Passengers on a cross-country flight last night have all safely arrived at their destination after a surprise laptop battery fire forced the flight to make an emergency landing in Michigan.
The incident took place on JetBlue flight 915 from New York’s JFK airport to San Francisco last night, CBS News reports.
The battery was in a passenger’s backpack, near the rear of the plane, when it started emitting gouts of smoke, passengers said.
“We’re at 35,000 feet and all of a sudden we hear an announcement and we look back in row 25 and we saw everybody standing up and smoke coming around and we didn’t know what was going on,” one passenger told CBS.
The fire was put out, but the flight diverted to Grand Rapids, Michigan where it then sat on the tarmac for three hours while emergency crews took the battery away and inspected the plane. Everyone eventually continued safely on to San Francisco.
A very small percentage of lithium-ion batteries ever catch fire or explode — but as battery-powered devices become pervasive, that very low percentage begins to add up into a startling number of fires.
Last year, of course, we had the whole Samsung Galaxy Note 7 debacle, but the problem goes much deeper. CBS notes that there have already been 12 battery-related fires reported on aircraft this year, and in fact several airlines now stock and fly with fireproof bags explicitly meant to contain flaming devices in an emergency (although JetBlue does not).
The potential flammability of laptop batteries is also one concern experts have voiced over the potential expansion of a laptop ban on international flights into the U.S.: a battery fire in the passenger cabin can be quickly spotted and contained, but one in the baggage hold could do significantly more damage.
In the wake of the Note 7 double recall, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said that the risk of fire from these batteries is real, and the industry needs to have and adhere to a modernized safety standard.