Frederik Riedel
Frederik Riedel
I build apps.
Jun 4, 2021 4 min read

How we used MagSafe fishing to find and recover an iPhone 12 Pro from the canal in Berlin

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It‘s been a couple of days since a friend of mine dropped his iPhone 12 Pro into the canal in Kreuzberg, Berlin. News made it all around the world by now, being featured on all Apple News pages that exist: AppleInsider, 9to5Mac, The Loop, iPhone Ticker, iMore, Hi Tekno, Mac4Ever, Appgefahren, Macerkopf, MacTechNews, iDrop News, Engadget, 新浪网, 科技新報 TechNews, iXBT, … it doesn‘t stop. Apparently, this is the kind of news the world was waiting for.

Time to reflect on what really happened.

“I just dropped my phone in the Landwehr-Canal”

On May 29th, 2021 at 21:18, a friend of mine sent me this message. Apparently, his iPhone 12 Pro slipped out of his sweat pants‘ pocket and fell into the canal. He was still able to see the blue phone shining through the water which motivated him to jump into the disgusting canal water. However, by jumping in, a lot of mud was stirred up and the phone slid away further into the mud. After some minutes of wading through the 3ft deep sewer water, he happily discovered a blank screen surface with his bare foot and decided to dive down to recover his iPhone. Turns out, he just found a Nintendo Switch instead that someone else must have lost to the canal. The iPhone was lost and couldn‘t be found at this point.

Chat Screenshot

The MagSafe fishing rod

Shortly after drying up, he called me and I suggested to attach some strong magnets I had lying around to a string and try to catch the phone with those. We quickly built a prototype (in the process the magnets broke apart unfortunately) and tried to figure out how strong they would attach to our remaining phones (no MagSafe devices). The result was sobering: Not strong enought to lift them up. After that, our faith was in the new MagSafe-capabilities of the 12 Pro.

MagsSafe Fishing Rod

Fishing at the Canal

At the canal, we started to use our new magnetic fishing rod to pull all kinds of junk out of the canal (hiking equipment, bicycle parts, a car bumper, an old key, and loads of bottle caps). Magnetic Fishing Rod in Action

After 1.5 hours of pulling junk out of the canal, something happened that nobody of us would have imagined: A rectangular object attached to the magnets and we pulled it towards the surface of the water. By now it was clear: this was the missing iPhone. However, we pulled the phone too fast, so that it detached and tumbled back down into the mud, slowly rotating around its own axis, and turning the screen on (“Raise to Wake”?). This event was pure motivation: Now we knew: the phone was really here, the magnets would work (if pulled slowly enough), and the phone was still alive!

At 3 am we finaly caught it!

After some more time, the phone attached again to the magnets, rising out of the canal mud. This time, we maneuvered the phone very slowly to the canal bank. And it really worked. MagSafe was strong enough and we were able to recover it from there.

Recovering the iPhone 12 Pro from the Canal using String Magnets

The best thing is, the screen turned on immediately, delivering missed Tinder notifications, without any damage.

The whole legendary maneuver is documented in this short YouTube video:

Recovering a perfectly fine iPhone 12 Pro after 7 hours in the Canal

At this point, we really have to give props to the iPhone Hardware Engineering team: We were able to recover the device in perfect mint condition and without water damage. The new Ceramic Shield Glass really held up to the strong forces of the magnet and junk in the canal, and the IP68 water resistance is mind-blowing. And last but not least: MagSafe seems to be a perfect tool to recover lost iPhones from the water.

By the way: Bluetooth and Cellular don‘t work in water

You might think, why not locate the phone via Find My, or use the built-in Apple Watch feature to turn on the phone‘s LED? Well, Bluetooth, GPS, and Cellular Connections don‘t work in water unfortunately.

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