ThinkPad Battery Explodes at LAX Airport — Laptop Ban on Planes Inevitable?

by Reads (35,027)

In a rather dramatic event Friday afternoon (9/15) at LAX airport (Los Angeles) a man’s IBM ThinkPad battery exploded in the airport terminal.  Luckily, the man was able to get the flaming laptop off of the plane by running up the jetway the wrong way as passengers were trying to board instead of the laptop actually bursting into flames on board the plane.

Gizmodo.com has a first hand account from somebody that was actually at LAX airport and watched the incident occur:  From Gizmodo:

“So we’re waiting for a flight in the United lounge at LAX, the flight next to ours was heading to London and in the middle of final boarding, when suddenly this guy comes running the wrong way up the jetway, pushing other boarding passengers out of the way, he quickly drops his laptop on the floor and the thing immediately flares up like a giant firework for about 15 seconds, then catches fire. About a hundred other people in the lounge jumped up and began a mix of gawking and general panic, I clearly heard a few fleeing individuals saying something about terrorists. The fire burned for a minute while everybody just stared at it, then another flare up, this one much larger than the first, drove a larger group of gawkers away. Eventually, the high intensity flaring calmed down and a larger fire kicked in, all the while letting off a thick cloud of white smoke that was slowly filling the terminal. Finally, an employee came over with a fire extinguisher and put it out of its misery.”

Picture of the exploded ThinkPad with the battery compartment obviously very charred, the white powder and coloring is from the extinguisher that was used.

Apparently the man that had the laptop had checked to make sure the battery was not on any recall list, and it was not.  But it certainly exploded characteristically like problematic Dell laptops and Apple laptops that have been recalled.

It’s just really lucky the plane had not taken off or pulled away from the jetway, in which case the laptop would have been flaming on board the plane and who knows what the end result of that would be.  Obviously this is a close call and the NTSB is going to be investigating this incident and since we already knew laptop usage on planes was being investigated, this won’t help the case.  An incident like this makes you wonder how long it is before in flight laptop use when running on batteries is just banned altogether.  Which would be a black eye to both the airline and notebook industry.

Update (9/18/06): According to two posters on Engadget.com this incident occurred on Friday afternoon at LAX and was at Gate 77.  The actual man who’s laptop exploded confirms it was a ThinkPad T43: “And yes, it’s a ThinkPad T43. I don’t know if it was a Sony battery – I can’t tell now that it’s a charred mess, but my guess is that it was if they made them for IBM. I was using it 30 minutes before and it had no problems. It was even turned off and in my bag when it caught fire. So even if the computer is off, there’s still a risk of a fire – now that’s scary.”

Links to relevant posts on Engadget.com:

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