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Exploding Motorola Cell Phone Kills Chinese Man

By Katherine Noyes
Jul 5, 2007 2:17 PM PT

Officials from Motorola are working with authorities in China to determine what caused a cell phone explosion that killed a 22-year-old Chinese man.

Exploding Motorola Cell Phone Kills Chinese Man

Xiao Jinpeng, a welder at the Yingpan Iron Ore Dressing Plant in Jinta county in western China's Gansu province, was killed on June 19 when the battery in his cell phone exploded, according to an Associated Press report from Xinhua, China's state news agency.

The Motorola cell phone was in Xiao's chest pocket, and had reportedly been exposed to high temperatures before it exploded, Xinhua said. Rib fragments pierced Xiao's heart following the explosion. After emergency treatment failed, Xiao reportedly died at a local hospital.

Investigation Underway

While there have been several reports of injuries in the past, this appears to be the first fatality resulting from a cell phone battery explosion.

It has not yet been determined whether the battery was an original Motorola battery or not, according to reports.

"Motorola's priority is, and always has been, the safety of our customers, and all Motorola products are designed, manufactured and tested to meet or exceed international and local standards for consumer safety and performance," Motorola spokesperson Jennifer Erickson told TechNewsWorld.

"At this time, preliminary evidence suggests that it is highly unlikely that a cell phone caused this accident; however, we are cooperating with the Chinese authorities to determine and investigate the root cause," Erickson added. "Of course, our thoughts and prayers are with the individual's family and friends," she said.

The Statistical View

"I don't want to sound unsympathetic to this poor individual, but the safety statistics are pretty amazing," Bill Hughes, principal analyst with In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld.

Indeed, with nearly 3 billion cell phone subscribers worldwide, one fatality -- tragic is it may be -- is still very small, statistically speaking, Chris Hazelton, senior analyst for mobile device technology and trends at IDC Research, agreed.

"With so many handsets out there, and such an incredible safety record, at a certain level it's easy to overlook the fact that batteries involve power, and when you have power, there's a small element of danger," Hughes added.

Ever-Present Danger

What type of battery was in the phone could have been a key factor in the explosion, Neil Strother, wireless analyst with JupiterResearch, told TechNewsWorld.

"Chances are it was either a secondary or aftermarket battery, or there were some extenuating circumstances," Strother said. "There's always that risk -- it could happen with any electronic device."

Chinese authorities have advised cell phone users in the country to minimize phone calls and to use only batteries from reputable manufacturers, a Forbes report said.

It's highly unlikely Motorola was at fault in any way, Strother added, so ultimately, the impact on the company will probably be minimal.

Loose Sparks?

Chinese authorities have classified the accident as a corporate safety issue, and ordered the iron mill to pay 100,000 yuan (US$13,159) to Xiao's family, according to the report in Forbes.

Indeed, external conditions can play a significant role in factory settings, Hughes noted. In the United States, there are very strict rules governing the use of electronics in potentially explosive environments, since loose battery contacts in devices such as radios, bar code scanners and cell phones can create a spark.

"Even if you're not using it, your cell phone is still drawing power when it's on," Hughes explained. "If the battery shakes loose and you're in the wrong environment, a little spark could be all it takes to set off an explosion."


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