back to article Chinese police probe iPhone user's death by electrocution

A Chinese family wants answers from Apple after a 23-year-old woman died after being electrocuted when answering a call on her iPhone. Ma Ailun, a former flight attendant with China Southern Airlines, tried to take the call on her smartphone while it was charging, according to a micro-blogging post from her sister on Saturday …


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  1. Darkimmortal

    >While charging

    Tenner says she was using a cheap knock-off charger.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It was probably Mossad......

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Tenner says she was using a cheap knock-off charger."

      But all the chargers are cheap made in china knock offs, it's only when Apple put their logo on them does it go up in price.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I really shouldn't do this but ...

        @ac 05:19 - There's a difference between 'Made in China' and 'Cheap Chinese knock-off' ...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I really shouldn't do this but ...

          You live in a reality distortion bubble my friend... The manufacturing process for genuine and knock offs happen on the same production line.

          One for the vendor, one for me, one for the vendor, one for me, one for the vendor one for me......

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I really shouldn't do this but ...

            no, you're wrong - the internals of counterfeit iphone (or other) chargers are distinctly different and can be dangerous.

            to see the difference between a bunch of chargers, try this site:


            1. Tom 35

              For acutal counterfeits yes

              They are starting off trying to deceive.

              You can get good non-Apple (or other) chargers. Like the Monoprice one. I have bought several things from them including doc cables for my iPod that were just as well made as the Apple part but FAR cheaper, not much more then the dollar store cable that fell apart taking it out of the package.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I really shouldn't do this but ...

            This is a common misconception, but from experience, its not true.

            I have taken some knock off chargers apart, and can tell you that a lot of them lack basic safety features such as proper seperation between HV and LV sections, Input surge protection and in some cases even basic regulation. One of the ones i took apart even had a thin layer of hot glue as the only protection between the live terminal pin and the PCB.

            Never torn down a proper Apple adapter, but having seen some teardowns in other places, these are much better quality.

            1. Nigel 11

              The other missing precaution

              The other basic safety precaution that must have been lacking, was a mains supply wired though an RCCB!

              Suggestion to the UK gomernment: that they scrap all the absurd PAT testing regulations for anything other than appliances that are ported on a frequent basis (vacuum cleaners etc). IF (and only if) all mains outlets in the area are wired through RCCBs. Or even make them compulsory, in exchange for scrapping the vastly more wasteful business of PAT testing every PC, printer, wall-wart PSU, charger, mains cable ....

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: The other missing precaution

                I think you mean and RCD or an RCBO.

                Some years ago I was working on the design for a moderate voltage test system which peaked at about 5kV. As a result I had some discussions with an H&SE expert on the degree of user protection required.

                It turns out there is NO lower safe limit for electric shock. Even 2.5mA can cause fibrillation in some individuals if it takes the wrong path through the body. If it was not for the power of the farming lobby, it's entirely possible that electric fences would be illegal.

                The trip current for RCDs is really based on practicality - modern electronic equipment needs surge and spike suppression, and for this to happen there has to be capacitance to ground. The leakage of a number of appliances on a typical ring main may get quite close to the trip limit.

                There's an argument for not testing anything which has no conductors exposed beyond the plug, such as all-plastic vacuum cleaners, but the idea should never be allowed to develop that having RCDs or RCBOs makes everything safe. It merely makes the system less dangerous.

                Our test system ended up with a lot of PTFE and polycarbonate, and several interlocks. The connection to the external electronics was via a fibre optic.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I really shouldn't do this but ...

              The problem with CE marking (or even UL) is that it can so easily be faked. The result is that the only way to be sure that the marking is genuine is to buy an adaptor from a company with a substantial business in your country, that is prepared to stick their name on it. They may cost more, but there is a reason.

              If the thing really is compliant with the relevant standards, the chance of a bridge between the live and the output to the phone is remote. You would really need either a very loose bit of wire inside, or actual physical crushing of the case. If the converter is properly designed for manufacturing, it would be almost impossible, except by deliberate malice and bringing in a few pits and pieces, to make it dangerous.

              It isn't a matter of quality, but of fundamental design. The pick and place machine, human or automated, can't tell whether it's putting together a Porsche or a Lada.

          3. Piro Silver badge

            Re: I really shouldn't do this but ...

            Not even close.

            I've seen teardowns of the genuine charger and knock-off chargers.

            The engineering is totally different.

          4. Martin 71 Silver badge

            Re: I really shouldn't do this but ...

   says you're at least partly incorrect. Yes, no doubt some knockoffs happen on the same production line. Likelihood is they're not the cheap knockoffs, they're sold at or just below regular price, but the profit goes to person X, not apple.

        2. VinceH

          Re: I really shouldn't do this but ...

          "There's a difference between 'Made in China' and 'Cheap Chinese knock-off'"

          There's also a difference between a serious comment, and an obvious (but highly amusing for the responses) troll.

