The links I’m finding are saying that it was flashlight batteries.
Security scare shuts Los Angeles Airport
Sat 4 September, 2004 21:15
By Kevin Krolicki
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A security breach and a flashlight battery explosion have shut down four terminals at Los Angeles International Airport for nearly four hours, delaying dozens of flights and clogging traffic for miles on surrounding city streets.
< snip >
A separate incident about 30 minutes later shut down the airport’s busy international terminal when a plastic flashlight exploded in the bag of a Japanese tourist about to board a Korean Air flight for Tokyo, Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn told a news conference.
Police Chief Bill Bratton added the batteries in the flashlight apparently malfunctioned, causing a small explosion. Eight workers, including five with the Transportation Security Administration and three baggage handlers were taken to the hospital for treatment for minor injuries, Hahn said.
Why do flashlights explode?
In the types of batteries most commonly used in flashlights—zinc/carbon batteries and alkaline batteries—hydrogen gas (H2) is produced naturally as a product of the corrosion of the zinc electrode in the aqueous electrolyte. Differences in batteries, including cell design and charge rate, affect the rate and volume of H2 generation. Excess hydrogen gas is more likely to be released if batteries are used incorrectly; that is, if different types or brands of batteries are mixed, damaged batteries are used, old batteries are mixed with new batteries, or batteries are inserted incorrectly so that polarity is reversed. Excess hydrogen gas may also be produced by rechargeable batteries during recharging. If H2 accumulates within batteries or battery compartments without sufficient release, the buildup of pressure can cause the battery or compartment casing to rupture. Also H2 and oxygen (O2) mixtures are highly explosive, and if ignited by a spark or excessive heat can produce powerful explosions.
< snip >
In order to protect themselves, workers should follow these precautions:
Read and follow manufacturers’ recommendations for product use
DO NOT MIX batteries of different brands
DO NOT MIX old and new batteries
DO NOT MIX alkaline with nonalkaline batteries
DO NOT USE damaged batteries
Ensure that proper polarity is observed when installing batteries
If the Japanese tourist in question had done any of this, yeah, his flashlight could have exploded.