Even as serious questions emerged about why a door plug flew off one of Alaska Airlines' new Boeing jets last week and forced an emergency landing, many cell phone users wondered how an iPhone survived a 16,000-foot fall.
Social media was abuzz with conjecture about how the phone may have survived and whether it will appear in an ad campaign. Two scientists told USA TODAY how physics was involved.
Senior scientist David Rakestraw works with children at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's science and math education program. He regularly discusses cell phones, phone drop testing, and advanced phone experiments with pupils.
Given the frequency of falls our phones endure from shorter distances, phone makers have been attempting to make them stronger. Phone covers and screen protectors also cushion falls, he noted. Finally, the phone's crash site may have mattered.
Sean Bates of Vancouver, Washington, claimed on X that he spotted the iPhone on Sunday after the National Transportation Safety Board requested citizens to seek for airplane debris during the incident.
Bates told local news he found the phone beneath a shrub along a road. He stated the phone was still in airplane mode with an Alaska Airlines baggage ticket.
In a statement on X on Monday, NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy thanked Bates for his aid after he gave the phone to them.
Rakestraw argued fallen objects had momentum — mass times velocity. It matters when and what stops the item. Like striking a hard wall vs landing on a cushion, he said. Unlike the brick wall, the cushion reduces impact over time.