By Cho Jin-seo
A 33-year-old excavator driver was found dead on Wednesday in Cheongwon, North Chungcheong Province, after a suspected cell phone battery explosion, police said.
The man, identified only with his surname Seo, was found lying dead beside his excavator in a stone quarry in Cheongwon at 8:40 a.m. by his colleagues. His cell phone was found in his shirt pocket with its battery severely melted and his chest burned and fractured, the police said.
It is the first case of a suspected mobile phone battery explosion killing a person in Korea, though there have been several reports of such deaths in other countries.
It is not yet confirmed whether the man was actually killed by the battery meltdown, or other external force killed him and damaged the phone at the same time.
The police did not reveal the name of the manufacturer. But a major Korean phone company admitted it is the maker of the phone. The company requested anonymity until further investigation reveals what actually killed him.
The manufacturer of the lithium-ion polymer battery was also not identified. The phone company said a Japanese and a Korean firm are its two main battery suppliers.
``We will fully cooperate with the police investigation,'' an official of the electronics company said. ``But we believe that the battery was very unlikely to explode. Our battery is wrapped in aluminum foil, so when there is an external shock, it should just melt, not explode.''
Doctors said that an explosion killed the man. ``He arrived dead at the emergency room,'' Kim Hun, a doctor of Chungbuk National University Hospital, was quoted as saying by Kookmin Ilbo. ``There were burns on his left chest, and fractures of his ribs and spine as well as hemorrhaging in the lungs. Considering all these factors, it seems that high pressure from an explosion damaged his lungs and heart, leading to his death.''
Seo's family and co-workers said he had no known chronic diseases. He was seen last by co-workers walking up to the quarry at around 7 a.m.
A similar accident killed a welder in June in China's Gansu Province. High temperature of his working environment was suspected as the cause of the battery explosion at the time _ an unlikely explanation for Seo's mobile phone's meltdown given the chilly November morning temperature of South Korea.
Lithium-ion polymer batteries began to appear in consumer electronics around 1996. They are considered safer than lithium-ion batteries.