      2. Paw Bokenfohr

        Re: "Tenner says she was using a cheap knock-off charger."

        I've purchased "cheap Chinese knock-offs" as well as "genuine" chargers, not specifically for Apple kit, but for other kit in the past.

        While they may (or may not - I have no first-hand knowledge) be made in the same factories etc, the "knock-offs" were of substantially inferior quality - I've had them fall apart (bad gluing), connectors break, and the plastic shatter.

        I don't bother to buy them any more; if the internal quality is as poor as the external, then they're not safe. I'm sure that 99.9999% of them are, but for a couple of pounds difference every 10 years or however often I need to actually buy a charger nowadays, no point...

        1. William Donelson

          Re: "Tenner says she was using a cheap knock-off charger."

          I have had a number of cheap chargers and cables. Several of them blew up when plugged in, or within a few days. I always plug them in first, BEFORE I hook up my Nexus or iPhone etc to them.

          At least Amazon give your money back cheerfully

        2. Otto is a bear.

          Watchdog & Fake Britain

          Fake chargers and such have appeared many times on TV consumer programs in the UK. Notably one showed the store room of a phone shop stuffed full of counterfeit accessories electrical and otherwise.

          I'll bet that consumer programmes informing the Chinese public of poor or dangerous goods just don't exist.

      3. Number6

        Re: "Tenner says she was using a cheap knock-off charger."

        Do a Google search for "fake usb charger" and see what the difference really is. Some of the fakes are positively dangerous as well as not even being able to do what they claim on the label. A brand logo will add something to the price over an unbranded equivalent, but no one with a reputation to protect would want to use a charger that doesn't meet the specs, especially the safety ones.

  2. jake Silver badge

    Correlation does not imply causation.

    I've been to Changji. I was zapped by bad wiring turning on a bedside light there.

    Please note that I'm not a big fan of Apple products, just stating the obvious.

    1. Darryl

      Re: Correlation does not imply causation.

      Hell, I was zapped turning on a bedside lamp in Toronto a couple weeks ago

      1. andreas koch
        Paris Hilton

        @ Darryl - Re: Correlation does not imply causation.

        BlackBerry charger shorted out against the lamp body?


  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    +1 for dodgy electrical wiring.

    I tried to reposition an anglepoise lamp over the bed in my hotel room while staying in Guangzhou - it blew out all the electrical supplies for the entire floor.

    And while living in Nanning, I would see home made fuse boards nailed to the outside walls of homes - with NO protection from the weather

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: +1 for dodgy electrical wiring.

      Yeah. but did you mistake the fuse boards for an iPhone?

      1. Number6

        Re: +1 for dodgy electrical wiring.

        Could be interesting, sticking your ear on a live fuse board.

        Real fuses or BA[*] fuses?

        [*] or Chinese equivalent

  4. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Skimpy article

    I was initially wondering if she dropped the charger connected phone in the bath. Being an electronics engineer, I can think of a few ways that somebody can be electrocuted with kit like this, but the manufacturers also know the same and generally build products that avoid problems like electrocuting the users. I say "generally" as I have seen CCKO's where they copied a design and cut even more corners to make it cheaper.

    Why does the author mention that the woman is a Former hostess for an airline? It's not a factor in the story.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Skimpy article

      This is El Reg, a free-factor zone! Enter at your own risk!

    2. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re Why does the author mention that the woman is a Former hostess for an airline?

      Yes, why? Are there any deceased people who are currently air-hostesses? (Apart from on BA, that is)

    3. Squander Two

      "Why does the author mention that the woman is a Former hostess for an airline?"

      > It's not a factor in the story.

      Says who? Obviously it's a factor, it's just not one you approve of for some reason. It's human nature to be interested in what other people do with their lives, and news reports include such details in order to make their objects a little bit less anonymous and generic. Personally, I don't want to read news like

      On July the 10th, a human was electrocuted. They were allegedly holding an object at the time; said object may or may not have been a significant factor in the electrocution. The human was alive; they are now dead. Their name and gender are irrelevant.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Why does the author mention that the woman is a Former hostess for an airline?"

        It means they can claim more damages, she may have been an air hostess while on a lull from international superstar....

        like all good compensation claims, you need lay groundwork before setting out the facts as they were never really......

    4. mickey mouse the fith

      Re: Skimpy article

      "I was initially wondering if she dropped the charger connected phone in the bath"

      Other news sources mention that she had just got out of the bath to answer the call, so my guess is maybe there was a problem with the earthing in the house wiring or charger and her wet body made a really good conduit for the leccy to escape to ground. Or maybe she dripped water into something live.

      1. Intractable Potsherd

        Re: Skimpy article

        My wife and her family, from an ex-Iron Curtain country, believe that it is dangerous to touch a washing machine whilst it is on, because there were a lot* of incidents at some point in the past of people being electrocuted.

