Cape Town – A Cape Town man’s quick thinking and cool head turned him into a hero when he separated two burning lithium batteries on a plane and prevented a possible “mini explosion”.
Samir Buffkins was on board a five-hour Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Gaborone on Tuesday when he noticed anxious passengers move clear from a piece of hand luggage emitting smoke.
Buffkins, a former senior adviser to Eskom and the founder of Psiclone Hybrid Technologies, said the smoking would not stop, despite the flight attendants using a fire extinguisher.
The owner of the bag, Buffkins said, waved his hand in the air when passengers turned to him for answers.
“The bag was very hot and I put it on a metal tray to prevent a possible fire from spreading. The air hostesses tried using an extinguisher, but nothing would stop the smoke. I then opened the bag and noticed two lithium or spare cellphone batteries, tied together. One had short-circuited, causing the smoke.”
Ethiopian Airlines South Africa regional manager Abel Alemu said the airline was investigating.
“Ethiopian Airlines takes these matters very seriously and a thorough investigation is under way. We will be able to respond once we know the outcome of the investigation,” Alemu said.
Buffkins, a mechanical engineer for more than 30 years, said the worst that could have happened was for the two batteries to cause a “mini explosion”. “The captain of the plane asked me to write a report about what happened. Fortunately all passengers were fine.”
Buffkins was in Ethiopia to launch the country’s first microwind power plant.
The project will help the small-scale generation of electricity to areas and businesses in Ethiopia, and assist them to meet their own needs and use wind power as an alternative or supplement to traditional, grid-connected power.
About 70 million people are without electricity in Ethiopia, Buffkins said.