iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Your trip reports, airport experiences, etc. are welcome here.

Moderators: Rick, Lance Murray

User avatar
dmloftus
3 Diamonds Member
3 Diamonds Member
FIRST NAME: David
Aircraft: DA40
Registration: N868US
Airport: KLZU

Posts: 122
Joined: Thu May 07, 2020 3:38 pm
Has thanked: 65 times
Been thanked: 60 times

iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Post by dmloftus »

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. But one must be careful not to hold objects too close to the window as the 175mph slipstream can suck out anything you're holding. I have taken hundreds of pictures this way with my cameras and iPhones on sight-seeing trips. I also sometimes use the airflow from the open window to cool my electronics on hot days. This day was different. 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 returned to my office for my staff call and shared my story with a few coworkers. They also laughed and looked at me like I was crazy. But the intellectual curiosity was gnawing at me. I had to know whether I could actually find it. I left the office at noon and called my friend Dean to ride along in my plane. We 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. 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!
After a 30 minute drive back to the airport, and a quick stop for a takeout cheeseburger, our airport friend Richard was amazed. We gratefully thanked Richard for his support and offered to compensate him for his overtime, as it was now 8pm CDT. He flatly refused, saying that that was the kind of support they gave their customers at their small airport. After rinsing our filthy shoes and socks, wiping down our legs with wet towels in the airport bathroom, we gassed up the plane and flew the 2 1/2 hour journey back to Gwinnett County Airport, satisfied that it was an adventure for a lifetime.

EPILOGUE - This was such an incredible and lucky accomplishment for several reasons:
• The phone survives a fall of 11,250 feet (I was flying 11,500' MSL, the farm field had an elevation of about 250' MSL)
• It fell close enough to a cell tower in rural Arkansas to transmit its position
• That we actually found the iPhone amongst thick, mature, soybean crops
• The iPhone doesn't have a scratch on it - at a minimum I'd expect the screen to crack, but no damage
• The iPhone actually booted up when we put it on the charger
• A day later, the battery and the iPhone continue to work normally - I would expect the impact would have damaged the battery

It wasn't about the $1500 I would spend for a new iPhone. It was really about the adventure and the intellectual curiosity about whether we could find it and what it would look like after falling out of an airplane. All credit to Apple and Otterbox for some spectacular products! I had purchased my Otterbox Defender Series Case on Amazon in 2018, which the company had recently replaced under their lifetime warranty when the holster tab had broken. What a company!
User avatar
Chris
5 Diamonds Member
5 Diamonds Member
FIRST NAME: Chris
Aircraft: DA42NG
Registration: N449TS
Airport: KHIO

Posts: 685
Joined: Sat Jun 19, 2010 3:34 am
Has thanked: 488 times
Been thanked: 227 times

Re: iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Post by Chris »

Great story! You are indeed lucky to have found it again, and luckier still that it works! I'm not sure what the terminal velocity is for a tumbling iPhone, but I'm sure it only survived due to landing in relatively soft soil.

Somewhere in the woods and mountains a few dozen miles west of Missoula Montana there is an iPhone 12 with my wife's photos on it, having been sucked out of the plane under very similar circumstances. Unfortunately it was on airplane mode so even if it had survived the fall, there was no way to locate it (and doubtful we could reach it even if we knew where it was). It was a very solemn day of flying after that happened. :cry:
Chris
N449TS / DA42-NG / 42.AC049
KHIO
User avatar
Steve
5 Diamonds Member
5 Diamonds Member
FIRST NAME: Steve
Aircraft: DA40
Registration: N432SC
Airport: 1T7

Posts: 1541
Joined: Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:23 am
Has thanked: 51 times
Been thanked: 290 times

Re: iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Post by Steve »

Didn't lose an iPhone in flight, but a similar tale of a lost electronic device with an aviation connection. My son wrote it up:

The Photo (and the Pilot) that Saved Our Vacation by David Chalfin

When Spring Break finally came, I was so excited. My dad and I had been planning our trip for months, trying to anticipate every possible problem we could. When the day came, my mom drove us out to Kestrel Airpark, where my dad keeps the plane. We prepped the plane, a Diamond DA40, for the upcoming flight, while my mom and brother watched. After preflight was complete, we taxied to the runway, did our runup, and away we went. The first stop on our trip was my Grandfather's house in Willcox, Arizona. It was a six-hour flight, and I slept through ninety percent of it. When we got to the airport in Willcox, my grandpa was there to greet us. We ate at one of his favorite restaurants, then stayed the night at his house. In the morning, we left for Sedona, Arizona. An hour and half later, we arrived. Sedona was a beautiful town, and it's airport was just one example. The airport was on a mesa, about 500 feet above the rest of the town, with scenic forest all around. We then took the shuttle down to our hotel, and we were so exhausted that we stayed in all night. The next two days, we went hiking on the trails surrounding Sedona, beautiful scenic routes that left us tired when we returned to the hotel. Next, we departed for Albuquerque, to visit a friend of my dad's. During the flight, we deviated a little off course so we could pass over the Meteor Crater near Winslow. It was amazing, over a mile wide.

