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Smoking iPhone blamed on repair by unauthorized shop

An accident report reveals that a smoking iPhone on an Australian plane enjoyed a misplaced screw in the battery cavity that caused a short. It also points a finger at an unauthorized service provider repair.

Sometimes the explanations for surprising events are, in themselves, pleasantly surprising.

So it is with the case of the smoking iPhone from an Australian flight last November.

Should you not happen to recall this momentous incident, a Regional Express airplane had just come in to land when a passenger's iPhone became a smoking, smoldering cauldron of heat.

The smoking gun appeared to be the battery. Conventional wise people nodded wisely.

And yet the true explanation is more bizarre than one might have thought. I am grateful to the Register for stoking my flames by revealing that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau sent the phone to the U.S. for examination.

This was the phone after the screwed-up fire. Regional Express

What fun the U.S. investigators at Exponent in Menlo Park, Calif., must have had. For they discovered a stray screw in the battery cavity. It was, it seems, from the 30-pin connector. It seems to have caused mechanical damage, leading to a short.

You might be saying to yourself: "Goodness, how did that screw wander off in there?" Well, the official ATSB report reveals that the owner of the iPhone had it repaired at what may have been a dubious operation.

It was not an authorized Apple service provider. And the repair was deemed the probable cause of the meltdown.

The report explains: "The technical examinations found that a small metal screw had been misplaced in the battery bay of the mobile telephone; the screw puncturing the battery casing and causing an internal short circuit leading to heating and thermal runaway."

There is little worse than a heating and thermal runaway on the runway.

The report also offered some further details of this repair. The passenger had wanted the screen replaced, a common request. It seems that not only did the repairers lose sight of the screw that was found, they also had two screws that retained a flexible cable installed the wrong way around.

Oh, and they also deformed a metal clip near the battery, took out the two liquid contact indicators and messed with the adhesive on the main circuit board.

I wonder how much this repair cost.

It is quite a rare event when the Australian Transport Safety Bureau warns against the "use of non-authorized agents for the repair of lithium battery-powered devices." But there we have it.

An iPhone burned. It was a screw-up.