Apple to probe electric shock death of Chinese woman who used iPhone 5 while it was charging

“Apple Inc is investigating an accident in which a Chinese woman was killed by an electric shock when answering a call on her iPhone 5 while it was charging, the U.S. technology company said on Monday,” Lee Chyen Yee reports for Reuters.

“Last Thursday, Ma Ailun, a 23-year-old woman from China’s western Xinjiang region and a flight attendant with China Southern Airlines, was electrocuted when she took a call on the charging mobile telephone, the official Xinhua news agency quoted police as saying on Sunday,” Yee reports. “‘We are deeply saddened to learn of this tragic incident and offer our condolences to the Ma family. We will fully investigate and cooperate with authorities in this matter,’ Apple said in an e-mail.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Tragic story.

If true, the likelihood that some third-party or other non-standard situation is high. There are tens of millions of iPhone 5 units in the world that have been answered while plugged using Apple’s supplied plugs and cords that, thankfully, did not result in electric shock deaths.

54 Comments

    1. Additional info.

      The South China Morning Post is reporting that Apple is investigating reports that a Chinese flight attendant was fatally electrocuted when getting out of the bath to answer a call on her iPhone 5 while it was plugged into the charger.

      1. Voltage at the phone should be in the area of 5 volts (usb voltage). It would take a faulty charger that is sending 115 volts to the phone which would fry the phone or at least kill it.

        So have to really wonder what is going on here.

            1. Well of course only five volts, or whatever voltage the phone requires, should go to the phone. And of course 115 V should not go to the phone. Line voltage (115 V in this case I guess) should not reach the phone. But if it does, the fact that it “fries” the phone does not keep it from electrocuting the user. The fact that the phone is energized with a line voltage has nothing to do with opening the circuit. Nothing. The phone could be energized with line voltage virtually forever and not open the circuit. Only a fault to ground or overcurrent will open the fuse or breaker. If the phone is energized and you are holding it or the charging cable is touching you then you could be energized. Electrocution can happen in milliseconds. Electric Station will vary from person to person depending upon each individual and physical condition. The phone frying has nothing to do with the user being electrocuted. Nothing at all.

      2. And reached for the charger to unplug it with wet hands? We’ll see, perhaps. Millions of hair dryers are fitted with ground fault interrupters because a few users did an unbelievably, incredibly, stunningly stupid thing: tried to dry their hair while in the bathtub. It was the last thing they did.

      3. Xinhuanet states that “a woman in northwest China was suspected of being killed by an electric shock when making a phone call with a recharging iPhone 5.”
        Then follows: But police have not confirmed whether a mobile phone was involved as they continue to investigate the case.
        Ma’s sister says that Ma fell to the floor when making a call with her iPhone 5, which was being recharged at the time.

        I believe many are jumping to conclusions here. So far, we have seen no proof that she actually received an electric shock or that her mobile was faulty.

        This could very well be a coincidence, even a young person can die suddenly at any time, and especially after something strenuous such as exercise or a bath. The cause is often a long-QT syndrome, an inherited heart defect.

        With something like 75 million iPhone 5 users out there, chance may well have it that one if these should die while answering her phone.

  1. Last weekend I had my iPhone 4S charging in my car with some crappy aftermarket cord and a USB car outlet adapter. I made a call with it and kept feeling this ‘pinching’ feeling by my ear. I pulled it away and looked at it because I thought maybe there was a bug or something. I put it back up to my ear and then it felt like an electrical shock. It was fine when I disconnected it.

    Glad i’m not crazy. Or shocked to death apparently.

          1. First of all, a completed circuit through a person is needed to electrocute someone unless they have a medical device that can be disrupted by nearby electrical or magnetic fields. Second, current will not flow unless it can return to its source or a suitable ground reference. Even if the phone charge adapter was faulty and supplied 120Vac to the cell phone in question, the person holding the phone would have to provide a path back to ground or stick a finger in the power outlet. A shock across the hand holding the cell phone would not electrocute a person. Third, my understanding of electrocution is that it involves current flowing across the heart and stopping it. So you would have to complete the hypothetical 120Vac phone circuit with your other hand or a foot to establish that kind of current path.

