RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The headlines read like they were written in a Hollywood scandal sheet hyping a starlet’s murder:

“Flaming LAX laptop was a ThinkPad”


“ThinkPad identified as ‘flaming’ laptop”

Alas, the victim is another laptop apparently set on fire by its batteries. But unlike other incidents that fried Dells and Macs (thus triggering the recall of millions of Sony-made batteries last month), this time it’s a ThinkPad – perhaps manufactured by Triangle-based Lenovo, which now owns the IBM ThinkPad brand.

And Lenovo was on the case, dispatching a team to investigate just what happened, according to media reports on Wednesday.

The saga began last weekend at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX in shorthand) when a blogger identifying himself as “William Shatner” reported on the “Something Awful Forums” blog that a laptop erupted in flames. It’s compelling reading, and the incident was scary enough to spark talk about a possible terrorist incident.

“So we’re waiting for a flight in the United lounge at LAX, the flight next to ours was heading to London and in the middle of final boarding, when suddenly this guy comes running the wrong way up the jetway, pushing other boarding passengers out of the way, he quickly drops his laptop on the floor and the thing immediately flares up like a giant firework for about 15 seconds, then catches fire,” Shatner wrote.

“About a hundred other people in the lounge jumped up and began a mix of gawking and general panic, I clearly heard a few fleeing individuals saying something about terrorists. The fire burned for a minute while everybody just stared at it, then another flare up, this one much larger than the first, drove a larger group of gawkers away. Eventually, the high intensity flaring calmed down and a larger fire kicked in, all the while letting off a thick cloud of white smoke that was slowly filling the terminal. Finally, an employee came over with a fire extinguisher and put it out of its misery.”

The blogger made his way over and took some photos, which he published on the blog. The owner told Shatner that the laptop was indeed an IBM.

“I spoke to the laptop owner (while getting close for some pictures!) and he said he his laptop was an IBM, that he had checked the battery against the recalls on the net and his battery wasn’t a recall. I don’t remember seeing any IBM laptops nuke themselves yet on GizModo, just Macbooks and Dells with Sony batteries, but it was a close call nonetheless, if that thing had fired off while that plane was in the air, who knows what would have happened,” Shatner said.

Pretty scary stuff. For details, read here (but be forewarned – naughty words will greet you).

C/Net, meanwhile, provided an in-depth report about the incident and Lenovo’s response. Tom Krazit wrote that Lenovo sent a team to find out what happened within hours of the incident.

Media attention reached as far as The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia.

I doubt we’ve heard the last of this story yet. Another incident or two like this and my hunch is laptops will be banned from all airline lights – or at least owners will be prohibited from turning them on.

As “William Shatner” noted, what would happened aboard a jam-packed Boeing 747 in mid flight over the Pacific if a laptop exploded?

Can Federal air marshals put out fires?

Talk about a terrifying scenario!