After arriving in Albuquerque, we visited the Petroglyph National Monument while waiting for my dad's friend to get off work. When he was done, we went to his house and stayed there for the night. The next day we decided to take the tram up to Sandia Peak, to go hiking there. We drove over and took the fifteen minute ride up the beautiful mountainside. When we got there we looked over the town for a little while, then went to the restaurant there for lunch. After lunch, we went hiking on a snowy trail that led to Kiwanis Cabin. After about half an hour of hiking through foot deep snow, the cabin was still not in sight. It was at this time that I realized that my digital camera had fallen out of my pocket. That camera had all of the pictures from our vacation. All of the pictures of Sedona, of the Meteor Crater, everything. I was devastated. Though we searched back along our trail, we didn't find it. So we went back to my dad's friend's house and I spent the rest of the day moping about. I couldn't get what had happened out of my mind.

The week after we got back to San Antonio, my dad got a call at work. Someone had found the camera! The camera didn't, however, have any identifying information on it. No name, address or phone number.

Jennifer Thompson's daughter Riley had found the camera while they were hiking the same trail we were on, about a week after I lost it. By then, the snow had melted and the camera lay exposed near the trail. The kids were having a miserable time until they found the camera, and then they began taking pictures and their hike became a lot more fun. They made it to the cabin and back, and were very excited for the next couple of days. They stayed the rest of the vacation in Albuquerque, in their friend's RV, then headed home to Phoenix. When they got there, they were able to download the pictures from the camera onto their computer. Their family project became trying to find a way of contacting the person who had lost the camera. They hit on a lead when they saw the picture of me standing by our plane, at the Sedona airport. Jennifer Thompson and her husband, Rhett, are both pilots and they used the tail number to look up my dad's information on the FAA aircraft registration database. Googling my dad's name and city they found his work phone number, which they then called. My dad was really surprised to talk with her, and after he provided her our address, she mailed the camera to me.

The chances of these events happening the way they did are one in a million, as well as the chances that the person who found my camera would take the time and effort to get it back to me. Most people would simply have kept it. It is incredible that it was found by a pilot, who recognized that she could identify us using the aircraft registration number. Pilots sure are nice people. And now we have not only our vacation pictures, but also a few nice photos of the Thompson kids.
User avatar
dmloftus
3 Diamonds Member
3 Diamonds Member
FIRST NAME: David
Aircraft: DA40
Registration: N868US
Airport: KLZU

Posts: 122
Joined: Thu May 07, 2020 3:38 pm
Has thanked: 65 times
Been thanked: 60 times

Re: iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Post by dmloftus »

Steve wrote:
Tue Aug 10, 2021 8:37 pm
Didn't lose an iPhone in flight, but a similar tale of a lost electronic device with an aviation connection. My son wrote it up:

The Photo (and the Pilot) that Saved Our Vacation by David Chalfin

The chances of these events happening the way they did are one in a million, as well as the chances that the person who found my camera would take the time and effort to get it back to me.
Great story Steve! Must have been a waterproof camera to survive the snow
User avatar
dmloftus
3 Diamonds Member
3 Diamonds Member
FIRST NAME: David
Aircraft: DA40
Registration: N868US
Airport: KLZU

Posts: 122
Joined: Thu May 07, 2020 3:38 pm
Has thanked: 65 times
Been thanked: 60 times

Re: iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Post by dmloftus »

Chris wrote:
Tue Aug 10, 2021 7:43 pm
Great story! You are indeed lucky to have found it again, and luckier still that it works! I'm not sure what the terminal velocity is for a tumbling iPhone, but I'm sure it only survived due to landing in relatively soft soil.

Somewhere in the woods and mountains a few dozen miles west of Missoula Montana there is an iPhone 12 with my wife's photos on it, having been sucked out of the plane under very similar circumstances. Unfortunately it was on airplane mode so even if it had survived the fall, there was no way to locate it (and doubtful we could reach it even if we knew where it was). It was a very solemn day of flying after that happened. :cry:
I wonder how many items have flown out of Diamond windows!? And how many have been recovered?
The strange part of my story is that it didn't land in the rice paddy mud. It landed on very hard, dry dirt with the soybeans. Crazy that there wasn't some damage. I would think terminal velocity would be at least 200mph.
User avatar
Steve
5 Diamonds Member
5 Diamonds Member
FIRST NAME: Steve
Aircraft: DA40
Registration: N432SC
Airport: 1T7

Posts: 1541
Joined: Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:23 am
Has thanked: 51 times
Been thanked: 290 times

Re: iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Post by Steve »

dmloftus wrote:
Tue Aug 10, 2021 8:55 pm
Steve wrote:
Tue Aug 10, 2021 8:37 pm
Didn't lose an iPhone in flight, but a similar tale of a lost electronic device with an aviation connection. My son wrote it up:

