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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Battery fire forces plane to return to San Diego after takeoff

United Airlines Flight 2664 being encircled by fire trucks on Tuesday after returning safely to San Diego International Airport.

By Michael Levenson

A battery pack caught fire in the cabin of a New Jersey-bound flight from California on Tuesday, forcing the plane to return to San Diego International Airport shortly after takeoff, officials said.

Four people were taken to a hospital and treated for smoke inhalation, officials said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said that the flight, United Airlines 2664, a Boeing 737, landed safely at 7:30 a.m. local time “after the crew reported a laptop on fire in the cabin.” The flight had been headed to Newark Liberty International Airport.

United Airlines said that “a customer’s battery pack ignited.”

“Our crew acted quickly to contain the device and medical personnel met the aircraft upon arrival at the gate,” the airline said in a statement. “Several flight attendants were taken to the hospital as a precaution and two customers were evaluated on site.”

Mónica Muñoz, a spokesperson for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, said that “an external battery pack” had caught fire on the plane. She said that crew members had put the pack in a “fire bag” to prevent the flames from spreading.

Sabrina LoPiccolo, an airport spokesperson, said 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.

U.C. San Diego Medical Center said in a statement that four patients were treated there for smoke inhalation.

In its statement, United thanked the crew members “for their quick actions in prioritizing the safety of everyone on board.” The airline said it was making arrangements to get passengers to their destinations.

Lithium-ion batteries, used in laptops, phones, toothbrushes and other electronic devices, have been known to overheat or cause fires.

In November, a lithium-ion battery in a New York City apartment with at least five e-bikes caused a fire that injured nearly 40 people. The fire was one of at least 188 caused by lithium-ion batteries in the city last year.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said in a 2018 report that “the airline industry has documented a number of battery products smoking and catching fire in both carry-on and checked luggage.”

In December, passengers on a New York-bound JetBlue flight from Barbados were forced to evacuate at Kennedy International Airport because of a smoking laptop, The New York Post reported. Seven people were treated for minor injuries, but none were taken to hospitals, The Post reported.

Also in December, 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, NBC 5 reported.

None of the passengers onboard were injured, but two flight attendants were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, the station reported.

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