An Alaska Airlines 737 crew decided to evacuate after landing, as a passenger’s phone sparked and caught fire. There were some injuries.
The incident happened on Monday, the 23rd of August, on Alaska Airlines flight AS751. The aircraft flew from New Orleans (KMSY) in Louisiana, to the airline’s base in Seattle (KSEA) in Washington State, USA. The flight itself was apparently uneventful. The trouble started after the aircraft landed.
The conditions that lead to the start of the phone fire are unclear. But according to Alaska Airlines, the incident happened as the flight crew were waiting for their gate to open. Passengers on the flight later stated that the cabin crew were immediately on top of the incident. But despite their best efforts, the fire persisted and smoke began to fill the cabin.
The phone fire got bad enough that the Alaska crew initiated an evacuation of their 737. A statement from the airline later described the sequence of events as follows:
“The crew acted swiftly using fire extinguishers and a battery containment bag to stop the phone from smoking. Crew members deployed the evacuation slides due to hazy conditions inside the cabin.”
Evacuations are dangerous in themselves. The Alaska crew would have weighed the risk from the phone fire, against the risk of injuries during the evacuation. Broken legs and other such injuries are common, during evacuations. And by the way, “the crew” here refers to both pilots AND flight attendants. We don’t know if it was the pilots or the cabin crew that took the decision to evacuate.
There were 129 passengers and 6 crew on board the aircraft. The evacuation proceeded normally, the passengers stepping out onto the tarmac. But the airline reported that two passengers received treatment at a local hospital, after the incident. However we don’t know if these passengers suffered from burns or smoke inhalation, or if they had evacuation-related injuries.
Alaska Phone Fire – Why Did It Happen?
As for the cause for the phone fire in this Alaska flight, we simply don’t know. We have recently seen two different fire incidents, involving phones. One was a pallet full of brand-new phones, about to go on board a cargo aircraft. The other was a passenger’s phone, that got jammed in the reclining mechanism of a premium seat.
The cause for most phone fires is some sort of deformation, due to pressure. Improper packaging could have done this in the case of the pallet of phones, with those on the bottom suffering weight they couldn’t handle. Obviously a motorized seat mechanism can do the same to an individual phone. The phone fire in this Alaska flight doesn’t appear to involve ‘fancy’ seats. But the timing of the fire itself, is probably a clue.
Most of us have been in a flight that lands and takes a bit too long to get to the gate. Passengers collect their belongings, shifting around a lot. Perhaps somebody dropped their phone in the process, and then they or someone next to them, inadvertently stepped on it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much effort. Airlines dislike devices with lithium-ion batteries, for a reason.
In any case, everyone involved in the Alaska phone fire incident in Seattle, is now safe. However, the aircraft is still on the ground as of this writing. It is a Boeing 737-990ER(WL), with registration N479AS. It’s just over six years old.