Melting iPhone Triggers Airplane Safety Probe

An iPhone on an Australian plane which started to smoke and melt has sparked an investigation

Civil aviation officials in Australia have launched a formal investigation after an Apple iPhone had to be doused by a flight attendant with a fire extinguisher on an internal flight.

It seems that an unnamed passenger’s iPhone 4 (it is not clear at this stage if it was a iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S) began glowing red and smoking, causing the flight attendant to reach for a fire extinguisher.

Dense Smoke

The internal Australian airline in question, Regional Express (Rex) went as far as to put out an official press release to explain what had happened, describing it as a mobile phone “self combustion.”

“Regional Express (Rex) flight ZL319 operating from Lismore to Sydney today had an occurrence after landing, when a passenger’s mobile phone started emitting a significant amount of dense smoke, accompanied by a red glow,” said the airline. “In accordance with company standard safety procedures, the Flight Attendant carried out recovery actions immediately and the red glow was extinguished successfully.

Meanwhile according to the Herald Sun newspaper in Australia, the glowing red iPhone was so hot it “had to be dropped to the floor of the cabin,” and it “partially melted.”

Official Investigation

The airline said that no one was injured in the incident, but the matter has been reported to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) as well as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for investigation and directions.

The iPhone in question (pictured) has also been handed over to authorities.

“We are investigating, it’s quite early on in the investigation,” a spokesman for the ATSB confirmed to AFP. “However, we do have the phone, it’s in our custody, and we will be undertaking a technical examination of it.

“We will be interviewing directly involved parties and also in our technical examination of the phone we are going to be consulting with the manufacturer as well.”

Apple is apparently aware of the issue and is keen to understand what happened.

“We look forward to working with the officials investigating this incident,” a spokeswoman for Apple in Australia was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal.

Battery Issues

Apple, like other tech vendors will be highly concious of reports concerning battery issues. In October for example reports began to surface over the battery life of iPhone 4S after the iOS 5 upgrade. This prompted Apple to push through an iOS update designed to fix “bugs” related to the issue, but some iPhone users still say their iPhone 4S has battery-life issues.

Apple has had some problems with batteries before, most notably the first generation of iPod nanos. A batch of the devices that were sold between 2005 and 2006, were recalled amid concerns a defect with the battery was causing overheating. And in February this year a judge in the United States threw out a lawsuit which claimed the Apple iPad overheats in hot weather.

But Apple is not alone here. Overheating issues are known to sometimes affect lithium-ion batteries, although instances are very rare. Yet battery malfunctions do happen, and have previously affected laptop computers.

Man Impaled

In June for example HP recalled 162,000 lithium-ion laptop batteries after a number of people reported incidents of injuries and burns that affected batteries that hadn’t been included in an earlier recall.

Prior to that, HP announced a recall programme in May 2010 affecting about 54,000 batteries, which itself followed on from a May 2009 recall affecting about 70,000 batteries, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Acer, Toshiba and Sony have also previously issued recalls for overheating machines.

And in September 2010, 59-year-old Eileen Visser, a former school inspector sued her former employer Ofsted in the High Court for breaching safety regulations. Visser blamed her company’s laptop for causing a fire at her thatched cottage that resulted in more than £350,000 damages.

A more extreme case of IT equipment actually hurting humans reportedly happened in October, when a British man, 52 year old William Warner, who lives in New Zealand, apparently suffered a horrendous hand injury after the DVD drive of his Toshiba laptop fired out a piece of metal which impaled his palm.