A Samsung phone, a replacement model for the defective ones, caught fire and grounded a domestic flight on Wednesday in Louisville. There were no injuries but the Southwest flight to Baltimore was evacuated.
On Sept. 17, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones because their batteries displayed an unfortunate inclination to catch fire and, at times, explode. (The company had issued a voluntary recall on Sept. 2.)
Though advertisements claimed the phones were “designed to be a key that opens the door to new experiences on the go,” they have proved to be liability since their Aug. 19 release.
At the time, the commission stated that the phone’s batteries were linked to “26 reports of burns and 55 reports of property damage, including fires in cars and a garage.”
In one instance, a car was “fully engulfed in flames” after a phone caught fire. In another, a man sued the South Korean company after allegedly suffering severe burns on his right thigh and left thumb when his phone exploded.
At one point, an airplane had to be evacuated when a phone caught fire — the FAA later weighed in, stating, “In light of recent incidents and concerns raised by Samsung about its Galaxy Note 7 devices, the Federal Aviation Administration strongly advises passengers not to turn on or charge these devices on board aircraft and not to stow them in any checked baggage,” the FAA said.
As autumn approached, it appeared that Samsung’s phone troubles were behind them. The company offered an exchange program for users to trade the affected Galaxy Note 7s for new ones, and fortunes seemed to be on an upswing for the company.
Until Southwest Airlines flight 994 from Louisville to Baltimore on Wednesday morning.
Brian Green was on that flight. With him was a replacement Galaxy Note 7, one the company sold with assurances of its safety. Green confirmed this to The Verge, and a photograph of the box in which the phone came displays a small black box, which, according to Samsung, indicates that the phone is safe to use.
In preparation for takeoff, he powered the phone down and slipped it into his pocket. That’s when he noticed the smoke drifting from his pocket into the pressurized cabin.
He grabbed it and threw it to the floor, while what he described to The Verge as “thick grey-green angry smoke” poured out of it.
The plane was evacuated, and no injuries were reported.
— The Verge (@verge) October 6, 2016
The company’s statement to Recode said that, since the Louisville Fire Department’s arson unit still has the device, it can’t offer a specific comment. See it here:
Until we are able to retrieve the device, we cannot confirm that this incident involves the new Note 7. … We are working with the authorities and Southwest now to recover the device and confirm the cause. Once we have examined the device we will have more information to share.
The batteries can explode when the anode (an electrode filled with positively charged ions) and the cathode (an electrode filled with positively charged ions) make contact. As The Post’s Andrea Peterson explained:
Like pretty much all batteries, lithium ion batteries work by storing energy and releasing it through controlled chemical reactions. A lithium ion battery has two electrodes — places where electricity can enter or leave the battery. One electrode, called the anode, is filled with negatively charged ions. The other electrode, called a cathode, contains positively charged ions and lithium. You can think of the anode and the cathodes like the plus and minus signs you often see on batteries.
When you use a battery, the lithium moves over from the cathode to the anode — and when you charge it, the lithium moves back over to the cathode. There’s a separator inside that keeps the anode and the cathode from touching because that can trigger mishaps such as fires and explosions.
In Samsung’s case, it appears a manufacturing error caused that separator to fail.
This isn’t Samsung’s only brush with explosions. According to a recent lawsuit filed against the company, some of its washing machines are also prone to an explosion of sorts.
As to the Louisville incident, the Consumer Product Safety Commission told The Verge that it’s “moving expeditiously to investigate” it.
Meanwhile, Green has purchased an iPhone 7.