Lithium-ion laptop battery fire forces aircraft to divert in California; four passengers hospitalised, US
A United Airlines flight returned to San Diego International Airport after a small fire broke out, sending four people to the hospital, California fire fighters reported. The Boeing 737 landed back at the airport around 07h30am on Tuesday, 7 February 2023, after a laptop fire, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Several ambulances and rescue trucks met the aircraft, United Flight 2664 to Newark Liberty International Airport, at the gate. The San Diego Fire Department helped evacuate passengers and crew from the jet, fire fighters reported. Four people were taken to a hospital. An exterior battery pack powering a laptop caught fire in the cabin, fire fighters said. The flight crew prevented the fire from spreading.
The United Airlines flight from San Diego International Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport had been in the air for a matter of seconds Tuesday morning when the emergency erupted in its cabin, according to officials and data from the flight tracking site FlightAware.
Seven people reported injuries, four of whom were taken to a UC San Diego trauma facility, the San Diego Fire Department said.
United Airlines indicated in a statement that all or nearly all of the hospitalised people are crew members who might have put themselves in harm’s way to address the fire. The employees were hospitalised as a precaution, it said.
Three others who were injured refused hospitalisation despite the advice of first responders, fire officials said. At least two of those people were passengers, according to United.
The airline said the battery pack belonged to a customer. Its crew members "acted quickly to contain the device," United said. The fire department also credited crew members with preventing the fire's spread to the plane itself. "We thank our crew for their quick actions in prioritising the safety of everyone on board the aircraft," United said.
One of the tools employed in the fight was a fire bag, used to keep flames from spreading, fire officials said. “Our crew acted quickly to contain the device and medical personnel met the aircraft upon arrival at the gate,” United Airlines said in a statement. “We thank our crew for their quick actions in prioritising the safety of everyone on board the aircraft and we are making arrangements to get our customers to their destinations.”
Lithium-ion batteries commonly used in electronics devices and electric vehicles can rapidly produce flame-spreading heat. When they erupt, which is increasingly the case; the fires have proven resistant to traditional fire fighting techniques.
Under FAA rules, passengers can take backup or spare lithium-ion batteries, intended for their own use, on flights but the batteries can't be in checked baggage. They must be kept in carry-on bags, and their terminals must be taped over, protected by packaging or otherwise covered. Large batteries are limited to two per passenger.
The FAA characterises such batteries as "dangerous goods."
FRI Media (Pty) Ltd is an independent publisher of technical magazines including the well-read and respected Fire and Rescue International, its weekly FRI Newsletter and the Disaster Management Journal. We also offer a complete marketing and publishing package, which include design, printing and corporate wear and gifts.