An iPhone that fell out of an Alaska Airlines plane during an emergency landing last week has been recovered in working condition after plummeting over 16,000 feet to the ground below. The intact device is being hailed as a remarkable testament to Apple’s engineering and durability.
Background on the Alaska Airlines Incident
On January 5th, Alaska Airlines flight #1282, a Boeing 737-900 jet carrying 159 passengers and 6 crew members, was enroute from Seattle, Washington to Ontario, California when it experienced a catastrophic failure resulting in rapid decompression.
A panel near the plane’s left front passenger door dislodged in flight, causing the door to open partially. Two passengers were pulled toward the opening by the sudden pressure change before flight attendants intervened. Oxygen masks deployed in the cabin while the pilots quickly diverted towards Portland, Oregon to make an emergency landing within 15 minutes.
In the chaos onboard, a passenger’s iPhone was also sucked through the open doorway, falling out of the plane somewhere over Oregon during the rapid descent.
iPhone Miraculously Recovered Intact 16,000 Feet Below
In an improbable turn of events, the missing iPhone has now been recovered on the ground near the town of Jefferson, Oregon – approximately 16,000 feet below where it exited the aircraft.
Even more remarkably, the device is said to have survived the incredible fall with only minor scratches and still functions normally.
Clayton McCaw of Jefferson County told local press that he stumbled upon the phone lying in thick brush on his family farm. The phone had a cracked screen protector but the device itself remained intact. When McCaw pushed the power button, the lock screen lit up, asking for a passcode.
Stunned by his discovery, McCaw quickly alerted authorities who verified the device’s serial number matched one registered to a passenger on Alaska Airlines flight #1282. The passenger in question has yet to be publicly identified.
Expert Analysis on iPhone’s Durability
Aviation safety experts have marveled at the resilience shown by Apple’s flagship mobile device. Analysts estimate the iPhone likely reached speeds of over 150 mph during its initial descent before atmospheric drag helped slow its fall. The fact that its delicate electronics, glass face, and housing came through such an ordeal undamaged defies belief.
|Time in Free Fall
|Approx. 4 minutes
“I have personally witnessed these devices cracked or shattered from simple drops that are a tiny fraction of this height,” remarked aviation blogger John Ostrower. “That this thing can endure a fall from jetliner altitude and still power on is just extraordinary.”
Apple has yet to comment publicly on the incident. But the company has used dropped phone demonstrations during its product announcement events in the past to showcase improved screen and body resilience.
It’s likely Apple engineers will be very interested in examining this device that endured the company’s most extreme durability test ever involuntarily performed outside of a controlled lab environment.
Ongoing Alaska Airlines Investigation
While the miraculous iPhone recovery provides an uplifting conclusion to what could have been a deadly air disaster, many serious questions remain unanswered regarding the cause of the initial aircraft failure.
The Boeing 737 involved had only entered service in December 2023. It was the latest model MAX 9 jet being operated by Alaska Airlines. Investigators will be carefully examining what led to the detachment of an exterior fuselage panel at high altitude just weeks into routine passenger flights.
According to an initial National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) update, the panel was attached with unusual titanium fasteners never used on prior 737 models. This has raised early speculation of a possible engineering defect. But investigators cautioned no conclusions should be drawn before Metallurgical analysis is completed.
Boeing engineers have also joined the active investigation, offering to assist federal authorities with determining root cause. The aircraft maker could face serious liability if a fault is found in its plane or component design versus wear and tear or improper maintenance procedures.
The NTSB confirmed they have recovered video recordings from two cameras located outside the damaged section of Plane 1282. This footage will provide crucial visual evidence from the moment the door panel failed, though it’s unlikely to have captured clear images of the fallen iPhone itself.
Lingering Questions Around Apple’s Role
Another looming question circling this unusual tech story is whether Apple might share any liability in the final outcome.
It’s improbable that a passenger phone could have caused the structural defect that led to rapid decompression. But lawyers note that if the device had shattered on impact with the ground below, potentially hazardous lithium ion battery components could have scattered over a wide area.
Air safety protocols strictly limit shipping these flammable batteries in cargo holds for this reason. So did Apple demonstrate adequate warning or restraint regarding carry-on devices that could become high-velocity projectiles in the cabin during emergencies?
Litigation precedents here are unclear given these precise circumstances have never occurred before. But it’s conceivable either aviation or consumer safety regulators could eventually examine whether phones and other devices with lithium batteries should face carriage restrictions similar to limits on spare batteries in checked luggage.
For now federal investigators remain focused primarily on determining the root mechanical cause of the plane’s accident. But in a rare incident where Apple itself helped enable an extremely hazardous situation to emerge – yet averted grave outcome by sheer product performance – there may also be important secondary lessons regarding device safety learned in the aftermath.
Outlook: Passenger Reunited Soon with Beloved iPhone
Barring an unlikely court battle over rights to the device, the Alaska Airlines passenger who lost their iPhone over Jefferson County likely never expected to see the device again. Now thanks to a truly one in billion set of chances, they’ll soon enjoy a heartwarming reunion with their treasured companion.
Given the phone Lock Screen remained active after powering up, the device also almost certainly preserved all onboard photos, messages, and other personal data through the terrifying ordeal as well.
With strict privacy controls, authorities have held off any attempt to access the iPhone’s contents and have focused efforts solely on locating the registered owner. Alaska Airlines stated they will be coordinating with NTSB officials to return the device once the ongoing investigation allows.
After such a harrowing brush with disaster, having this small piece of normalcy restored back into their hands will likely give the owner a memory to cherish for a lifetime. One they’ll surely recount any time the milestone resilience shown by both human courage and Apple’s innovative engineering is retold again.
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