Battery-operated headphones explode on flight

Prompts passenger warning.

On a recent flight from Beijing to Melbourne, a passenger was listening to music using a pair of her own battery-operated headphones. About two hours into the flight while sleeping, the passenger heard a loud explosion.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has issued a warning after the woman, travelling from Beijing to Melbourne, was left with a burnt face, hand and burnt hair.

“As I went to turn around I felt burning on my face,” she said. “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 battery and cover were both melted and stuck to the floor of the aircraft.

Flight attendants returned to check on her wellbeing. For the remainder of the flight, passengers endured the smell of melted plastic, burnt electronics and burnt hair. “People were coughing and choking the entire way home,” the passenger said.

The ATSB assessed that the batteries in the device likely caught on fire. The ATSB reminds passengers using battery-powered devices 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 smart phone 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.
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