Wheelchair on plane explodes on landing

Having the battery of an electronic item you take on board a flight, short-circuit and then burst into flames, doesn’t even come to your mind when you think about plane accidents.

Earlier this month, a wheelchair stored in the hold of a Boeing 727-200 First Choice flight carrying 229 passengers, let out blue sparks while being offloaded from the plane. The minute it was placed on a vehicle to be transported at Manchester Airport, it caught fire and exploded. Luckily, no one was injured. Thank goodness it didn’t happen on the plane. A similar incident happened in February last year, where a fire started aboard a plane because a camera battery short-circuited while in the overhead compartment.

The articles about this incident talk about passengers needing to be more vigilant when taking items on board. True, but I also think it’s the ground staff’s responsibility to fiercely spread awareness of things like this, and make their check-in and boarding procedures more stringent. Although the exact cause of the accident has not yet been found, assuming it was a short-circuit, it could have been avoided by making sure the battery was fixed properly and that there was no way for it to switch on automatically while in storage.

Talking about seemingly innocuous items causing serious damage on an aircrafts, you can’t help but think of mobile phones. Although told a million times, I still know people who do not switch their phones off on a flight, even if they don’t use them. They forget, or don’t realize the importance of doing so. I haven’t heard of any planes crashing or catching fire due to a mobile phone, but if it can happen with a camera and a wheelchair, I imagine that things can happen with a mobile phone.

How can airlines be stricter? Perhaps when baggage is being screened, they should ask passengers to remove batteries from all electronic devices. But then you can’t be assured that the passenger won’t put the battery right back in. Other than spreading awareness through publicity, what’s the solution? Rely on the passenger’s consciousness?