Monica Munoz, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, said the flight crew aboard Boeing 737 on United 2664 put the burning object in a fire bag to prevent the fire from spreading. The fire did not spread to the plane.
Airport spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo stated that the plane had "declared an Alert 2" after takeoff, indicating a "major difficulty with the aircraft." She said the plane landed about 30 minutes after takeoff. Emergency crews responded to the aircraft and assisted passengers right away.
The fire department told CBS News in a statement that the cause of the fire was an "external battery pack." The airline also released a statement that the battery pack "ignited," but it was not clear why the device caught fire.
"We thank our crew for their quick actions in prioritizing the safety of everyone on board the aircraft," United said. However, the four flight attendants breathed in smoke so they were taken to the hospital for treatment.
Caroline Lipinski, a passenger on board said she saw everything from her seat. "There was a gentleman whose bag was smoking and he threw something out on the ground. It was a battery charger or a pack from his laptop and it burst into flames."
Another one confirmed hearing someone yell "fire" and immediately saw the glow. Fellow traveler Stephan Jones said people immediately panicked. "Some were gasping, screaming. The guy next to me ran to the back of the plane. The flight attendants were grabbing fire extinguishers and running to the front," he told CBS.
A similar incident happened back in December 2022. A Lufthansa flight from California to Germany made an "unscheduled landing" at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago after a passenger's laptop overheated in the cabin, causing a small fire. None of the passengers on board were injured, but two FAs were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.
Lithium-ion batteries, used in laptops, phones, toothbrushes and other electronic devices, have been known to overheat or cause fires. (Related: Hurricane Ian exposes EV weakness: Lithium batteries are prone to catching fire.)
The recent scare is the latest in a series of terrifying incidents affecting planes just this month.
On Feb. 3, two United Airlines planes clipped wings on the tarmac at Newark Airport as one aircraft was being pushed back. The Boeing 757 bound for Orlando, Florida, was struck by a Boeing 787 Dreamliner before the pilot announced to passengers: "Obviously, our wing has been clipped." The Federal Aviation Authority is investigating the incident
A day prior, a near-catastrophic incident in Austin occurred when a FedEx cargo flight came within less than 100 feet of colliding with a Southwest Airlines passenger jet.
The incident at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Saturday involved a Boeing 737 operated by Southwest Airlines that was scheduled to depart the airport and a Boeing 767 cargo plane operated by FedEx that was cleared to land. The FedEx plane was attempting to land on the same runway the Southwest Airlines flight was scheduled to depart from before the FedEx flight aborted its landing.
"Shortly before the FedEx aircraft was due to land, the controller cleared Southwest Flight 708 to depart from the same runway," FAA said in its preliminary investigation. "The pilot of the FedEx airplane discontinued the landing and initiated a climb out."
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Watch the video below showing the spontaneous combustion of a lithium battery aboard a commercial flight.
This video is from the TestimonyOfTheTwoWitnesses.com channel on Brighteon.com.