Mobile phone emits smoke on Sydney flight

'PHONE ALARM' took on an entirely new meaning when a mobile phone in a passenger's pocket started emitting dense smoke and a red glow, just as his plane was landing at Sydney airport yesterday.

The 'smoking phone' was in the pocket of a male passenger in a Regional Express (REX) flight from Lismore.

Sources in the airline, majority owned by Singapore businessmen, told BT yesterday that a male flight attendant who was seated facing the passengers as the flight landed, saw one passenger fretting in his seat and furiously patting his trouser packet.

On seeing dense smoke, the attendant shouted at the passenger to throw out whatever he had in his pocket. The object making him uncomfortable turned out to be his mobile phone which by now was 'glowing red'.

Flight attendants sprayed several shots from a fire extinguisher before the red glow and the smoking stopped.

'We followed strict air safety regulations to put out the device, and there was no further disruption to the flight. We ensured the safety of the passengers were not compromised,' a senior official of the airline told BT by phone from Sydney yesterday evening.

The flight supervisor took pictures of the wrecked device.

In a press release issued later in the day, the airline said: 'The mobile phone in question appears to be an Apple iPhone and has been handed over to the ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau) for analysis.'

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority is also investigating the incident.

The airline is also believed to have called in local representatives of Apple and reported the incident to them and shown them pictures of the wrecked device.

Exploding batteries have made headlines over the years. Earlier this month, a baggage handler in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport was hospitalised with serious injuries after a battery exploded on the ground after landing.

The iPhone carries a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and such batteries are commonly found in a range of devices from laptops to tablet PCs and even rechargeable toothbrushes. Explosions are often attributed to the overheating of the batteries, and one spark ignited in one of the battery's cells can spread rapidly to neighbouring cells, setting off a burst.

Airlines have grappled with the issue of mobile devices for a long time and under pressure from passengers have varying restrictions on their use on board.

Rex reiterated that it has strict rules on mobile and battery operated devices. A spokesman said that they do not allow the use of such devices on board their flights and do not allow them to be turned on even when the aircraft is on land and not moving.

Rex officials said yesterday that they are unable to comment on the cause of the incident, and that only the report from the official probe will be able to throw any further light on the matter.

Apple company officials could not be contacted by press time yesterday.

(With additional reporting by Victoria Ho)

This article was first published in The Business Times.