CHICAGO (CBS) — Moments before a Southwest Airlines plane from Midway International Airport to Austin, Texas was set to take off, a backpack with electronics inside started smoking.
As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reported, Southwest Airlines Flight 285 was boarding for the flight to Austin Bergstrom International Airport when the incident happened at 10:13 a.m.
The plane was supposed to leave at 10:20 a.m., but it was three hours later when they finally went wheels-up.
Flight attendants put the electronics in a special fire containment bag on-board, a Southwest spokesman said in an email. There was no explosion and there were no injuries.
Southwest booked the passengers of a different flight.
But this was the second time in less than a month that emergency responders were called to Midway Airport because of a problem with a battery or battery charger.
In the Monday incident, it was not clear exactly what triggered the smoke. But University of Illinois at Chicago physics professor Robert Klie had a good idea.
“I am fairly convinced it was a lithium ion rechargeable battery that caused this incident,” Klie said.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, lithium ion batteries have been implicated in 252 different incidents at airports and on airplanes between Jan. 1, 2006 and Oct. 1, 2009. The incidents have become more common in the past four or five years.
The batteries can heat to temperatures approaching 1,000 degrees in some cases.
Puccinelli asked Klie if a lithium ion battery could conceivably lead to the downing of a plane.
“Potentially – if a lithium ion battery starts catching fire during a flight, then it’s conceivable that it could cause massive damage,” Klie said.
In the incident last month, a bag being loaded onto a Volaris airplane at Midway Airport exploded after it was run over by a luggage vehicle, according to Chicago police.
Police said a cell phone battery or charger may likewise have been the cause. TSA policy states batteries and chargers should not be packed in checked baggage.
“As long as we try and pack more; more battery power into smaller and smaller devices, we will probably be back here,” Klie said.
Klie is part of a team of scientists working to replace the lithium ion battery. They have developed a working prototype of a lithium air battery that would get rid of the fire hazard.
But Klie said it’ll be about 10 years before that comes to market.