One of a pilot’s worst nightmares is fire.

Fire often manifests itself post-crash, and more often than not, proves fatal, as the occupants are either incapacitated or trapped in the wreckage.


Today batteries are very common place, with more and more devices such as phones, laptops, i-pads, tablets etc., and are often considered essential items for passengers.

Batteries are known to store a tremendous amount of energy and heat.

If a battery becomes unstable, it can burst into flame. A number of aircraft have been damaged as a result of this, and airlines now take precautions by asking passengers to limit their device use, or to remove the batteries if stored.

On the 28th November 1987, South African Airways Flight 295, a Boeing 747 Combi named ‘Helderberg’ on a commercial flight from Chiang Kai-shek Airport, Taipei, Taiwan to Jan Smuts International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa, experienced a catastrophic in-flight fire in the cargo area. The aircraft broke up in mid-air, and crashed into the Indian Ocean east of Mauritius, killing all 159 people on board. It is suspected that batteries in computers ignited into a flash fire that affected the entire cargo hold.

On the 22nd July 2020, an Ethiopian Airlines B777-200F caught fire while being loaded at China’s Shanghai Pudong International Airport. The fire was contained and none of the crew or ground staff were harmed, but the airframe was declared a write-off.

Although investigations are still underway to determine the exact cause of the fire, unconfirmed reports declare that batteries may have played a role.

Pilots be aware!!! 

But with general aviation, how often do pilots and passengers ever suspect that this could happen to them.

Enter 23rd July 2020, a private Swiss-registered Piper PA-28RT-201T Turbo Arrow IV, registration HB-PNP, experienced an in-flight fire in the passenger compartment.

The pilot made an emergency landing and a subsequent runway excursion at Basel/Mulhouse/Freiburg EuroAirport (BSL/LFSB), France.

The airplane was partially consumed by the fire and the three Swiss people on board were seriously injured. One of the occupants later succumbed to injuries. (1 fatality, 2 survivors)

Could this have been another battery fire?

Only time will tell.

Photos: BEA France


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