TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma farmer Kevin Whitney thought his iPhone was lost for good when it fell into a grain elevator last year. Eight months later, his phone was returned unscathed after a trip to Japan.
Whitney, the manager of the Apache Farmers Co-Op in Chickasha, Oklahoma, lost his phone in October after it slipped out of his shirt pocket as he was unloading grain from a truck into a silo holding roughly 290,000 bushels of grain.
"I knew it was lost forever and there was no retrieving the thing," said Whitney, 53.
Whitney went out and bought a replacement phone the next day. But the loss of the phone was tough: He had taken a picture of family photos from his daughter's wedding and vacation stored on there, much like some people carry in a billfold.
What Whitney didn't know was that his phone was just beginning its journey.
The phone traveled to another Oklahoma grain facility before going down the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers to a depot in Convent, Louisiana. From there, the grain was loaded onto ships bound for another grain depot on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
In late May, Whitney received a phone call from Eric Slater with the Zen-Noh Grain Corporation.
"Lo and behold, I get a call from a guy who works with this grain company in Convent, Louisiana, saying a guy at a feed mill in Japan found the phone," Whitney said.
Slater, manager for Zen-Noh's terminal in Convent, said he charged the phone and scrolled through to find Whitney's pictures and called him.
"I knew if that was my phone, I'd probably want it back," said Slater, who added it's not uncommon for cellphones to accidentally fall into grain shipments. "Frankly, I field about a phone a month."
Whitney was shocked the phone made it through such an ordeal in pristine condition.
"It's crazy because everyone's walking around with a cracked iPhone," he said.
After its global odyssey, the "old" phone came back in June, and is sitting in Whitney's desk drawer, safe at home.
Whitney said he's still shocked he got the phone back.
"It's amazing he didn't just throw it in a Dumpster or something, let alone send it back to somebody," Whitney said.