Faulty charger, not iPhone, could have killed Chinese stewardess

Faulty charger, not iPhone, could have killed Chinese stewardess

Summary: Chinese national television footage suggests woman killed while using a charging iPhone could have been the victim of faulty chargers distributed without quality checks or through illegal channels.

SHARE:
26

A Chinese television broadcast has demonstrated the possibility faulty chargers could have caused the death of a Chinese air stewardess electrocuted when she answered phonecalls on a charging iPhone spread. 

A report by national broadcaster CCTV suggested the charger in the stewardess electrocution case might not be a genuine Apple product, and the phone was not an iPhone 5 but an iPhone 4.

In the TV footage, CCTV showed the use of a charger which looked like a genuine Apple charger, combined with a Hong Kong-style plug and aconverter.

1.20130716231747

Both the plug and converter are available online including China's biggest online store, Taobao.com, with prices ranging from 3.8 yuan (US$0.62) to 55 yuan (US$9) for the charger, and 0.66 yuan (USD 0.1) to 9.9 yuan (US$1.6) for the converter. 

If either was faulty, they could have become the lethal combination that resulted in the premature death of the 23-year-old stewardess.

convert6
Screenshot of adapter sold on Taobao.com.

According to a report published Tuesday on local news site Xia Men Wang, in most cases, consumers would not be able to trace the manufacturer of goods available on the lower price range since these are likely made in unregistered workshops in the southern provinces of China where there is no quality control, considering their exceptionally low prices.

For products on the higher price range, such as a charger that sells for 55 yuan on Taobao.com, even if the charger was a genuine Apple-issued one, the purchase is still technically illegal since such items were probably smuggled into China in the first place. In most instances, these would likely have been dismantled, reassembled, and redistributed through channels like online stores.

According to a Beijing News's report in 2012, Shenzhen customs arrested over 100 people for smuggling 500 million yuan (USD 81.5 million) worth of Apple products and selling them on Taobao. 

Topics: Smartphones, Apple, iPhone, China

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

26 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Or Steve Jobs could have killed her himself.

    That's right, risen from the grave and zapped her good. I mean as long as we're just speculating with zero facts why not make an entertaining story out of it. Or maybe just wait for the facts and not throw up a bunch of reflections in the meantime. Or did the rdf make you do that?
    Johnny Vegas
    • You comment is not entertaining all, how old are you

      No need to respond a Child at best ... Please keep it Vegas.
      RickLively
  • I see Apple has deployed its spin doctors

    I'm guessing the bribes are flowing in China right about now.

    The one Apple product I ever bought, an iPod, had a white charger cable that turned black on the connector to the device where it obviously overheated or shorted out. It was the cable that came with the iPod from Apple. It was still working too. If it had been a black cable, I would probably never have noticed. At least until...
    Sir Name
    • I see fanboys continue to prove the stereotype

      ... that dumbdroids are the dumbest people in the planet and constantly fail to see what is in front of them.

      Here is a simple question: What is kind of cable is used by the iPhone 5?

      I'm guessing you don't have the intelligence to even Google it ... so please do so, then tell us if this is a "spin".
      wackoae
      • re: Dumbdroid?

        I'm not sure exactly what you mean by the term "dumbdroid". I'm guessing you're implying that I'm an Android fan who hates Apple. I'm not. I use a Nokia Lumia 920 as my smartphone and I'm very happy with it. Wireless charging is great.

        My original comment related two things. One was my opinion, based on reality, that large corporations employ people whose specialize in reacting quickly to negative press coverage. They obfuscate and introduce doubt about the original story that put their clients in bad light. And they're not above bribing the press or government officials, particularly in cultures where bribery is well established part of everyday life. Like China. The other thing I related was an absolutely true story. And by the way, when I took the scorched cable to Best Buy where I bought the iPod, they gave me a new, non-Apple cable as a replacement.
        Sir Name
        • So, to infer from your statement...

          there is absolutely no possibility whatsoever that the charger is to blame. Otherwise, why would you state that there are spin doctors and bribes? Your statement is asinine at best given the real possibility that the fault was in the charger, which was most likely not OEM and made very cheaply with sub-grade materials.

          As to your statement about cables, they fail. Happens to every manufacturer. I had an Apple one fail after about 5 years and it was replaced by an Apple cable. Zero issues with it since. It's highly likely that it was damaged during the constant wrapping and unwrapping when taken to and from university (spending more than 5 hours on campus, every computer ends up needing to be plugged in at some point, or at least used to). I also had a cheap knock-off cable for my iPad break at the joint to the cable from the 30 pin charger. I've also had cables fail on other computers and products. It's not the sole purview of Apple and to imply it is is ridiculous at best.
          LadyAurora
  • Obvious from the start

    that this was the cause of a fault in the charger or the wiring of the house, or a combination of both, and NOT caused by the phone. I am 100% certain there was no earth leakage circuit breaker on this house, and broken wires and unintentional contact is not only expected but highly common place.

    That is why in many places earth leaking protecting is a legal requirement, a very high number of people have died from this cause, thus the development and introduction of ELCB'.

