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EMC Headlines

Electromagnetic interference problems rarely make the news because the companies that have these problems want to solve them quickly and quietly. They don't want anyone to get the impression that their products are inferior or poorly designed. However, every once in a while a problem occurs that has such widespread consequences that is can't escape the attention of the media. A few classic cases of electromagnetic interference making headlines are listed below:

1937 - Hindenburg Disaster
On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed while attempting to dock at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Manchester, New Jersey, USA. Of the 97 people on board, 35 people died in addition to one fatality on the ground. The likely cause of this disaster was an electrostatic discharge event resulting from the build-up of charge on the aircraft during flight and the subsequent discharge as the ship's mooring cables made contact with objects on the ground.
1967 - U.S.S. Forrestal Fire
On July 29, 1967, a Zuni rocket was accidentally fired from an F-4 Phantom on the deck of the U.S.S. Forrestal starting a fire that ultimately killed 132 crewmen and injured 62 more. The accidental firing is believed to have been triggered by a combination of the powerful fields at deck level from the ship’s radar and an incorrectly fitted shielded cable connector.
1981 - Radio Shack is forced to discontinue its popular TRS-80 personal computer
Due to its failure to comply with newly established FCC regulation governing unintentional radiated emissions, Radio Shack was forced to cease production of the TRS-80 Model I and recall units from the US market.
1982 - H.M.S. Sheffield is sunk by an Exocet missile
On May 4th, 1982, during the Falkland Islands War, the H.M.S. Sheffield's search radar was turned off due to electromagnetic interference problems with the ship's satellite communication system. This disabled the ship's anti-missile defense systems and enabled an Exocet missile to hit the ship resulting in the loss of the ship and 20 lives.
1987 - UH60 Blackhawk Helicopter Crash
While flying past a radio broadcast tower in West Germany, a U.S. Army Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter experienced an uncommanded stabilator movement. Subsequent investigation showed that the stabilator system was affected by EMI. Between 1981 and 1987, five Blackhawk helicopters flying too near radio transmitters crashed killing or injuring all on board. The Navy version of the Blackhawk, the SB-60 Seahawk was hardened against the severe EM environments of ships and did not experience the same EMI problems as the Blackhawk.
1993 - FAA Regulates the Use of Portable Electronics on Aircraft
In response to numerous reported instances of laptop computers and other electronic devices interfering with commercial aircraft systems, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued AC 91.21-1, "Use of Portable Electronic Devices Aboard Aircraft," which restricts the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices on aircraft.
1994 - FDA Advises Wheelchair Manufacturers to Warn Users about Interference from Cell Phones
In response to reports of electric wheelchairs that spontaneously engaged as a result of interference from cell phones or other sources, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended that wheelchair manufacturers improve shielding in the wiring of wheelchairs and add warnings about radio waves from cell phones and other electronic devices.
1995 - FDA Issues Advisory Concerning Cell Phone Interference with Cardiac Pacemakers
In response to laboratory studies showing the potential of cell phones to interfere with the normal operation of pacemakers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory listing precautions for pacemaker wearers.
1996 - TWA Flight 800 Crashes
On July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747 bound for Paris, exploded shortly after takeoff from New York's JFK International airport, killing all 230 people on board. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the probable cause of the accident was an "explosion of the center wing fuel tank" resulting from an ignition of the fuel/air mixture inside the tank. The likely source of the ignition was an arc generated in the wiring associated with the fuel quantity indication system.
2007 - Report Documents Cell Phone Interference with Medical Equipment
University of Amsterdam researchers recorded nearly 50 incidents of electromagnetic interference from cell phone use in hospitals and classified 75 percent of them as significant or hazardous.
2008 - Study Links RFID Devices to Interference with Medical Equipment
Another University of Amsterdam study investigated the potential of RFID devices commonly found in hospitals to interfere with medical equipment.