Burning cell phone forces plane evacuation

SEATAC, Wash. — A fire started on board an Alaska Airlines jet at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

One of the passengers recounted the dramatic story of the plane evacuation.

“It happened faster than I could explain it to you. It was just really quick,” said passenger Kathy Mandeville.

She was one of 135 passengers and crew on Alaska Air Flight 751 from New Orleans. A passenger’s cell phone began sparking and smoking as they were on the ground waiting to taxi to a gate.

The crew used the inflatable slides to evacuate the passengers, ordering them to move quickly and leave their bags behind.

“They were shouting, not panic-stricken, but very forceful, very collected. Leave your things. Get out,” she said.

But Mandeville is a seasoned traveler and, since the plane had landed, she was already wearing her backpack.

“I’m at that point trying to think I need to get this off because I shouldn’t take that with me. (A flight attendant) made eye contact with me and said, ‘Leave it on. Go!’” she said.

Earlier, inside the plane, the airline confirmed a flight attendant rushed to put out the smoldering cell phone.

“She used that fire extinguisher. You could hear it spraying and spraying, and then she called for another. Ultimately, they work with three fire extinguishers,” Mandeville said.

The Port of Seattle released a picture of the scorched wreckage of the cell phone, identified by the passenger who owned it as Samsung Galaxy A21.

A Federal Aviation Administration training video shows how dangerous the lithium-ion batteries in cellphones can be if they fail internally, overheat and catch fire.

So Alaska Airlines supplies crews with fireproof battery containment bags, and they used one last night.

Mandeville told us she didn’t have time to be afraid.

“Mine was really one of the calmer stories. As I got down to the tarmac and was just thankful my flip-flops didn’t come off as I was exiting the plane,” she said.

She praised the professionalism of the Alaska Airlines crew and the poise of her fellow passengers.

“I’m looking back, and I’m seeing these mamas coming out of that plane with these little 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, holding them, turning this into an adventure for them. Nobody’s panicking. Everybody’s just doing what they need to do,” she said.

Mandeville said she scraped an elbow but is otherwise fine. Alaska Airlines confirmed two people went to a hospital with minor injuries.