Physicist reveals how an iPhone survived 16,000-foot plunge from Alaska Airlines flight


A physicist has explained the mystery of how an iPhone fell 16,000 feet from Alaska Airlines flight 1282 and still worked.

While many Apple users will be familiar with their devices shattering from a simple 10-foot drop or toppling down a flight of stairs, whether the phone breaks or not comes down to the phone’s velocity and the angle at which it falls. 

When a cellphone is dropped from around waist height, it hits the ground at a speed of about 10 mph and because there is no wind drag to slow its fall, it will be damaged, the opposite is true when the iPhone fell from the airplane.

An Apple iPhone survived a 16,000-foot drop from Alaska Airlines flight 1282

An Apple iPhone survived a 16,000-foot drop from Alaska Airlines flight 1282

Physicist Duncan Watts said air resistance from falling out of the Boeing 737 Max 9 plane (pictured) slowed the phone's acceleration and the bush it fell on cushioned its fall, protecting the phone from damage

Physicist Duncan Watts said air resistance from falling out of the Boeing 737 Max 9 plane (pictured) slowed the phone’s acceleration and the bush it fell on cushioned its fall, protecting the phone from damage 

Duncan Watts, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Oslo, said air resistance slowed the phone down to 50 mph and the bush it landed in acted as a cushion to protect it from damage.

‘If the phone is falling with its screen facing the ground, there’s quite a lot of drag, but if the phone is falling straight up and down, there’s quite a bit less,’ Watts told The Washington Post.

‘In reality, the phone would be tumbling quite a bit, and get quite a lot of wind essentially giving an upward force.’

Watts clarified that a phone falling from that height would travel at a speed of around 30 mph to 100 mph, but Watts said because the phone likely tumbled through the air, its speed was probably closer to about 50 mph.

The maximum speed could only be achieved if the phone’s screen was perpendicular to the ground.

‘The basic answer is air resistance,’ Watts told the Post. ‘I think the counterintuitive thing here is that an iPhone falling from the sky doesn’t end up moving that quickly because of air resistance.’

Washington resident Sean Bates found the iPhone in a bush near Portland, Oregon where the plane took off.

Washington resident Sean Bates found the iPhone in a bush near Portland, Oregon where the plane took off.

Washington resident Sean Bates found the fully intact and undamaged Apple iPhone under a bush while on a walk to look for items that may have fallen from the plane.

Watts said if the iPhone had landed on the pavement instead of in the bush, it would have caused severe damage to the phone. 

Instead, because the iPhone fell on damp ground, Watts said: ‘… I could see it having about an inch of cushion.’

He added: ‘That’s maybe what plopping down on a chair would feel like.’

This was the second iPhone that was found after it fell from the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft.

Bates told his followers on X that when he found the phone it was still intact, unlocked, and in Airplane Mode.

The screen showed a baggage claim email from Alaska Airlines with the flight number which has since been turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The NTSB asked civilians to look for any items that fell from the plane after a door plug suddenly tore off the Boeing 737 Max 9 only minutes after it took off from Portland, Oregon on Friday.

They requested the public’s assistance to give them an idea of where to look for the door plug, which was later found in a teacher’s backyard near Portland.

Several other items on the plane were sucked out including headrests, a seat back, and a tray table.

The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded all Boeing 737 Max 9s until it is ‘satisfied that they are safe,’ affecting about 171 planes worldwide.



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