An airline passenger traveling from Beijing, China, to Melbourne, Australia, had burns to her face after her battery-operated headphones suddenly exploded.
According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, she was asleep while wearing the headphones when the incident occurred mid-flight.
"As I went to turn around I felt burning on my face," she explained. "I just grabbed my face, which caused the headphones to go around my neck. I continued to feel burning so I grabbed them off and threw them on the floor. They were sparking and had small amounts of fire. As I went to stamp my foot on them, the flight attendants were already there with a bucket of water to pour on them. They put them into the bucket at the rear of the plane."
The resulting explosion left black soot all over her cheeks, mouth and nose, reports Daily Mail. She says her hand was also burned and her hair and eyebrows were singed.
The smell of burned plastic and hair filled the plane for the remainder of the flight, the woman said. "People were coughing and choking the entire way home."
In a statement to Daily Mail Australia, a spokesman for the ATSB said there have been several incidents with lithium ion batteries during flights. "We've had previous experiences in [cellphones], tablets and so on," he said.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has previously warned the lithium ion batteries that power phones, laptops and cameras have the power to potentially bring down a plane. In 2016, the FAA issued a safety alert for airlines, noting that transporting lithium ion batteries as cargo carries the "risk of a catastrophic hull loss," which fire suppression systems are "incapable of preventing," reported ABC News at the time.
Fires caused by such batteries downed Boeing 747s in Dubai and South Korea in 2010 and 2011. Following a series of additional battery fires aboard Boeing 787s, the FAA grounded the company's entire Dreamliner fleet in 2013.
A smoking lithium ion battery in a flight attendant’s credit card reader caused in emergency landing in Buffalo, New York, in 2015.
A United Nations panel has recommended banning rechargeable lithium battery cargo from all passenger jets, and most commercial passenger airlines already voluntarily prohibit rechargeable lithium ion batteries.
The FAA has urged airlines to reevaluate their lithium ion battery protocols, but a recent FAA funding bill failed to ban shipping such batteries by air.