2)

sohmc (595388) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202532)

What I meant to say is that despite all of the headaches with airport security (no matter where you are), the biggest risks are the ones that no one expects.

I'm surprised no one has done this intentionally yet.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202596)

A phone / laptop battery catching fire is not a significant risk to the plane. The cabin might fill with noxious smoke, but then again there's those handy masks in the overhead panels which pump out nice, clean oxygen in the event of depressurisation.

I'd recommend putting out the fire with one of the extinguishers in the clearly marked overhead lockers before pumping out pure oxygen into the cabin, though. Drench that sucker. Bonus points if, in your zealous efforts to put out the fire, you accidentally fill the lungs of the guy who tried to blow up the plane with fire retardant foam.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203178)

"A phone / laptop battery catching fire is not a significant risk to the plane"

My 10 hours solo flight time remaining 'till private pilot's license issuing says you're dead wrong.

That's one of the pre-flight check items - flammable objects.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202658)

Bingo. And -1 redundant to every other comment in this thread that doesn't mention the smoking elephant in the airplane toilet.

A hand grenade has about 690,000 Joules of chemical energy (~150g of TNT at 4.6 MJ per kg). A high capacity external battery pack (a reasonable carry-on, right?) packs around 550,800 Joules (I can find 153 Watt-hours packs). That's in the same ballpark. Extracting it is left as a (thought) exercise for the reader.

Re:From XKCD to life?? (5, Insightful)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202956)

One hand gernade is less than a 20oz soda, high explosives aren't calorically dense, they are good at release.

You may as well say a gram of anything has huge amounts of energy (E=mc^2), extracting it is left as a thought excersize.

Wait till the TSA hears about this (3, Interesting)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202366)

Mobile phones will be prohibited on flights.

(But there are drawbacks as well; think laptops with lithium-ion batteries.)

Re:Wait till the TSA hears about this (4, Funny)

Pi1grim (1956208) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202746)

Then we will just have to wait for one of those mysterious self-combustions on the plane. Then people will be prohibited by TSA on planes as well.

Re:Wait till the TSA hears about this (0)

Tharsman (1364603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202816)

It wont go that far, BUT, had this happened in the US the phone owner would still be in jail, being interrogated and forced to confess about this failed terrorist bomming.

Australia, Black Friday, and fires... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202400)

I'm astonished. Really.

NSFA ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202406)

not safe for australia ? ( http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=NSFA )

A feature? (5, Funny)

pjabardo (977600) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202408)

It is an iPhone therefore it is a feature.

Re:A feature? (5, Funny)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202458)

Samsung are apparently hosing down crates of Galaxy II S 's with gasoline trying to copy the feature as we speak.

Re:A feature? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38203032)

Ah.. the apple bitch appears. So Apple must've copied this 'feature' from Xerox?

(It works both ways, assholes)

Re:A feature? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202938)

He was holding it wrong.

Re:A feature? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38203126)

It sounds like the idiot activated the space heater app

relax... (2)

grub (11606) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202414)


The guy was just running the iHotplate app to warm up his coffee.
Nothing here to see, move along.

Now we know why phones must be off on planes (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202418)

Finally, an answer to the question "why must I keep my phone off while flying"!

Re:Now we know why phones must be off on planes (3, Insightful)

Pi1grim (1956208) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202764)

Who said it was? To prevent things like this you have to take the battery out. Oh, wait

Amazing! (3, Interesting)

spinkham (56603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202444)

Energetic chemistry is energetic.

Go find some RC enthusiasts and ask them if they've seen LiPos burn. There's a good chance they have.

That's why we charge our batteries in a lipo bag [youtube.com] or other fireproof container.

Of course, RC batteries are abused much more than those in phones, but it's highly non-surprising that occasionally one lights on fire.

Re:Amazing! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38203154)

Go find some RC enthusiasts

No thanks.

Re:Amazing! (0)

synapse7 (1075571) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203320)

I just posted above about the volatile nature of lithium polymer batteries, a poor choice for consumer electronics.

And liquids are still banned (1)

surmak (1238244) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202448)

So they go through all the trouble of banning liquids on flights, and other security theater, while allowing provably dangerous electronics onto the planes without any question. What happens when some terrorist is able to reprogram a phone or computer to overheat on command? Perhaps they could even "forget" the phone on a plane, and arrange for it to cause some mischief after the bad guy deplanes.

I would love to see them ban computers and cellphones because that would effect frequent business travelers, and perhaps cause some pushback against the insanity of airline security.

