Mid-flight slumber cut short by exploding headphones

Image source, Australian Transport Safety Bureau
Image caption,
The woman was left with blisters on her hands and a blackened face

Australian authorities have warned about the dangers of using battery-powered devices on flights after a woman's headphones caught fire.

The woman was dozing on a flight from Beijing to Melbourne when she was woken by the sound of an explosion while she listened to music.

She tore the headphones off to find them sparking, catching fire and beginning to melt.

The passenger was left with a blackened face and blisters on her hands.

"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," the woman, who has not been named, told the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

"They were sparking and had small amounts of fire."

Image source, Australian Transport Safety Bureau

Members of the flight crew rushed to help and eventually put out the fire by pouring a bucket of water on the headphones.

By that time, the battery and the plastic cover had melted and stuck to the floor.

"For the remainder of the flight, passengers endured the smell of melted plastic, burnt electronics and burnt hair," the ATSB said in its report.

The report did not mention the brand of headphones, but said it believed that a fault with lithium-ion batteries was the likely cause.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The Galaxy Note 7 had been well-reviewed but dozens of the phones overheated

The ATSB has published a set of guidelines for travelling safely with batteries and power packs, warning that "as the range of products using batteries grows, the potential for in-flight issues increases".

There have been a number of problems with lithium batteries on flights in recent years.

A plane about to take off from Sydney last year had to be stopped when smoke was coming from a piece of hand luggage. It was then found that lithium batteries had caught fire in the luggage.

An electronic device also began emitting smoke when it was crushed under a moving seat in the US, the ATSB said.

Last year, malfunctioning batteries in Samsung's Note 7 caused many of the smartphones to overheat, catch fire and melt.

Several such incidents also occurred on planes leading to international aviation authorities banning the device from planes. The Note 7 was soon recalled by Samsung and production has been scrapped.