Metro Atlanta pilot’s iPhone survives fall from the clouds

Talk about a drop test!

A metro Atlanta pilot’s iPhone X recently survived a fall from the clouds.

David Loftus has snapped thousands of photos from the cockpit of his Diamond DA 40, but one Sunday in August, as he got ready to take pictures of some billowing clouds on his flight home from Colorado Springs, he got a little bit unlucky.

“I’m buzzing along at 175 miles per hour at 11,500 feet...I hit a little pocket of turbulence, my right hand moved a little bit too close to the passenger window, and just in a flash the phone was gone—just sucked right out of my hand, out of the plane,” Loftus tells WSB. “Luckily, I didn’t hear a big ‘clunk’ that it’d hit my plane.”

The next morning at home, Loftus grabbed his old iPhone 6S from a drawer and went to the Apple Store in hopes of getting a new SIM card. As a just-in-case, also wanted to erase his iPhone X, which he figured was probably destroyed but contained sensitive information. An employee pulled up the Find My iPhone app to remove the phone from his account, and Loftus got a surprise.

“Lo and behold, it shows a location for the iPhone X in Blytheville, Arkansas,” Loftus says, realizing that the time tag of 9:39 PM was more than three hours after he’d lost the phone. “This thing had to have survived an 11,500-foot fall and landed somewhere that it could send a cellular signal to tell where it was!”

Loftus, an engineer by trade, says his gnawing curiosity was piqued.

“I told him, ‘I’m going to get in my plane and I’m gonna go find it.’ And he looked at me like I was absolutely nuts,” Loftus says.

“Just to think that this thing could fall out of an aircraft and still transmit, I just had to see what it looked like having fallen more than two miles out of the sky.”

>>Hear more from Loftus below in 95.5 WSB Reporter Veronica Waters’ on-air report.

He grabbed a friend, and the pair flew to Arkansas, landing at a small airport which loaned them a car, and using Siri to navigate closer to the phone’s last known location.

“We got out of the car, had to jump an irrigation ditch, slog through about a half a mile of really wet rice fields, almost up to my chest, and then we jumped another irrigation ditch into a soybean field,” he says, recalling how thick mud kept sucking his shoes off of his feet. Loftus knew that the GPS was good to a range of about 10 meters, so they kicked through the soybean crops for more than an hour in the sun-baked field--regretting that they’d not thought to bring any drinks with them.

Loftus said he was nearing the point of exhaustion by that time; he later learned that he was dealing with a mild case of COVID-19 during his hunt. But then, something inorganic caught his eye.

“It was this shiny black screen, and I just screamed,” he laughs. “Couldn’t believe it! I reach down, pick up the phone...not a scratch on it.”

The iPhone in its black Otterbox Defender case was just a tad dusty. After snapping photos and heading back to the car, he plugged in the phone and within five minutes, it booted up perfectly.

Since landing back in Gwinnett County, Loftus has written the Otterbox company to tell them his tale.

“Their EVP of Marketing offered me a couple of free cases, and I said, ‘Well, maybe when I get my new phone I’ll take you up on that, but I’m not getting rid of this one, ‘cause it’s a real trophy,” he says.

Loftus says as a consumer, he’s happy to know that the companies he supports aren’t cutting corners and compromising on quality. The experience of finding his phone nestled under the soybeans, he says, was “exhilarating.”

“I just love a good adventure, and this seemed like too good of an adventure to pass up.”

Veronica Waters

Veronica Waters

News Anchor and Reporter

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