Re:And liquids are still banned (3, Funny)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202528)

I would love to see them ban computers and cellphones because that would effect frequent business travelers, and perhaps cause some pushback against the insanity of airline security.

Modern government could be summarised with the tagline: "The infrastructure exists for the corporation."

So that won't happen.

Re:And liquids are still banned (2)

DJRumpy (1345787) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202710)

You would probably see a little smoke, possibly get a pop with some plastic shrapnel that travels 6-10 inches from the device, and a rather embarrassed terrorist who has no clue that a phone battery isn't any danger to a plane.

Seriously...wtf?

Re:And liquids are still banned (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203206)

*sigh* Wrong.

There's a reason why flammable objects are part of a pre-flight checklist.

That includes power storage.

Re:And liquids are still banned (1)

DJRumpy (1345787) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203374)

Flammable objects are not part of a pre-flight checklist. If that were the case, you wouldn't be allowed to carry on your hair, your clothes, your luggage, or any other non-metal items. Even ammunition is allowed for checked baggage on some flights.

Explosives are not allowed for obvious reasons, but a batteries energy potential isn't that great, and is easily put out.

Re:And liquids are still banned (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202754)

So they go through all the trouble of banning liquids on flights, and other security theater, while allowing provably dangerous electronics onto the planes without any question. What happens when some terrorist is able to reprogram a phone or computer to overheat on command?

Apple stopped making that model a long time ago.

Re:And liquids are still banned (1)

Beorytis (1014777) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203302)

What happens when some terrorist is able to reprogram a phone or computer to overheat on command?

How about if they just load laptop batteries with firmware to do the same. No computer needed. (Remember this story about battery firmware? [slashdot.org] ). Sell them on eBay for cheap.

Suicide (3, Funny)

vawwyakr (1992390) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202472)

The phone realized via it's GPS and flight tracker where it was headed and offed itself.

Re:Suicide (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38203572)

"its", you stupid cunt. "its".

NOT "IT'S"

For one battery that goes, billions are just fine (5, Interesting)

Jack Malmostoso (899729) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202502)

Between this, the Volt battery going up in flames and on a smaller scale the Belgian Post e-bikes catching fire, I am very worried about the fast deployment of Li-ion batteries in many fields.
I am a researcher in Li-ion batteries, and I know how dangerous those little buggers can be, but also how many efforts are done to make them safer. However, you can't take bad manufacturing out of the equation, and you should always ask yourself why a no-name chinese battery costs 1/3 of the original battery.

It would be nice to know if the phone was ever dropped, or its battery replaced at any point, or if a non-standard charger was used.

Re:For one battery that goes, billions are just fi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202660)

Exactly what is the difference between a no-name Chinese battery, and a named Chinese battery, besides cost?

Re:For one battery that goes, billions are just fi (5, Interesting)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202702)

Exactly what is the difference between a no-name Chinese battery, and a named Chinese battery, besides cost?

The name, obviously.

Re:For one battery that goes, billions are just fi (1)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202904)

you should always ask yourself why a no-name chinese battery costs 1/3 of the original battery.

I think we're safe there, I hear that the Apple-branded replacement batteries from the Chinese no-name manufacturers cost as much as the new iPhones themselves.

Possible to DIY-test a battery? (1)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202940)

(..) and you should always ask yourself why a no-name chinese battery costs 1/3 of the original battery.

A lot of that will be branding, some of that may be shortcuts taken in production. But much more interesting question:

Would it be possible to determine this, non-destructively, for a battery you already have? I mean, if construction of a battery is different to the point of being unsafe, wouldn't that also affect that batteries' electrical (and perhaps thermal) behavior? Could some test procedure be devised to determine whether you have a battery in hand whose construction isn't safe?

Re:For one battery that goes, billions are just fi (1)

Beorytis (1014777) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203246)

I am a researcher in Li-ion batteries

A question for you: Does atmospheric pressure (especially the reduced pressure in aircraft) have any impact on Li battery chemistry?

ouchie (2)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202516)

...glowing and smoking=combustion (not necessarily fire), but yeah. I've had a few such devices (one phone, two mp3 players, one bluetooth headset) crack off while plugged in to a third party charger (they were all chargeable through USB but all I had available at the time was an unregulated 6V adapter and a 4-port USB brick). Lesson learned; use manufacturer-approved chargers with Li-Ion! The battery technology uses pulse modulated charging current; DC (via a Powermonkey or suchlike) or unregulated DC (cheap adapter where the output voltage can vary wildly) can cause serious damage to the battery. I also read somewhere (it might have been on an iPhone 3G battery) that deforming the battery in any way (like, sitting on the phone?) might cause a short.

