On 23 May 2014, a Qantas Airbus A380 aircraft, registered VH-OQK, was operating a scheduled passenger service from Los Angeles, USA to Melbourne, Australia. While overflying Hawaii, USA, the battery within a passenger’s personal air purifier (worn around their neck on a lanyard) began to overheat and produce smoke. The crew followed documented emergency procedures and immersed the device in water; effectively dissipating the heat from the battery and suppressing any further smoke evolution. The passenger received minor superficial burns which did not require first aid treatment.
A preliminary investigation conducted by the ATSB identified that the device contained a small non-rechargeable lithium battery; the size of which conformed with the limitations specified for carry-on items. The Bureau also found that the crew acted in an appropriate manner to manage the overheating battery and control the associated risks.
Given that the ATSB’s records show that this type of battery failure is quite uncommon and both the crew’s actions and documented procedures were effective in managing the small risks involved, there would be limited safety benefit in investigating the matter further, and as such, the ATSB investigation has been discontinued.
The ATSB continues to monitor and record incidents involving lithium batteries and reminds passengers to consult the dangerous goods brochure published by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority when bringing devices containing lithium batteries aboard aircraft.