Investigators say an e-cigarette fire is to blame for a Wizz Air flight’s emergency landing in Keflavik, Iceland last month.
Wizz Air Flight W6 1898 took off from Keflavik International Airport on Sept. 13 when a fire broke out aboard the airplane shortly after takeoff. The airplane was bound for Wroclaw, Poland with 147 passengers aboard.
Wizz Air, a budget airline based in Hungary, radioed Keflavik air traffic controllers to report a fire emergency. At the time, the flight crew did not know the nature of the emergency, only that a fire of an unspecified origin had started to burn the cabin and that the fire alarm inside one of the aircraft’s lavatories was activated.
The airplane was flying east over Mýrdalsjökull glacier on the southern tip of the island when the emergency occurred, prompting the captain to immediately return to Keflavik. Officials on the ground implemented the highest alert code, triggering preparations for a “worst-case scenario,” Iceland Magazine reported.
All available first responders were put on high alert, including two Icelandic Coast Guard helicopters and Icelandic search and rescue units from Southwest Iceland. The Reykjavík Fire Department sent its crews to Keflavik, about 40 miles west.
Once the airplane landed safely it became clear that the fire was less serious than originally feared.
A statement by the airline said “a device belonging to a passenger started to burn in the cabin. The WIZZ crew on duty followed standard procedures to ensure safe operation and landing of the flight, dealt with the burning device and alerted firefighters on the ground who met the aircraft upon landing.”
Ólafur Helgi Kjartansson, Police chief in Southwest Iceland told the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service that an e-cigarette appeared to be the suspect device. According to police, a passenger’s e-cigarette caught fire in the overhead bins inside the cabin. One of the passengers reportedly accessed the burning e-cigarette and disposed of it in the plane’s bathroom, triggering the fire alarm.
E-cigarettes and other devices powered by faulty lithium-ion batteries have caused scores of aviation emergencies in the last few years. The passengers and crew aboard the Wizz flight were fortunate that the owner of the e-cigarette did not pack the device in checked luggage, where the fire could have raged out of control.
Passengers aboard the flight spent the night at a hotel near the airport and flew out the next day.