An iPhone Fell Out of a Plane at 11,000 Feet – And Survived

We’ve heard different stories of iPhone surviving different accidental drop test, but they don’t happen all the time, whenever it happens, we try to publish their stories. This is one of the reason you might be considering switching to an iPhone device.

This story was dropped in a forum, by an aviator named David, an avid flyer of a small DA40 airplane, which sports “a large plexiglass canopy with small side windows that can be opened in flight.” 

According to him,

“On Sunday August 8, 2021 I was flying my plane, a Diamond DA40, home to Atlanta from Colorado Springs, CO. After a brief refueling stop in Branson, MO, I took off for the final leg. At about 6:30pm CDT I was over farmland about 50 miles north of Memphis, traveling about 175mph at 11,500 feet.

I noticed an interesting billowing cloud formation off to my right and decided to take a picture. The Diamond DA40 has a large plexiglass canopy with small side windows that can be opened in flight. Opening these windows provides a way to take pictures without the distortion of the canopy.

As I opened the window and pointed the iPhone camera at the cloud, I hit a small pocket of turbulence and my right hand moved too close to the open passenger window. In a millisecond, the iPhone was sucked right out through the window and it was gone! At first I was upset about the loss, but after a few minutes began chuckling to myself as it was a 4 year old iPhone X and I probably needed to upgrade to a 5G phone anyway.

I landed in Atlanta at 10pm EDT after a long day of flying.
The next morning I took a spare iPhone 6S to the AT&T store on Old Milton Parkway to get a new SIM card to activate the phone while I figured out which replacement phone to buy. A nice young man named Jack helped me activate the iPhone 6S. I asked Jack what could be done to disable the iPhone X remotely. I felt sure the phone must have been destroyed in the fall, but I did not want to take any chances with financial data, etc that was on the phone.

Jack suggested we open the settings menu and remove the iPhone X from the account. As we did this, we clicked on the Find My iPhone link. To my astonishment, the 6S showed a map location for the iPhone X near Blythe Arkansas, with the last transmission at 9:39pm CDT Sunday evening.

We took some screen shots and I clicked on the map link. I was amazed that the phone could somehow survive a fall of over 11.000 feet, and thought how lucky it was to fall in an area that actually had cell coverage when much of rural America is difficult to get a signal. I mentioned to Jack that I might just fly back to Arkansas to see if I could find the phone. He looked at me like I was crazy, but asked me to let him know the results if I actually succeeded.

I and Dean, a friend of mine took off for Arkansas International Airport at 1:30pm EDT, dodged a bunch of thunderstorms on the way, and landed 2 1/2 hours later at 4pm CDT. I had called ahead to the airport administrator Richard to ask for use of their loaner vehicle. I explained my mission and he agreed to loan us the vehicle. There was a nice Buick waiting for us next to the terminal when we landed. Richard was extremely friendly and even though he was scheduled to close at 4:30pm, he said he would wait at the airport until dark because he was so curious if we would find the iPhone.

So we jumped in the Buick to drive the 20 miles south where the Find My iPhone app had last placed the phone. 30 minutes later we pulled of the highway onto a rough gravel road. Once parked, we had to jump over an irrigation ditch to enter the farmland.

While the picture on the map seemed like the phone was fairly close to the road, we had to slog west through about a half mile of wet chest-high rice crops. The ground was very wet and my sneakers repeatedly slipped off my feet in the ankle deep mud. It was very difficult to walk, and I thought several times about calling it quits. But the burning intellectual curiosity propelled me forward. After about a half mile of rice paddy, we came to another irrigation ditch to jump, luckily this one was dry.

Image Credit: Bill Spiegel

On the other side was a different crop, about waist-high soy beans on dry land. The map on my iPhone continued to track our progress, and after another 10 minutes the phone indicated we were at the exact point of the last position report from the prior evening. I was very happy that we had cellular signal out in the middle of the field.

The search was on! As the last transmission was 9:39pm the previous evening, I knew the phone battery must be dead or broken. Even so, I tried in vain to use the Play Sound feature in Find My iPhone. No sound, so we were going to have to find it solely by sight.

From my engineering background, I knew iPhones have multiple ways to report position, GPS and cellular tower triangulation. GPS is far more accurate, had it used triangulation I assumed we would never have found it.

GPS, I reasoned, could pinpoint the phone’s position to within a 10m radius. So I decided to search like a rescue mission in a 30′ circle around the map point. At first we tried pushing the soybean crops from side to side to peek between them for the iPhone but it was difficult to see between the thick crops. As we had no tools with us, we started to kick the crops at their base.

In 95 degree Arkansas heat, and no drinks with us, we were pouring sweat, legs bleeding from the constant assault from the crops. Over an hour of searching, and covering about half of my 30′ circle, I was losing hope. But 15 minutes later I had reached about 70% of my search radius, and I caught a glimpse of shining black glass.

I pulled out my iPhone 6S to record the discovery and screamed in victory! Picking up the phone, there was not a scratch on it, just dust on the back of my Otterbox case. The screen was perfect. But would it work? I tried unsuccessfully to power it on, as of course it was dead from the previous evening.

Triumphantly we slogged the 3/4 of a mile back through the soybeans, irrigation ditches, and wet rice fields to reach our loaner car. As we started to inch our way back up the very rough gravel road, I pulled out a USB lightning cable and connected the iPhone X to the car USB port.

A few seconds later, the charging picture displayed on the phone. Five minutes later, the Apple icon appeared, and a minute later, my home screen appeared. Absolutely unbelievable!”


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