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Airborne, smoking iPhone mishap solved

An investigation into an iPhone that started spewing black smoke on a Regional Express (REX) flight last year has revealed the reason for the incident, and led to renewed warnings about the carriage of lithium batteries onto planes.

An investigation into an iPhone that started spewing black smoke on a Regional Express (REX) flight last year has revealed the reason for the incident, and led to renewed warnings about the carriage of lithium batteries onto planes.

iPhone fire

The iPhone that caught fire, inset with an x-ray of the loose screw inside the unit.
(Credit: REX, ATSB)

Flight crew on a trip from Lismore to Sydney last November noticed that black smoke had begun erupting from an iPhone, which had to be quickly put out with a fire extinguisher.

The phone was sent to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) as part of an investigation into the matter, which has now revealed that a misplaced screw punctured the battery casing, leading to a short circuit that caused the battery to overheat.

The screw that caused the issue was the result of a botched screen-replacement job from a non-authorised service centre. A screw from the bottom of the unit, adjacent to the 30-pin connector, found its way into the handset, and caused the battery compartment to puncture as a result.

No one was hurt in the incident, but it has led to the chief commissioner of the ATSB, Martin Dolan, to again warn passengers about the risks of travelling on planes with lithium battery units.

"When travelling with mobile phones, laptops and other portable electronic devices — or just their batteries — passengers should, wherever possible, carry them in the cabin, and not in checked-in baggage.

"This reinforces the Civil Aviation Safety Authority's recommendations for flying with lithium battery-powered devices," he said.

Dolan also warned against using unauthorised service agents for device repairs.

"The incident also highlights the importance of good maintenance and repair processes for these devices, and the risk of using non-authorised repair agents."

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