            Voltage is important to the extent that the voltage level must be sufficient to initiate a current of a dangerous level. I seem to recall that a few tens of milliamps is sufficient, but the human body has a fairly high resistance, too. Much higher voltages are required to complete a circuit by jumping across an air gap (spark/arc) or dielectric. Typically, DC voltages of 30V or less are considered “safe”…that is, no special precautions are needed because the human body has enough resistance to keep the current flow to a sufficiently low level that it is not hazardous even when a human being is part of the current flow path.

            In short, a 5V USB plug did not kill this unfortunate woman. Even a faulty AC power adapter would have required the presence of some other unusual conditions to create a lethal situation. Based upon the limited information provided, a lightning strike is also a possibility.

            It does seem odd to me that this story follows closely on the heels of the one where the Samsung Galaxy allegedly caught on fire in a woman’s pocket and burned her leg. I would not put it past Samsung to fabricate or embellish a story to divert attention from their own problems.

            1. First : Electricity takes the path of least resistance. The human body, especially when wet, provides such a path. When the human body is grounded the circuit is completed. She completed the circuit somehow or she wouldn’t be dead.

              Second : The person with a wet body and barefoot coming in contact with line voltage completes the circuit. Very well thank you. If you doubt it. Try it. The need to touch a receptacle is not necessary. Again, she completed the circuit or she wouldn’t be dead. “A shock across the hand”. You don’t receive a “shock across the hand” unless current is flowing into the hand and through the hand by means of a return path. So that statement means nothing.

              Third : Electrocution can involve current flowing through the heart. Or the brain. Or other organs. Or many millions of other points on the body. You merely need an entry and exit point for the current to do damage or death. Doesn’t have to be a hand and a foot. It can be your knee and your ass. If you doubt it. Try it.

              Voltage is important as is current in providing a lethal dose of electricity. Many different combinations are lethal. No two individuals are alike in the response to electricity. Sometimes something as simple as drinking a lot of liquid can enhance the chance of electrocution. The human body is not an air gap. And we’re not talking about 30 volts.

              Indeed, 5 V did not kill this woman. Apparently line voltage did kill this woman. A faulty charger could of course have allowed line voltage to reach this woman while she was wet. As could other possibilities. It’s not a difficult task to determine what really happened here.

            2. All interesting debate and much of value on both sides. Truth is, voltage itself does not kill – anyone remember touching the Van Der Graaf generator in the physics lab at school and discharging 10,000 volts?

              It is current that kills. Generally speaking it would be difficult to generate a lethal current from a low voltage so, generally speaking, high voltage appliances are far more dangerous than low voltage appliances.

              The issue here is that the charging cable is generally very narrow gauge and would not carry a high current. Over all therefore even sitting in the bath seems an unlikely explanation as there would be insufficient current transmitted along the thin charging wire.

              Therefore I would be in the ‘unfortunate coincidence’ or ‘other’ explanation camps.

    1. I think maybe it really was a bug (a live one), since your car’s electrical system is 12 volts, and the charger reduces that to something less (4.2v I believe). It’s really hard to be shocked by 12v. You would have to cut yourself and apply the voltage directly to your leaking blood.

        1. Exactly. It won’t do you any harm, but you’ll feel it. If you need proof, run a 9V battery along your lips. (I absentmindedly did that once when I was a kid.) You’ll feel “needles”. If 9V is enough to feel, 12V sure as heck is.

          ——RM

          1. Yeah, I think Wingsy may have been misusing the term “shocked” for “electrocuted.” It’s extremely possible to feel electrical discharge from 12V.

        2. Remember, it isn’t the voltage that kills you, it’s the current. It’s said that an electric shock at a current level of 20mA passing from arm to arm is enough to disrupt your heartbeat, and possibly stop it.

  2. If she only had an iWatch then she could have wirelessly answered her iPhone “Dick Tracy-style” and avoided death. It’s all Apple’s fault.

  3. This is a low risk situation for Apple to acknowledge and investigate. Without contributing factors there is no potential fatal shock from a low voltage DC charge output. On the other hand let’s see how the media and WS conflate the issue.

  4. I live in Bangkok and there are probably hundreds of knock off iPhone Lightning connectors available in the markets and electronics shops, all made in China. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if it was an unofficial after market accessory.

  5. Current flows from a source to something. Fuzes limit total amps. So, what else was she touching? Was there a shorted wire in the wall of the jet, coffee pot, or a microwave next to her on a shelf, … Was the iPhone’s USB wire melted from this current surge? Or did she touch something else with her other hand, leg, … and the current passed through her neck into a grounded shelf, wall, …

    Is Apple once again the easy target with known billions that is being played as the cause of a sad tragic death one week prior to the quarterly report?

