Watch a power bank catch fire in plane's overhead bin

Commentary: A video from a China Southern flight shows a flight attendant trying to douse flames coming from a portable charger in a carry-on.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Those are quite some flames.

China Aviation Review screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

We've become used to the idea that some gadgets can explode.

Often, we hear about phones that emit smoke and even fire and, in the case of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, have to be taken off the market.

On Sunday, however, a power bank was reportedly the cause of a spectacular fire in a carry-on bag that had been placed in an overhead bin. A power bank is a portable charger for mobile devices that supplies power from its built-in batteries through a USB port.

As Channel News Asia reports, the fire began before the plane, flight 3539 from Guangzhou to Shanghai, even took off. 

Instead of a fire extinguisher, a flight crew member resorted to rudimentary measures -- tossing water from a bottle -- to douse the flames. A video of the incident was posted to China Aviation Review's Twitter page

China Southern didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The power bank apparently wasn't in use at the time, says Channel News Asia. The passenger who owns the bag is helping police with its investigation of the incident, according to the news agency. 

Scenes like this are a reminder that lithium ion batteries aren't always stable. They've been blamed for fires on everything from phones to hoverboards.

Indeed, the risk is so great that US airlines have limited the use of so-called "smart" luggage -- bags equipped with USB ports for charging devices. Those with ports that can't be detached can't now be checked.

It's a relief in the China Southern case that no injuries were reported.

I fear it won't be the last time, however, that something similar occurs.

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