Burning Batteries

On September 11, 2016 the New York Times reported “In January, the F.A.A. issued a warning that lithium-ion batteries in a cargo hold carried the ‘risk of a catastrophic hull loss’ on an airplane.” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/business/as-more-devices-board-planes-travelers-are-playing-with-fire.html

You could have read about the problem in my book, ESCAPING DELETE, published in 2012.

“The lithium batteries in those laptops caught fire in the plane’s underbelly, causing a leaky oxygen canister to explode beneath the toilet tanks. The explosion punched a fist-sized hole through the plane’s hull.”

From the Times article, “Congress has limited the F.A.A.’s ability to place restrictions on battery-powered devices on airplanes beyond the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization, according to Laura Brown, an F.A.A. spokeswoman. The organization, a United Nations agency, says the devices should not be transported on passenger planes as cargo or in checked baggage…There is no global database with comprehensive information about battery fires from electronic devices in the cabins of passenger airplanes. The F.A.A.’s tally — 19 fires in the last five years.”

From Escaping Delete, “Congressman Chmeat…lobbied hard for the military to buy 3D laptops from Fujohara, even though those laptops heated user’s laps up to one hundred and forty degrees Fahrenheit. (The lobbyists) sued the testing firm and got a gag order preventing publication of the results and their release to the FAA…The Vision System (the overblown, kluge system used to track baggage) generated a loading schema guiding the baggage handlers to load the Fujohara laptops into the hottest part of the cargo hold. Those drug reps didn’t know to power down their computers and the laptops’ sizzling sleep mode temperatures were enough to trigger the fire and explosion.”

I wrote ESCAPING DELETE…A CEO in the Black Hole to help leaders simplify Information Technology and to avoid expensive and potentially harmful failures.

If you want to read more, see below:

The following copyrighted material is excerpted with Jon Bellman’s permission.  Do not use, reproduce or transmit.

Thursday, July 7TH 5:50 PM

Jack Bluto’s white knuckles tore into 25D’s seat bolster. Smoke burned his eyes as he jammed his head between his knees. The first pop – and it was merely that – had occurred twenty minutes ago. Jack had been toying with his smartphone, looking for a ground signal to download his email as MidPoint Airlines Flight 101 descended below 10,000 feet. The pop came five seconds after the two gentle chimes signaled final approach. Jack and the guy across the aisle in 26B picked up their heads and looked at each other. Neither knew what happened, but a mutual glance reassured them both. A minute later 26B was asleep and Jack was scrolling his thumbscrew.

The second noise came from below. A rolling, low-pitched burst of thunder, it was more forceful than deafening. Gray smoke leapt out of the passenger service units as the starboard wing dipped low. Jack’s smartphone flipped out of his hand and slid like a hockey puck along the aisle until it hit the snack cart in the rear galley. What the hell is happening? I don’t give a damn, I just want to live!

Ten seconds later the third explosion blew open the starboard lavatory doors, expectorating the toilet tanks’ contents into the passenger compartment. The overhead bins shook open, lobbing laptops across the aisle. Why no announcements? Where are the flight attendants? Why didn’t I say something when the TA let those two scary looking guys through without checking them? They boarded the flight at the next gate, didn’t they? Why didn’t I pay more attention?

The pilot’s cabin door opened. Two flight attendants came out. I can’t hear what they’re saying! I have to keep my head down. I can’t do anything. Wait, one of those guys is grabbing the flight attendant. I can’t see. Oh please, please, don’t let them be terrorists. Please god, I’ll do anything you want. Anything! The oxygen mask dropped down above Jack, and the retainer string from the mask brushed his lips. He put it on and took a deep, shaky breath.

The plane rolled back to center and steadied. The toilet tanks’ contents that hadn’t landed in laps or pant cuffs settled in the aisle. Jack looked up. Finally! Maybe god listened. Damn it, I hope so. Jack saw a flight attendant straddle the aisle as she climbed atop the armrests of 1C and 1D. Steadying herself with one hand on the roof of the cabin, she pulled a portable megaphone to her lips.

“Stay calm,” she barked. “The pilot is going to make an emergency landing at O’Hare. There was an explosion in the cargo bay. The pilot assures me that we will land safely. Assume the crash position and brace for impact.”

My god, she knows nothing! How does the pilot know we’re going to land safely? Where’s Sully when we need him? Just let me see those houses once we get under the clouds. My head is going to explode. The stench from the flotsam in the aisle was unbearable.

Jack heard the loud “click” of the landing gear locking into place. He squinted through the window and saw cars on the ground. We’ll land in less than two minutes. He held his breath. He always held his breath once he saw the cars and kept it held until the wheels touched.

We’re coming in too hot, too fast. He gasped and ripped off his mask. The wheels hit. They swerved as he gulped the plane’s filthy air. The brakes squealed wildly and the passengers were thrown back and forth. Finally the plane slowed. Whoops and hollers came out of every row. I will live tonight. Thank god!

“Stay in your seats and remain calm,” a voice boomed across the plane’s PA system. “We are awaiting further instructions from ground control. We’ll have you off the plane momentarily.”

Why are they delaying us now? Where are the evacuation slides? Damn it! I can’t breathe this air. Is that my smartphone? Jack reached down into the murky pool covering the aisle. His hand closed around it too easily. “Shit!” 

Thursday, July 7th 9:12 PM

Jack disembarked via the front door. His legs shook as he slowly walked down the stairs onto a runway full of flashing emergency vehicles. The last ray of summer evening sunshine slunk from the sky.

FBI agents and TA dogs sniffed the plane for nearly three and a half hours before releasing the passengers. There had never been a bomb. Rather, five Fujohara 20” 3D laptop computers were loaded into the hottest section of the cargo hold. The lithium batteries in those laptops caught fire in the plane’s underbelly, causing a leaky oxygen canister to explode beneath the toilet tanks. The explosion punched a fist-sized hole through the plane’s hull.

Jack was led past the airport’s chapel to the Incident Recovery Area. Moments later, a man was examining Jack’s hair across the urinal divider in the IRA men’s room. When Jack realized he was being stared at, he looked up and the man cleared his throat uncomfortably and said, “I’m amazed that the plane didn’t blow.”

“Why didn’t it?” Jack yelped, jumping back from the urinal, realizing this was one of the scary-looking guys.

“Because the explosions happened below suck-out altitude,” the man answered, fumbling to show Jack his sky marshal identification badge.

Read the rest of Escaping Delete at Amazon or other booksellers.