Did Batteries Aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight Cause Fire?

The Sunday Star-Times (Auckland, New Zealand)

March 24, 2014

The Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared two weeks ago was carrying a consignment of lithium-ion batteries in its hold. The batteries have been previously blamed for causing fires on aircraft.

After days of questioning about cargo being on the missing airliner, the Malaysian authorities finally confirmed on Friday that the plane had been carrying the batteries, which are used in almost every mobile phone and laptop computer on the planet. They were packed observing all standard safety procedures, officials said.

However, such batteries have been connected with aircraft safety incidents and at least one previous accident - when a UPS cargo flight caught fire and crashed in Dubai in September 2010. They also caused a fire on a UPS flight that made an emergency landing in Philadelphia in 2006.

Air safety experts have warned about the dangers of transporting batteries. The carrying of lithium-metal batteries on passenger aircraft has already been banned.

A fire on board flight MH370 remains one of the more credible theories involving the aircraft's disappearance. The behavior of the jet after it vanished from civilian radar could be consistent with attempts by the pilots to deal with an on-board fire.

One theory has it that a fire could have knocked out communications equipment and produced enough smoke to suffocate the crew but might have been sufficiently slow burning to allow the aircraft to continue flying on autopilot.

Lithium-ion batteries have a good safety record—it is estimated that more than a billion of them are flown safely around the world every year—but there have been incidents of fires in laptops and phones.

They have been known to burst into flames, prompting global recalls by Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba and others.

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner aircraft suffered a series of setbacks when lithium batteries installed as part of the plane suffered electrical fires.

Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the jet had carried 3.5 tons of mangosteens, a tropical fruit, and no hazardous cargo. "These are not regarded as dangerous goods . . . and were packed as recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization."

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