How I Found A Working iPhone At The Bottom Of A River

How I Found A Working iPhone At The Bottom Of A River

There’s only one important fact to know about Phoenix, Arizona: it’s hot as hell.

I don’t mean that figuratively, either. I mean, if there really is a mystical place with fire, brimstone, and goblin monsters with big horns, then in all likelihood it was modeled after Phoenix. Days that only hit 100°F are cause for celebration, because 115°F is probably coming right around the corner like a stampede of raging, wild bulls hopped up on Adderall.

What makes things even worse about Phoenix is that we don’t have beaches or the ocean. We don’t even have a really good waterpark. But we do have a filthy river just outside the city. So when things get hot, people start doing silly things like grabbing a bunch of inner tubes, beer, a stereo, and snacks and float down the river for hours.

While everyone else on the river is getting drunk or stoned as they throw monster-sized marshmallows at each other, my friends and I take a different tack. We grab our goggles and dive down to the bottom of the river to find all the stuff everyone loses. We find some pretty funny items, like 80s-styled boom boxes, marijuana pipes, bras, Miley Cyrus beach towels, you name it. People suck at holding on to their crap when they’re drunk. It’s a scientific fact.

The area right after the rapids is the best place to look, because that’s where big groups tip over, and it’s also the deepest and most challenging area to scavenge. Most stuff we find we don’t keep, because who the hell wants a used Pez dispenser covered in algae? That all changed last week, though, when we scored our biggest find of all time.

My friend David has been using a beat up iPhone 3G for the last two years. It’s a piece of junk. The home button barely works and the volume buttons are completely inoperable. But David’s cheap. Refuses to upgrade to the iPhone 4S unless Moses, Mohammad or Shiva come out of the heavens and bestow one to him themselves (which is pretty much what’s about to happen).

We were skimming along the bottom of the river last week when something shiny caught our eyes. Ninety percent of the time it’s usually just a beer can. The other ten percent it’s sunglasses. I took a quick deep breath, swam down six feet to get a better look and decided it wasn’t worth swimming the other nine feet to get it. But David decided to go all the way down and grab it anyway.

Bursting through the surface of the water like a dolphin, David screamed, “Oh my goodness, yes! I need this!” while clutching a Ziplock bag with some candy bar-shaped metal object resting inside. In complete disbelief that we had found anything of actual value, I opened up the bag. There it was – an iPhone 4, in pristine condition. Whoever lost it was smart enough to double bag it to protect it from water damage, but not bright enough to not bring their new iPhone 4 on the river.

Maybe the original owner thought, “Hey, I’ll double-bag my iPhone 4, bringing it on the river and get all kinds of sweet pictures for Instagram!” I don’t know. We never found out who owned the iPhone. We took it back to my house, charged it up and tried to locate the owner, but there was a password lock on it, and no one called it because the service had been disconnected. All we had to work with was a really saucy wallpaper picture of a young, Latino couple cuddling up at someone’s Quinceañera – and in Phoenix, that could be anybody.

After rescuing the iPhone 4 from its watery grave and making some mild attempts at finding the owner, we felt like the iPhone was officially David’s. Finally, he could now enjoy a Retina display phone that can play games other than just Doodle Jump. It was a perfect ending for him, and even though David uses T-Mobile, we called up AT&T tech support and they unlocked the phone for us.

It was a happy ending for the iPhone 4 too, because now it doesn’t have to waste away at the bottom of a river full of algae, fish feces, and mysterious objects, instead of being cradled in the loving hands of someone who won’t be dumb enough to see if iPhones can swim.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is. Maybe it’s, “don’t take your iPhone down the river with you hoping you’re gonna get some cool Instagram pictures out of it.” Or maybe it’s, “learn how to use ‘Find My iPhone”? I don’t know. Either way, if you’re ever in need of a new iPhone, you can always go find one down by the river.

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  • raystrauss

    Great article. Love the narrative style. While some may think you were writing in hyperbole, as a fellow Phoenician, you nailed it. Thanks for providing the entertaining post and a great idea for enduring the Summer!

  • technochick

    Just be careful doing that in California or you may find yourself charged with theft

  • cshotton

    Yeah, “mild efforts” for sure. Anyone could have called AT&T and read them the EIN off the phone and found the owner immediately. Guess that wasn’t really the desired outcome, eh?

  • markbyrn

    I salute them for rescuing that iPhone 4

  • Aaron

    Anyone could have called AT&T and read them the EIN off the phone and found the owner immediately.

    1. How do you get the EIN from a locked phone, short of restoring it?
    2. AT&T will NOT release the owner’s information because of privacy concerns.
    3. It’s not in AT&T’s best interest to find the owner anyway. The original owner will buy another phone from them.

  • thegraphicmac

    As someone who also lives in Phoenix, I’m constantly amazed at the amount of people willing to swim in a toilet. Honestly, there are no porta-potties along the river, everyone is drinking beer, and you NEVER see anyone getting out of the water. See what I’m sayin’ here?