    It's as simple of the wire to the earth terminal breaking, and the charger 'floats' at mains potential, the person makes the lowest resistance path to earth, and if that current happens to be a human, that can be fatal.
    Aussie_Troll
    • Exactly what I said

      The first thing I said when I heard about this was, "Was the charger an Apple charger?" The current coming out at the iPhone end of the charger shouldn't be enough to kill somebody who is holding it with one hand. This had to be mains power shunted to her phone by an electrical problem outside the phone. That implies improper house wiring or a badly designed and dangerously faulty charger. Like you said, the mains current sought ground and used her as a conduit to get there.
      BillDem
    • Electrocution

      All of which would have been prevented with a good case. Mine covers all metal parts of the iPhone 5. They aren't expensive, and will usually prevent glass breakage from being dropped.
      rphunter1242
      • Oh wow

        Another problem that can be solved with a case. Why doesn't Apple just give cases away with every phone and Mark them a requirement for proper (and apparent non-life threatening) use?
        jamz2277
  • a boy got elecric shock

    Same time in Finland:
    http://www.iltasanomat.fi/kotimaa/art-1288582526949.html

    13 years old boy got to a hospital over night because the iphone 5 charger flamed. The boy got electric shock and got burn on his arm.

    On the picture: Superintendent Jari Tuomi from TUKES is showing the apple iphone 5 charger.

    Finnish Safety and Chemical Agency (TUKES) is now investigating the charger.
    www.tukes.fi/en/
    sguyx
    • Are you sure it's real?

      So it looks official for EU, but since you can find that charger on eBay for less than $4, there's someone out there making nock-offs. No state official is going to be able to tell the difference.
      danilko1
  • It's a riot....

    How so many many apple haters will lock on to click bait for Apple blame to be shot down again.
    partman1969@...
  • Has to be the charger. Unless it's the cord.

    If the charger/converter combo is good, it will isolate the cord connecting to the phone from both sides of the AC line, and any short that MAY be in the phone will have no effect. The metal parts of the phone are probably considered the phone circuit's ground (earth) for shielding purposes, and so are deliberately wired to the negative side of the rectified DC coming from the charger. This means it depends on the charger to isolate the phone case from the hot side of the AC line. Since the FIRST place the power goes is to a step down transformer, the isolation can be assumed unless there is faulty construction.

    Another possibility, which I hope would have already been tested, is an exposed cord wire touching another source of AC power.

    As to whether these accessories were genuine Apple products or counterfeits, I take no sides. Hopefully Chinese authorities can find out. In any event, this is a good additional argument for "clothing" any brand smartphone in a shock absorber case.
    jallan32
  • Blame to go around

    Yes, it's not Apple's fault if someone uses a non-licensed, cheap charger and gets tragically electrocuted. However, I do fault Apple for charging ridiculously high prices for their proprietary chargers. I don't know what the markup is but knowing Apple it's probably very high.

    I have an iPhone charger at home, at work, in my car and in my travel bag. I can't blame a person for wanting to get a less expensive charger than what Apple charges (no pun). If Apple charged a small markup on a necessary accessory like this (as opposed to the frivolous ones) fewer people would go looking for dangerously cheap alternatives.
    MajorlyCool
    • Or

      Even better, switched to Micro USB.
      MajorlyCool
    • High prices for cables/chargers

      I totally agree. The markup is totally ridiculous.
      rphunter1242
    • that high price

      is probably the reason you are not killed by faulty design or building of 'knockoffs'.

      Buy cheap and die, pay a higher price and live !
      Aussie_Troll
  • This makes a lot more sense to me

    That the charge would have come from the charge/outlet and not from the device, in order to be strong enough to kill her.
    wheres_my_stuff
  • Could have happened on a micro-USB charger, too.

    Any device with metal in its case could have done this when plugged into a faulty charger. The transformer in the charger should completely isolate the output voltage from the 115V or 220V coming into it. This one failed. A charger that uses micro-USB could have failed in exactly the same way if it was built cheaply and the manufacturer didn't take the necessary care to make sure the input wiring could never contact the output wiring inside the charger.
    Aussie_Troll, the ELCB outlets you describe sound just like what the U.S. calls GFCI: Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. In the US they're required for all kitchen or bathroom outlets or at the circuit breaker for those outlets. Any difference in voltage between the neutral wire and the ground wire trips the breaker and kills the power to the circuit. It requires a 3-wire outlet to work, though, and most wall-wart chargers use only 2 wires, counting on the transformer inside to isolate the hot wire and protect us from shocks. I don't know whether a GFCI circuit would have saved her in this case.
    But it had to be the charger, whether a cheap knock-off or genuine Apple product.
    Sir Name, you're scorched Apple charging cable was probably still safe in terms of the voltage. If some of the wire strands were broken inside the cable, or if the plug was dirty and barely making contact with the charging jack, the normal current and voltage squeezing through that bottleneck of only a few surviving strands of fine wire could cause those strands to overheat and darken the insulation. There would be absolutely no danger of electrocution, though it might be approaching a fire hazard, which could be worse.
    kidtree