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Australia Cellphones Handhelds Iphone Apple

iPhone Auto-Combusts On Australian Airplane 277

Posted by timothy
from the shield-your-iballs dept.
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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iPhone Auto-Combusts On Australian Airplane

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:14AM (#38202346)

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

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:17AM (#38202402) Homepage

      The power of Woz compels you!

    • Please forgive my ignorance, but I was curious about this: Would a battery problem like that really cause something to glow red? I mean, by the time it reaches glowing red, isn't it already at a point where it can ignite anything touching it?

      I'm just curious if this is an obvious embellishment of the story.

      • by aXis100 (690904)

        Nah, it's very easy to get individual electronic components to glow red hot due to excessive electrical current.

        The actual chunk of silicon inside an IC is tiny, so if it shorts out you have a lot of energy in a small space = high temperature. The outgassing explodes the heat resistant plastic/resin encapsulation, and the silicon sits there glowing red hot.

        In this case, it's not the whole phone that would be glowing red hot, just some of the exposed internals.

  • by sohmc (595388) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:15AM (#38202358) Journal

    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.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:23AM (#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.

      • by sohmc (595388)

        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.

        • 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 fi
          • by Khyber (864651)

            "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: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Obfuscant (592200)
              Khyber, as someone who is not yet a pilot might want to realize, there is a world of difference between the Cessna or whatever LSA you're learning to fly in and a commercial jet airliner when it comes to what kinds of things might be dangerous and what might be a hazard that can be managed.

              For example, if your iPhone you've stored in your flight bag in the back seat spontaneously combusts while you are flying solo:

              • YOU are the only person available to deal with it.
              • Distracting YOU, the pilot, while flying,
          • by sjames (1099)

            The O2 masks last barely long enough for the pilot to descent to below 8000 feet in event of depressurization.

          • by Pharmboy (216950)

            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.

            Yes, because in the event of a fire, additional oxygen always helps.... Any time you in a ship, be it on the water, in the air, or in space, the greatest fear is fire because you can't escape the confines of the environment. And during fires, more people die

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

            Neither is exploding underwear.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)

      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.

  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:15AM (#38202366) Homepage

    Mobile phones will be prohibited on flights.

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

    • by Pi1grim (1956208) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:46AM (#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.

    • Mobile phones would be far worse to ban from flights in my mind. Navigating a strange city without the ability to make a call at any given time (plus gps, etc) would be a pain. Or rather, it was... especially having to pick preordained meeting points and wait at meeting locations to gather back together. Mobile phones make trips much, much easier than they used to be. Of course, the sale of disposable phones just outside the airport would boom.

    • Either that or there will be a law requiring you to TURN OFF YOUR PHONE DURING THE FLIGHT! The plain is perfectly safe... Your phone isn't.
  • A feature? (Score:5, Funny)

    by pjabardo (977600) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:17AM (#38202408)
    It is an iPhone therefore it is a feature.
  • by grub (11606)

    The guy was just running the iHotplate app to warm up his coffee.
    Nothing here to see, move along.
  • Amazing! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by spinkham (56603) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:21AM (#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.

  • 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,

    • by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:26AM (#38202528) Journal

      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.

    • by DJRumpy (1345787)

      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?

      • by Khyber (864651)

        *sigh* Wrong.

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

        That includes power storage.

        • by DJRumpy (1345787)

          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.

        • Is the checklist on paper? Good thing that paper doesn't burn. Has anyone told Ray Bradbury?

      • No, the strategy would be this:

        1) Bring permitted iPhone through checkpoint.

        2) Before deplaning, slip it behind the magazines in the pouch behind one of the seats, so it doesn't get noticed when they sweep the plane between flights.

        3) Have the phone set on airplane mode and programmed to overload the battery in ~3 hours.

        4) Assuming someone hasn't found the phone on the next flight, it catches on fire and spreads to the stack of magazines.

        5) Cabin fire.

    • by Beorytis (1014777)

      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 (Score:4, Funny)

    by vawwyakr (1992390) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:23AM (#38202472)
    The phone realized via it's GPS and flight tracker where it was headed and offed itself.
  • I told him not to buy that app.
  • by Jack Malmostoso (899729) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:24AM (#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.

    • 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.

    • by Beorytis (1014777)

      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?

      • by jpapon (1877296)
        I'm no expert, but if there was a significant effect then I'd imagine the residents of cities like Denver would be screwed.

        Also, afaik, Li-Ion batteries are completely sealed, so I don't see how changes in atmospheric pressure could have much effect.

    • by grqb (410789)

      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.

      In this case, the backplate of the iphone had been replaced (you can tell from the apple logo in the picture). Obviously I don't know if this was the cause though, but perhaps the backplate was replaced because the original broke during a fall which may have jolted some internal circuitry close to the battery causing a local hotspot near the battery and then thermal runaway. Somehow I doubt that the battery would have been punctured just by dropping/replacing the backplate though.

    • by NetNed (955141)
      The Volt's issue arose from the NHTSA doing a side impact pole test, then flipping the car over to see if fluids leaked from the battery. The only thing that leaked was coolant. They then proceeded to park the car with a full charge in it, which it ignited after 3 weeks of sitting with a full charge and no coolant in the system. That is something I wouldn't do with any Lithium battery. The NHTSA even said at the time that the condition was highly unlikely to happen, yet they tested further by taking the bat
  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:25AM (#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.

  • by techishly (1792140) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:27AM (#38202536)
    they were holding it wrong.
  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:30AM (#38202566) Homepage Journal

    It's probably a battery manufactured by Sony which isn't designed to be used upside-down.

  • by thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) <marc,paradise&gmail,com> on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:31AM (#38202578) Homepage Journal

    the iPhone "started glowing red and emitting dense smoke.

    That's what you get for installing the antichrist app. Idiot.

  • who wrote the "drummer from spinal tap app" ?

  • How hot does it have to be "Glowing Red". Wow.
  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:52AM (#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: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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.

  • New Website (Score:4, Funny)

    by LMacG (118321) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @11:00AM (#38202882) Journal

    Quick, somebody register "damnyouautocombust.com"!

  • 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.

    • 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

      • This was one incident and we do not know what the circumstances were.

        Lets be honest though, that's all the assholes down at TSA need.

      • by Skapare (16644)

        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.

        Please don't tell the terrorists how to turn them into an iBomb.

    • by itsdapead (734413)

      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.

      ....but then passengers will start spontaneously combusting because they can't call people up to say "I've just landed" the millisecond the seatbelt sign goes off. When you tried to pick up your luggage you wouldn't be able to get near the carousel because of a crowd of numpties rummaging in their suitcases to find batteries and then standing around making calls (with the total disconnection from the surrounding environment that entails).

  • ...it's because Gerard Depardieu pissed on it, right?
  • by demonbug (309515)

    It smokes and it glows red? And here I thought Apple products couldn't get any cooler!

  • Am I the only one this reminded of the self-destructing media devices in Mission:Impossible?

  • It is highly likely that the spontaneous combustion of that iPhone is due to the phone holding in a fart, causing a build up of methane which then ignited.

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