    At least the iPhone was double-bagged.

  • silentwill
    Anyone could have called AT&T and read them the EIN off the phone and found the owner immediately.

    1. How do you get the EIN from a locked phone, short of restoring it?
    2. AT&T will NOT release the owner’s information because of privacy concerns.
    3. It’s not in AT&T’s best interest to find the owner anyway. The original owner will buy another phone from them.

    He did say they only did mild attempts to find the owner. Just so they could say they did.

  • dannothekid

    Hey, I need another pair of sunglasses. I don’t live in Phoenix and haven’t found a pair in a while. Last pair was in a parking lot. I’m not too picky, just don’t want to look like a juice box. Can you send me a pair?

  • rsmith1003

    The phone was locked. No way to access the contact list. And you couldn’t even use voice dial to call a number within the phone, like mom, because service was already turned off. I don’t see how the author did anything wrong.

  • joshfofer

    “Find My iPhone” wouldn’t have helped the owner. I really doubt that phone had any kind of data signal at the bottom of the river. And even if it did, all it would tell them is “it’s in the river” and they’d have to go scuba diving to try and find it. Good luck with that!

  • thehighesttimes

    Maybe in America you’d do whatever you can to locate the owner, in my opinion as long as you do SOMETHING (literally one thing) you’ve at least tried. After that, claim it for yourself! Anyone with a brain would just keep it. Try losing a mobile phone in Liverpool or any average British town. You won’t see that fucker ever again even if it is unlocked.

  • mr_bee

    Cool story Buster. You should write more fiction (not that I think the story is fiction), instead of essays perhaps.

  • mr_bee

    Just be careful doing that in California or you may find yourself charged with theft

    He found it in a river, he didn’t steal it off an iPhone engineer when he went to the bathroom in a bar.

  • Buster

    Cool story Buster. You should write more fiction (not that I think the story is fiction), instead of essays perhaps.

    Thanks. I actually do write fiction semi-frequently, it just doesn’t appear on Cult of Mac

  • Buster

    Honesty. A dead characteristic. You couldn’t have gone through the contact list and called any number? Quote them the number of the phone and the owner is then found in one step. What pisses me off the most is the legion of cheerleaders patting you on the back for keeping the phone. What a moral vacuum you Americans live in. Pathetic. Karma. It catches up with you all.

    I think you missed the part where I said the iPhone was password protected. Couldn’t unlock it to look at the contacts, and no one called while I had it so I couldn’t answer a phone call and ask them whose phone they were calling. I’m not saying we made the absolute best attempt at finding the original owner, but I think we tried more than most people would have before we restored the iPhone back to factory settings.

  • Ichinisan

    Awesome story! That’s why I don’t have a PIN lock on my phone. I want to make sure that my phone finds its way back to me if it’s lost. I also want discourage a thief from doing a wipe / restore before I can use Find My iPhone to locate it. I really wish there was a way to make it require a PIN to turn-off, but still make it usable for everything else without a PIN. That would encourage a thief to keep using it and I would have time to locate it.

  • Jonny Webb

    How did you get AT&T to unlock the iPhone for you? I don’t have AT&T and I tried and they said I needed to have the account name and number and last four digits of the SSN#. I bought the phone off of someone else and they refuse to give me that info or help me call it in.

  • Czarembo

    There is a serial number on the phone, my guess is Apple knows who the rightful owner is. Incredibly lame effort to find the owner. Keeping this article posted is tantamount to condoning folks making spineless, ineffective efforts to find the rightful owner.

    You might as well be saying it is ok for people to keep things that don’t belong to them! Here is a place you can check to see if the phone has been reported missing. Here’s one registry http://itrackmobile.com/ My guess is Apple knows who the rightful owner is as well. This article marks a low point for a Cult of Mac story.

    Do any of you, the have the cajones to do the right thing? I won’t hold my breath.

  • NightFlight

    There is a serial number on the phone, my guess is Apple knows who the rightful owner is. Incredibly lame effort to find the owner. Keeping this article posted is tantamount to condoning folks making spineless, ineffective efforts to find the rightful owner.

    You might as well be saying it is ok for people to keep things that don’t belong to them! Here is a place you can check to see if the phone has been reported missing. Here’s one registry http://itrackmobile.com/ My guess is Apple knows who the rightful owner is as well. This article marks a low point for a Cult of Mac story.

    Do any of you, the have the cajones to do the right thing? I won’t hold my breath.
    ——————————————————————————————-

    Apple cannot release information from a serial. Like every other company, they would in fact be in breach of a few privacy laws. Call in a lost product anonymously (your own) with the serial and see how far you get. They _should_ redirect you to local law enforcement.

  • Nomadtales

    Tip: You can get the IMEI and serial for an iPhone by ejecting the SIM tray and looking underneath. It is written in teeny tiny writing, but it is there.

About the author

Buster HeinBuster Hein is Cult of Mac's Senior News Editor and lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Twitter: @bst3r.

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