Yesterday, Engadget reported that a ThinkPad (someone named Al, claiming to be its owner, commented in the Engadget thread that it was the T43 model) recently caught fire at LAX in the United Airlines terminal. The scenario sounds like something straight out of an action film:
…it’s got to be like, really freaking embarrassing to have to run up the jetway at full speed, shoving other passengers out of the way as your flaming laptop explodes on the ground. (Sound familiar?) According to an eyewitness report on the [Something] Awful Forums, [while] passersby[s] stared aghast or fled crying terrorist, the ThinkPad (which was quoted to be an IBM, not a Lenovo) apparently had a number of death throes as the fire went through various phases, until eventually a United employee busted out the fire extinguisher and laid the laptop to rest. Apparently the machine’s owner already checked its battery against the recalls and it was not listed — and why would it be? IBM and Lenovo aren’t flagged for bad batteries — yet. (Sony, we’re looking your direction.) But the coup de gr√¢ce at LAX: onlookers apparently mumbling that “too many viruses on your computer” can lead to this horrendous fate. How true, indeed.
So we’re waiting for a flight in the United lounge at LAX, the flight next to ours was heading to London and in the middle of final boarding, when suddenly this guy comes running the wrong way up the jetway, pushing other boarding passengers out of the way, he quickly drops his laptop on the floor and the thing immediately flares up like a giant firework for about 15 seconds, then catches fire. About a hundred other people in the lounge jumped up and began a mix of gawking and general panic, I clearly heard a few fleeing individuals saying something about terrorists. The fire burned for a minute while everybody just stared at it, then another flare up, this one much larger than the first, drove a larger group of gawkers away. Eventually, the high intensity flaring calmed down and a larger fire kicked in, all the while letting off a thick cloud of white smoke that was slowly filling the terminal. Finally, an employee came over with a fire extinguisher and put it out of its misery. …
Yeah, the smoke was a real problem – everybody had to get away from the thing, I would assume the cloud was toxic just for the burning plastic, not to mention all the chemicals in the battery itself. Plus we were in a giant, well circulated open space, if that went off inside a plane, not a lot of places for that smoke to go. …
Didn’t see a single cop after the thing flared up, just gate agents dealing with the fire and the aftermath.
Although, just before that plane started boarding, I did notice 3 cops with a dog walking around sniffing all the international passengers. Bomb sniffing dog? Drug sniffing dog? Maybe both, dunno.
Those cops were nowhere to be found when the thing caught fire.
And Al’s comment in the Engadget thread:
…it’s mine (I was wondering how long it would take before someone posted this on engadget). The thing went up like a firecracker when the fire hit each of the cells. It was pretty crazy.
And yes, it’s a ThinkPad T43. I don’t know if it was a Sony battery – I can’t tell now that it’s a charred mess, but my guess is that it was if they made them for IBM. I was using it 30 minutes before and it had no problems. It was even turned off and in my bag when it caught fire. So even if the computer is off, there’s still a risk of a fire – now that’s scary.
It’s going to be an interesting Monday morning when I take the thing into the office for a replacement. One thing for sure, I’m always going to disconnect the battery from the computer whenever I fly. At least I have a good excuse for not working when I’m flying :-)
Everyone please check your computer battery, and just because it isn’t on the list doesn’t mean that it’s not at risk. If anything, just disconnect the thing when you fly.