We have all heard the warnings of spontaneous CR-123 battery combustion, but where can you find a reliable source that actually confirms it happens? The FAA keeps track of battery incidents-most related to cargo-although the passenger and crew experiences provide some valuable lessons for today’s shooter.
Thankfully, it has been quiet for a while. The most recent problem occurred on Aug. 28, 2010, when a FedEx crewmember had the CR-123s installed in his flashlight suffer a thermal runaway that set his bag on fire while waiting for his flight. The report doesn’t list a cause, but rough handling or counterfeit batteries seem most likely as you read on.
Sometimes when I get into a hurry, I toss CR-123s in my range bag. On May 6, 2010, at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, a pair came into contact inside a checked bag, an airline employee heard the pop, saw the sparks, witnessed the flames, police arrived, the terminal was evacuated, the owner is probably on a “no fly” list somewhere and I’ll never forget my SureFire SC1 again.
A CR-123-powered flashlight used by a flight-crew member to inspect the aircraft dimmed unexplainably on March 18, 2008. He turned it off and put it away. The crew reported hearing sounds like “gunshots” as the tailcap “became projectile,” according to the FAA. One person suffered burns to the hands and fingers while moving the flashlight.
On Valentine’s Day, 2008, flashlight batteries caught fire in an overhead compartment as an International flight was boarding. The FAA report doesn’t confirm the culprit cells were CR-123s, but it does specify a small flashlight.
A flight from Buenos Aires to Miami on March 19, 2007, got particularly exciting when someone in business class dropped a CR-123 from his digital camera. It landed on the seat, arced into the metal frame, set off sparks, smoke and launched a battery fragment into a passenger when it shattered/exploded. The plane arrived safely with four damaged seats and seven members of the flight crew suffering from smoke inhalation.
On December 14, 2006, a counterfeit CR-123 caught fire after a crewmember had dropped the flashlight from a height of 6 inches. The most dangerous April fool’s joke of 2004 was on a flight attendant who just purchased an inexpensive flashlight overseas. A passenger borrowed and dropped it. It then overheated, began smoking and it took oven mitts to move it to the galley where it was probably used to heat coffee.
In all honestly, the report linked above indicates laptop, MP3 player, tablet, cell phone, breathing device and even C-cell batteries cause more problems with air travel. But, it’s amazing how dangerous counterfeit CR-123 batteries can be. SureFire has issued a warning that includes a pretty good explanation of the dangers. The firearm industry isn’t the only one affected. Canon has a pretty good collection of counterfeit vs. genuine camera product photos (in a quiz) and tips that apply pretty much anytime you’re considering a purchase of electronics gear. Nikon’s photos of counterfeits also demonstrate how shoddy graphics/lettering is usually a good tipoff you’re about to be ripped on in that purchase.
The TSA requirement that I separate and insulate my spare camera and flash batteries seems more reasonable after reading the report-and something we should all consider, even when heading to the range.
And, if you did happen to purchase a 12-pack of cheap knockoff batteries, take heart. You have one tactical advantage during a criminal encounter. If the perp’s behind cover, drop your tactical flashlight from 6 inches or more, count to three, toss it toward the bad guy, take cover and scream, “Fire in the Hole!”