    1. Fuze? The fuse (OCD) opens when a predetermined current is surpassed. It takes very little current to be lethal. A fuse is not a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter). A fuse is designed for and has only one purpose, to protect the conductor. You size a fuse for the wire. A fuse does not protect personnel. A GFCI does not open on any pre-set current level. It monitors milliamp leakage. Opens on a preset milliamp level fault. It has only one mission, personnel protection. A GFCI should be exercised monthly. At a minimum. There are GFCI testers but they are not very accurate. A very good VOM is preferred. Certainly nothing under $500. And GFCI’s fail. Sometimes right out of the box. And if wired improperly, something done quite often unfortunately, they are useless. Also, you do not need a grounding conductor (ground). An ungrounded (hot) and grounded (neutral) conductor is all that is needed for a GFCI. That’s why you are allowed to use a GFCI breaker on an old two wire (ungrounded)120 V circuit in your home to bring it up to code. Do not count on a GFCI to save your life. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t? A cell phone charger plugged into household voltage can obviously be lethal at any moment. But most people don’t pay any attention to that fact. Here, China or anywhere in the world. 120 V AC kills! It’s responsible for more electricians’ deaths every year in the United States than any other voltage. It’s also the voltage encountered the most by electricians. I don’t know that we will ever get the real facts on this person’s death. But it is unfortunate whatever the circumstances. I see a lot of excuses introduced here. All without knowing any real facts. Odd. I wonder how many of these excuses would be around if it were a Samsung phone/charger that was involved? Fanboys. Shame on all of you. Reprehensible.

      1. I don’t think it’s “reprehensible” to ask the simple question of how her phone could possibly have been functioning if a lethal level of current was passing through it. That much current near her hand (i.e. the phone or the connector) should have fried her phone.

        Of course, do we know that the phone was still working after the incident?

        ——RM

        1. “Fried her phone”. You seem to think that saying fried her phone stops the current from flowing into the phone. It does not. Unless the fuse or circuit breaker opens or the wire literally burns through.current will still flow. The phone or whatever device you are holding does not have to be functioning. As long as current is available from the source it will flow to the device. Happens every day all over the world. People are electrocuted every day in in similar situations. They might be holding an electric kitchen mixer, touching a microwave oven, changing a lightbulb or any of a million other possibilities. We don’t know if her phone was functioning or not. And it doesn’t matter.

    2. In order for a charge to step-down 110v or 220v to a 5v device, an induction coil is used. That is what those black bricks are for so many devices. Induction coils have absolutely no physical connection to the outlet they are connected to and all of the energy is transferred through a magnetic field. This is why it is impossible to be electrocuted by a charger.

      I call shenanigans.

      1. Fault. Electrical fault. When an electrical fault occurs, anything can happen inside of an enclosure. That’s why it’s called a fault. If a fault occurs, line voltage can and quite often does end up in places it’s not supposed to be. AFI’s are required for a reason by the NEC. Nothing works perfectly. No matter how well it is designed. No matter who designed and manufactured it.

  6. If a third party charging adapter was a factor, then Apple should start slashing the prices of theirs immediately. Look at their prices! – $19 just for the USB cable, another $19 for the USB to AC adapter, and $39 for a lightning to 30 pin dock adapter – http://store.apple.com/us/iphone/iphone-accessories/power

    Their wouldn’t be a huge market for cheap third party iPhone adapters if Apple’s weren’t so expensive. Because iPhone adapter sales are inherently proportional to iPhone profits, it would be trivial for Apple to subsidize the cost. C’mon Apple, lets do this!

    1. Ya, I thought of that, too. It would not surprise me if Samsung arranged for this little episode to deflect its own issues, but the episode went further than intended…

  7. From the safety section (the part nonbody reads) of the iPhone user guide, provided by Apple:

    “Charging while moisture is present can cause electric shock.”

    Sort of like landing or taking off with a seat belt unfastened. Or smoking in flight. Might not kill you. Or it might kill you.

  8. Clearly there is more here than meets the eye. WOuld even s cheap chinese knockoff charger do this? Anyway, if that much current can occur, her phone was either dead, smoking, melted before she even touched it. If the bathtub story is true, then this is just evolution in action.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.