Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Catches Fire on Commercial Airliner

▪ Passengers noticed fire and smoke during boarding of Southwest Airlines Flight 994
▪ US Dept of Transportation issued a ban on all Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on all airplanes
▪ Quality of lithium batteries to blame for fires

Credit: Samsung / Flickr / Soreen D / Derivative Works

Louisville, Kentucky — In late September, the South Korean multinational tech company Samsung Electronics announced a worldwide recall for its Samsung Galaxy Note 7 cellular phone, and it promised to replace the phones for its customers.

Now one of those replacement phones has nearly caught fire. Even worse, the event occurred on board a commercial airliner.

The smoking and popping of the device took place at approximately 9:15 a.m. on October 5, 2016, during the boarding of Southwest Airlines Flight 994. The plane was bound for Baltimore from Louisville International Airport. Smoke was noticed in the cabin during the boarding process, and the plane was evacuated prior to takeoff without any injuries.

Credit: Flickr / Bill Abbott / Creative Commons

Arson investigators verified that the smoke was due to a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 device. The phone’s owner had received the replacement only two weeks prior to the incident.

After the first reports of the Samsung phones catching fire, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began warning travelers in September to be sure to keep phones powered off — not just in “airplane mode” — and not to charge phones while flying. Flight attendants and gate agents began reminding passengers about the new precautions at boarding points and as part of standard onboard aircraft safety messages.

The FAA announced in early September,

“In light of recent incidents and concerns raised by Samsung about its Galaxy Note 7 devices, the Federal Aviation Administration strongly advises passengers not to turn on or charge these devices on board aircraft and not to stow them in any checked baggage,”

The aftermath of a user’s Samsung Galaxy Note 7 after it caught fire. Credit: John & Joni Barwick

The cause of the problem is the batteries used to power the phones. According to a USA Today report,

“Lithium batteries are widely used in electronic devices because they are lighter and are smaller than other comparable batteries. But the batteries are also susceptible to overheating when damaged or suffering from manufacturing problems.”

However, on Oct 14, 2016 the US Department of Transportation issued an official ban on all Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices on airplanes.

Samsung Electronics is the world’s largest mobile phone maker by unit sales. The company’s only serious competitor in the cellular phone market is Apple Inc., which sued Samsung three years ago for $2.5 billion in patent violations.

Samsung’s original recall statement for the devices pointed out an issue with the phone’s battery cells, which had earlier been reported as catching fire and even exploding. Korean regulators had previously suggested that there was,

“an error in production that placed pressure on plates contained within battery cells. That in turn brought negative and positive poles into contact, triggering excessive heat.”

At the time of the official recall in the U.S., the American Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced that it had looked into nearly 100 official reports of phones that overheated or exploded. The CPSC, the American agency overseeing the recall of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in the U.S., advised owners of the phones in question to power off and return the phones

CPSC said in a statement,

“Samsung recommends that you power down your Galaxy Note 7 and return it to your place of purchase to arrange a remedy of your choice. Once you have turned off your device you should not charge the Note 7,”

The CPSC has said that it is now launching a full investigation into the latest incident with the replacement phone.

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