The Photo (and the Pilot) that Saved Our Vacation by David Chalfin

The chances of these events happening the way they did are one in a million, as well as the chances that the person who found my camera would take the time and effort to get it back to me.
Great story Steve! Must have been a waterproof camera to survive the snow
Not really waterproof, just a cheap digital camera we bought for our son. I was kind of perturbed that he lost it, since I had reminded him several times to zip up the parka pocket where he kept it while we were hiking. Making him write up the story was "punishment" for not listening to Dad. This happened in 2009, and the photo below of my son and the airplane was the one mentioned...
David and 432SC in Sedona
David and 432SC in Sedona
User avatar
jb642DA
4 Diamonds Member
4 Diamonds Member
FIRST NAME: John
Aircraft: OTHER
Registration: N2691Y
Airport: KPTK KDTW

Posts: 312
Joined: Thu Feb 16, 2017 5:16 pm
Has thanked: 51 times
Been thanked: 142 times

Re: iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Post by jb642DA »

Great story David!! Glad you found it!

Not to be a "kill joy", but have you filed an ASR ?
Not sure if its neccessary, but you did admit to something falling out of your plane.
https://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/

Cheap "insurance" if someone from the FAA reads your story and comes "knocking"!
1980 414A - N2691Y (current)
DA62 - N100DA 62.078 (sold)
DA42TDi - N742SA 42.AC112 (sold)
User avatar
dmloftus
3 Diamonds Member
3 Diamonds Member
FIRST NAME: David
Aircraft: DA40
Registration: N868US
Airport: KLZU

Posts: 122
Joined: Thu May 07, 2020 3:38 pm
Has thanked: 65 times
Been thanked: 60 times

Re: iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Post by dmloftus »

jb642DA wrote:
Wed Aug 11, 2021 4:01 pm
Great story David!! Glad you found it!

Not to be a "kill joy", but have you filed an ASR ?
Not sure if its neccessary, but you did admit to something falling out of your plane.
https://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/

Cheap "insurance" if someone from the FAA reads your story and comes "knocking"!
Hmm, interesting point. Since it was inadvertent, wondering what FAR would apply? 91.15?

§ 91.15 Dropping objects.
No pilot in command of a civil aircraft may allow any object to be dropped from that aircraft in flight that creates a hazard to persons or property. However, this section does not prohibit the dropping of any object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property.
User avatar
Lou
4 Diamonds Member
4 Diamonds Member
FIRST NAME: Louis
Aircraft: DA40
Registration: CGXLO
Airport: CZVL

Posts: 326
Joined: Sat Nov 21, 2015 1:39 pm
Has thanked: 98 times
Been thanked: 88 times

Re: iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Post by Lou »

Great story!

If you get a chance maybe send a thank you to the farmer whose crops you had to damage. It’s not a lot but it is his livelihood. People sometimes forget that.
User avatar
jb642DA
4 Diamonds Member
4 Diamonds Member
FIRST NAME: John
Aircraft: OTHER
Registration: N2691Y
Airport: KPTK KDTW

Posts: 312
Joined: Thu Feb 16, 2017 5:16 pm
Has thanked: 51 times
Been thanked: 142 times

Re: iPhone Survives a Fall of Over 11,000 feet from a DA40!

Post by jb642DA »

dmloftus wrote:
Wed Aug 11, 2021 8:19 pm
jb642DA wrote:
Wed Aug 11, 2021 4:01 pm
Great story David!! Glad you found it!

Not to be a "kill joy", but have you filed an ASR ?
Not sure if its neccessary, but you did admit to something falling out of your plane.
https://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/

Cheap "insurance" if someone from the FAA reads your story and comes "knocking"!
Hmm, interesting point. Since it was inadvertent, wondering what FAR would apply? 91.15?

§ 91.15 Dropping objects.
No pilot in command of a civil aircraft may allow any object to be dropped from that aircraft in flight that creates a hazard to persons or property. However, this section does not prohibit the dropping of any object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property.

or worse 91.13 (.....so as to endanger the life or property of another.) This is a favorite "catch all" FAR of the FEDS!

An ASR filing is known as the "get out of jail FREE card" for a reason and all it costs is a little time to file it!
(However, the ASR will not protect against a willful violation of the FARs)

I filed one this March when an ATC controller descended us (flying in an Airbus A330 at FL410) into a 737 (opposite direction) level at FL380......I didn't know who "screwed up" at the time, but we got a TCAS (Traffic alert and collision avoidance system) warning about 2 minutes into the descent (RA - resolution alert) to "CLIMB, CLIMB" as we were descending thru 38,500. (We were in and out of clouds at the time)

We responded immediately to avoid a collision. It was a "close" pass.

The controller, myself and my First Officer filed ASRs.

4 weeks later, we found out it was "controller error" and not "our error". (Of course the controller knew almost immediately after hearing the tapes, but we didn't!)

My opinion - File an ASR for your own protection whenever something like this happens.

Also, here's a little "interesting reading" on FAR 91.13 - https://www.generalaviationlaw.org/wp-c ... -91.13.pdf
1980 414A - N2691Y (current)
DA62 - N100DA 62.078 (sold)
DA42TDi - N742SA 42.AC112 (sold)
Post Reply