Galaxy Note 7 explosion on passenger jet may spur second Samsung recall

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Samsung Electronics could face an unusual second recall of its Note 7 smartphones if one that caught fire aboard an airliner is a replacement device as its owner says, two former US safety officials said.

The federal aviation administration and the consumer product safety commission (CPSC) are investigating Wednesday’s incident, when a passenger’s phone emitted smoke on a Southwest Airlines plane readying for departure from Louisville, Kentucky. A flight attendant doused it with a fire extinguisher, and the plane was evacuated without injury.

“If it’s the fixed phone and it started to smoke in his pocket, I’m going to guess there’ll be another recall,” said Pamela Gilbert, a former executive director of the consumer agency. “That just doesn’t sound right.”

Samsung has been engulfed in crisis since the Note 7 smartphones began to burst into flames just days after hitting the market in August. The South Korea-based company announced last month that it would replace all 2.5 million phones sold globally at that point. Samsung said it had uncovered the cause of the battery fires and that it was certain new phones would not have the same flaws.

The Note 7 phone had undergone tests last week at the Applied Energy Hub battery laboratory in Singapore in a bid to isolate what was causing the failures.

The first indications of the existing recall’s financial impact could be seen at the weekend with the company’s release of earnings that rose at the slowest pace in five quarters. Operating income increased just 5.5 per cent to US$7 billion in the three months ended September 30.

The US safety commission could decide as early as this week on what steps to take, said Gilbert, a partner in Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca in Washington. “This is not something you want to leave hanging out there,” she said.

Nancy Nord, a former acting chairman of the safety commission, said a second recall does not happen very often.

“Certainly they could do another recall, if it appears this is something beyond an aberration,” she said.

“They need to determine if this was a remediated phone, and if so why did this happen?” said Ms Nord, who is of counsel at Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz in Washington.

The CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson declined to comment on what action may be taken.

Recently, a customer in China said his new Note 7 had exploded less than 24 hours after it was delivered. The company said it was investigating the incident.

The owner of the phone involved in Wednesday’s incident told investigators it was a replacement Note 7, said Captain Kevin Fletcher of the Louisville Metro Arson Squad.

“Due to the damage to the phone itself, we have not been able to physically confirm that yet,” Fletcher said during an interview. “We’re in the process of trying to attempt that.”

Samsung and US officials announced the recall after 92 reports of batteries overheating in the United States, with 26 cases involving burns.