Was the user a Muslim? (-1, Flamebait)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202640)

Just asking, was the user a Muslim? They have the hardest luck - phones - shoes - underpants all seem to "autocombust" on aeroplanes.

When Electrical Devices Catch Fire... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202716)

... take out the battery!!!

Oh... Wait... iPhone? Nevermind.

The airlines were right... (2)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202786)

You all mocked the airlines- but turns out they were right.

Using electronic devices on planes IS dangerous.

On a more serious note- wonder if any airlines will take this too far and completely ban cell-phones/smart phones etc from being carried on to the plane.

Re:The airlines were right... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38203066)

Yes, let's put them all in luggage in the back of the plane where if one catches fire it will probably set most of the cargo on fire and take down the plane. If it starts to go up in someone's pocket they'll notice it a hell of a lot faster and it can be isolated and dealt with in a safe and timely manner.

Blame game (0)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202812)

I love how apple tried to blame everyone else for what is actually there problem. If the phone explodes or caught on fire then it's apples fault, there in charge of the end product. It doesn't matter if a customer makes the phone explode or the battery or anything,apple needs to be the ones saying "oh we F'd this up". If the phone can explode and if the phone can catch fire then it's apples fault.

Re:Blame game (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38203224)

Seriously, douchebag? If the battery manufacturer screwed the pooch, its Apple's fault? If the customer fucked the phone well after Apple shipped a healthy device, that's Apple's fault?

Right.. and when drunk drivers kill people, its Jonny Walker's fault. Cause goddamn once you make something, you are solely responsible for anything involving your product, even when third parties do something obviously inappropriate. Although how your mind can skip over the fact that the battery manufacturer isn't at fault, I don't know..

Re:Blame game (0)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203474)

I love how apple tried to blame everyone else for what is actually there problem.

Yeah, because other manufacturer's batteries never go wrong [wikipedia.org] .

...or maybe they do, but when an Acme MP-5147/Z (T) goes phut on a plane it doesn't make the tech blogs. Apple's high media profile is a two-edged sword.

More energy = bigger possible breakdown (1)

tirk (655692) | more than 2 years ago | (#38202838)

While we should strive to make our batteries safe, the reality is that it is impossible to stop all defects or problems. As we develop more and more powerful batteries, more energy packed into a smaller space, the damage done from a sudden release of all that energy will become worse. The best thing we can do, and to my knowledge I'm not sure we have the material knowledge to do this yet, is to create a material that even in it's natural default state will only release it's stored energy at a slow rate. As long as the materials that store the energy in a battery have the ability of a catastropic fast release of that energy this problem will become a more and more a dangerous situation as we increase the available energy in batteries.

Novelty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202852)

When that the new iPhone was "hotly anticipated", this is not what I imagined!

There's an App for that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202902)

If you want a bricked iPhone, there's an app for that you can't refuse. If you want your location revealed to everyone, there's an app for that. If you want an exploding battery on an iPhone, there's an app for that. Here at Crapple, we strive to give you a crappy overpriced product for you fudgepacking, twinkie sucking faggots out there.

iBOMB!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38202988)

A couple more incidents like these, and TSA will stop letting folks carry personal electronics.

Ban phones with nonremovable batteries (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203000)

A ban on phones with non-removable batteries may be necessary. You can carry the phone on board, but the battery has to go in a plastic bag in luggage.

Re:Ban phones with nonremovable batteries (2)

aristotle-dude (626586) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203600)

A ban on phones with non-removable batteries may be necessary. You can carry the phone on board, but the battery has to go in a plastic bag in luggage.

Obvious troll is obvious. This was one incident and we do not know what the circumstances were. It is possible that the passenger had sat on the phone by having it in their back pocket and then battery could have ignited after the glass punctured the battery and sweat reacted with the lithium.

I'd rather have twice (or more) the battery life per charge than a removable battery which is one reason I have an iPhone 4S instead of an android handset.

Where are you going to keep those extra batteries that you have to swap throughout the day when you are not on a plane? What happens when you have then in your pocket with some keys and one of the keys short the terminals on a battery in your pocket?

Custom back. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38203174)

Did anyone notice a custom back had been installed on the phone? Notice that the Apple logo has Steve's silhouette in it.

That seems like the more likely cause...

battery (1)

cre_slash (744044) | more than 2 years ago | (#38203360)

Well, maybe the passengers should be required to remove the battery from their iphones and ipads in the future...

then apple better say wow we need batts that come (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38203498)

then apple better say wow we need batts that come out or we will be on the no fly list.

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