The Federal Aviation Administration posts warnings on its website about the dangers of lithium batteries, and for good reason: They can cause fires if not stored properly during transit. Passengers on a United Airlines flight Tuesday morning found that out firsthand, when the battery pack for a passenger's laptop burst into flames, filling the cabin with smoke and forcing the plane to make an emergency landing. NBC News and CBS 8 report that Flight 2664 out of San Diego International Airport, bound for New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport, had only been in the air for a few seconds after its 7:07am takeoff when trouble began.
A passenger in first class tells CBS 8 that the bag of a passenger behind her started smoking, and when the man threw the bag on the floor, what looked like a battery charger pack suddenly started spewing flames as well. "The cabin was completely flooded with smoke," she says. Another passenger describes the subsequent scene as a somewhat chaotic one, with lots of "gasping" and "screaming" and flight attendants scrambling for fire extinguishers. Per San Diego Fire-Rescue, crew members managed to get the battery pack, which featured a lithium-ion battery, into a fire bag to contain the flames.
The Boeing 737 returned for an emergency landing at the San Diego airport, touching down at 7:51am. United says that four flight attendants were taken to the hospital, per the Washington Post; they were treated there for smoke inhalation, UC San Diego Health tells NBC. Two passengers were injured and checked out at the airport, per a United statement cited by CBS. Fire officials say one other person also reported injuries, bringing the number of those injured up to seven, but it's unclear if it was a flight attendant or customer, and it appears they declined hospitalization. In its statement, the airline thanked the flight crew for their quick thinking, and for "prioritizing the safety of everyone on board the aircraft." (Read more United Airlines stories.)