We recovered data from a drowned phone—six months later
A friend of ours dropped his phone in water. We've all seen or experienced this. But this friend had vital data to recover. Videos of a recently deceased centenarian who had been sharing stories from nearly a century ago—and there was no backup. The local repair shops wouldn't even try to recover the data.
We let the iPhone 5 sit and dry—and thought we might have one Hail Mary play. We ordered a new battery from iFixit. We thought if we can just get power, then maybe, just maybe, we could get some of the data off.
We waited six months. This is not a magic number—it was simply procrastination. We didn't want to face the loss that we honestly expected. But finally, after six months, we opened the phone and swapped in the new battery. We plugged the iPhone into a laptop and pressed the power button.
To our immense surprise, we got a handshake. But we couldn't do anything because the screen was dead. We couldn't enter the code that was necessary to permit the connection. We considered buying a new screen at that point, but the corrosion on the leads made it clear a new screen was unlikely to work. When the leads were cleaned, the leads on the board were destroyed. Still, we had to plug the screen back in to make it work.
What we needed was the laptop it had last connected to. So he brought it over, and we tried again. This time, we got the connection but no sync, and all the data showed yellow—"other." Our joy was decaying. We searched for third party backup and recovery utilities of which there are many but none would work on this old laptop running 10.6.8. Yeah, SEVEN generations back. Worse, we thought this old laptop wouldn't take an upgrade. All we needed was OS X 10.7.
But we tried anyway, just in case. And lucky for us, it upgraded to 10.7. That was enough for one night.
Two nights later we tried again. No luck until we upgraded to the latest version of iTunes it could find. After the install, iTunes restarted and the first ray of hope returned. The data bar could tell the difference between the kinds of data on the phone!
The sync began. We held our breath and waited. We fought off cats trying to interfere. Miracle of miracles it finished—first a backup, then a sync.
But iPhoto could see nothing. The third party recovery tools were not working. Fortunately, we had a backup.
We downloaded iBackup Viewer to see what we cold see in the backup—450+ photos and videos, plus lost contacts and more!! We extracted them from the backup and celebrated.
A wet phone means short circuits. It means a dead battery and probably a dead screen but the flash memory and CPU may survive the ordeal. Let it dry, get the battery out of there. A fresh battery and luck may be enough to get your data back!