‘Tornado’ of smoke filled business-class cabin of British Airways flight from Miami to Heathrow when passenger’s phone got crushed in her seat and burst into flames
- The passenger was flying from Miami to Heathrow airport in October last year
- iPhone caught on fire causing a ‘tornado of smoke’ 40 minutes before landing
- Device became trapped in seat when she moved it out of reclined position
- Woman said she smelt a strong ‘sulphur’ odour and noticed phone was trapped
- Cabin crew heard a ‘hissing’ sound and a ‘tornado’-shaped grey plume of smoke
- An orange glow was seen, an Air Accident Investigation Branch report said
A British Airways passenger’s mobile phone caught on fire mid-flight after it was crushed in her seat mechanism, an investigation found.
The passenger was flying from Miami to Heathrow airport in October last year when her iPhone caught on fire causing a ‘tornado of smoke’ 40 minutes before landing.
The device became trapped in seat’s mechanism when she moved from a flat bed to an upright position before using the bathroom in the business class Club World cabin.
The woman said she smelt a strong ‘sulphur’ odour and noticed a charging cable plugged into the seat socket with phone-end shoved down the side of the seat.
Cabin crew heard a ‘hissing’ sound and a ‘tornado’-shaped grey plume of smoke came from the seat before an orange glow was seen, an Air Accident Investigation Branch report said.
The freak accident was the latest in a series of similar aircraft fires caused by passengers’ electronic devices getting stuck in seats and lithium batteries igniting.
A British Airways passenger’s mobile phone (pictured) caught on fire mid-flight after it was crushed in her seat mechanism, an investigation found
Aircraft safety regulators are calling for new designs for seats – or for improved practices to reduce the risk of phone fires following the report.
The woman – who has not been named – had been asleep on her fully-reclined seat during the overnight flight.
She was woken by a flight crew announcement saying that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner – carrying 53 passengers and ten crew – was beginning its descent and was 40 minutes away from landing.
The woman moved her seat upright from its flat-bed position without realising her red iPhone had slipped down the side while being charged.
She went to the bathroom before noticing a ‘strong odour’ on her return, when she began to stow away her bedding at the request of a flight attendant.
She alerted the senior cabin crew member as the smell – which she likened to ‘sulphur’ – began getting stronger.
The device became trapped in seat’s mechanism when she moved from a flat bed to an upright position before using the bathroom in the business class Club World cabin (file image)
The report said: ‘At this point they heard a “hissing” sound and a large plume of grey smoke emitted from the seat in a “tornado” motion.
‘They remembered seeing an orange glow in the seat area amongst the smoke.’
Flight attendants pulled back the seat padding which exposed the trapped phone and tackled the blaze with ‘several bursts’ from a fire extinguisher.
They also turned off power to the seat.
The passenger was flying from Miami (file image) to Heathrow airport in October last year when her iPhone caught on fire causing a ‘tornado of smoke’ 40 minutes before landing
Other crew members rushed to fill an ice bucket with water and contacted the pilots who had also ‘smelt an acrid odour on the flight deck’.
The report added: ‘The cabin crew informed the commander that thick smoke was emanating from a seat in the forward cabin and that they had initiated their firefighting drill.
‘The flight crew started the smoke, fire or fumes checklist and evaluated their diversion options. The third pilot went back to the cabin to assist.’
The crew were able to clearly see the phone trapped in the seat mechanism when the smoke cleared, but it was jammed and they were unable to move it.
One cabin crew member was ordered to stay by the seat with an extinguisher as a precaution until the plane landed 20 minutes later at 8am on October 1 last year.
Firefighters boarded the jet at Heathrow and removed the phone.
The report said that the Civil Aviation Authority had 166 previous reports of passenger’s electronic devices becoming trapped in seats in the last five years with 42 of the incidents resulting in a fire or smoke in the cabin.
Fire crews were awaiting the arrival of the plane. Firefighters boarded the plane at Heathrow (the airport, pictured) and removed the phone
Aircraft seats currently do not have to be designed to prevent phones and other devices from being trapped or crushed.
The report described the problem as a ‘known issue’ and said manufacturers had been trying to design seats to reduce the risk.
It added: ‘However, it has been challenging to design moving seats that eliminates the chance that a device can fall into its mechanism.’
As a result of the AAIB report, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has called for ‘design standards and/or recommended practices to address the issue.’
British Airways flight attendants are currently instructed to tell passengers that electronic devices must be disconnected from seat power when not in use.
Passengers in business class and first class are also warned of the dangers of phones getting trapped in seats.
The report said that BA had promised to review its training and procedures to see if anything could be learned from the incident.
A British Airways spokesperson said: ‘Safety is at the heart of everything we do, and our highly trained cabin crew worked quickly and safely to resolve the situation.’
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