        Pointing out that:

        - a lot of people have their washing-machines in the bathroom in that country**

        - the building wiring there. It is entirely possible that it was not entirely safe,

        - it is not entirely inconceivable that a number of washing machines had an electrical path to the casing,

        - therefore, it is the combination of wet people and dodgy electrics that led to the deaths,

        falls on deaf ears. Washing machines are dangerous!!. They then go in and use the hair dryer over a sink full of water ... or, worse yet, go to the cottage and use the two-ring electric cooker set lower than the sink next to it, and cannot understand why I think it is not a good idea ...

        * for whatever value of "a lot" strikes them as significant.

        ** Most live in apartments in which, for some unfathomable reason, the bathroom is big enough to hold a party in, and the kitchen isn't big enough to swing an amoeba. The number of 240V electrical sockets in a bathroom terrifies me!

  5. Fihart

    Made In China

    For an explanation, the Chinese authorities need look no further than the label saying where all this stuff (Apple and knock-offs) was made.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Odds on it wasn't even a legit iphone never mind a charger.I've no pro or anti-apple axe to grind, but if iphones were exploding we'd have heard about it somewhere.

    Combination of dodgy 'leccy supply, wiring, charger AND phone is the most likely. The actual iPhone, being quite an expensive thing, is the LEAST likely part of the puzzle to be genuine.

  7. Elmer Phud

    charger or Darwin

    Is there a possibility that the charger was plugged in to an extension lead that was dragged in to the shower/bathroom ?

    1. andreas koch

      @ Elmer Phud - Re: charger or Darwin

      Outs you as a Brit. Most countries (even some almost civilised ones like Belgium or Germany) just have power outlets and 'normal' light switches in the bathrooms. No need to use an extension cord when you want to dry your hair while you're in the tub.

      Kzerrrt. scratchscratchscratchy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ Elmer Phud - charger or Darwin

        Ugh, well, at least the Danes aren't guilty of this- they mostly go for fully tiled "wet room" style bathrooms, which have to feature a raised lip at the doorway, to keep the water in. The building regs are very sane.

  8. returnmyjedi

    Lightning port

    Etc etc etc

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hear

    Apple were considering adding Thunderbolt to the next iPhone but this has prompted them to reconsider

    Condolences to the woman's family though

  10. Don Jefe

    Integrated Economy

    We can expect to hear more stories like this. China is making economic changes at the highest levels to encourage internal consumption of Chinese manufctured brands and products instead of depending on exports to keep their economy growing.

    Not that this story isn't true, it just has to be taken with a grain of salt. The press there is still an integral part of government policy and, like any press, isn't opposed to bigging up a story. Put the two together and it is significant.

  11. dougal83

    With my personal experience of Failing Apple products I can believe it was a genuine charger. Bit worse than unrecoverable 'unhappy face' though. I love the blind faith and optimism of the first comment. Marketing FTW!

    Sad though that the girl is dead. if only she chose her smartphone more wisely.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      So you prefer to think that a genuine iPhone was at fault?

      There are quite a few kicking about now, it's surprising the first report of an iPhone killing someone is in china,where dodgy copies, iffy power supply/cabling and dodgy knock off chargers abound.

      Failing apple products, yes, ok.

      Someone being KILLED by an iPhone? I'm sure almost every combination of knock-off charger and stupid situation have been tried by US and european Teens. Bedrooms should be filled with fried apple-users worldwide.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Voted down because, no matter what you think of Apple, it is very unlikely indeed that it was a genuine charger. UL get really upset if that kind of thing happens, and I cannot imagine Apple designing a "cheaper" version of China.

  13. Stuart Dole

    Wall voltage in China is 220. One report said she was in the bath (steamy bathroom?). If there was a moisture-caused short from 220V mains to the 5V USB side of the isolation transformer the whole unit would be floating at 220, And she picks up the phone with wet hands while grounded to the wet floor, ZAP! Easy to do with any chargeable device. So folks, don't use your portable device in the tub while it's charging.

    1. Daniel B.


      One report said she was in the bath (steamy bathroom?).

      That would make it less of a "dangerous charger used!" and more of a Darwin Awards winner.

  14. Robin Bradshaw

    I call knockoff charger.

    A teardown of 2 fake Chinese apple chargers, the fake chargers are a sack of shit, the same goes for knockoff laptop power supplys, I have seen one fake laptop PSU explode on being plugged in.

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Simple solution

      WHAT? That is one of the most impractical and complex solutions to a nearly nonexistent problem I've ever heard. Do you realize how many exceptions that would create?

      Are you employed by someone who could profit from providing said service? Were you making a joke?

  16. N13L5

    I guess here's a good reason to have your phone made from Plastic!

    Plastic simply doesn't conduct electrical current

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      That has been one of my thoughts since I first saw the iPhone stainless-steel edging, but I thought it was just me being odd again! Thanks for the reassurance I'm not alone!

    2. Don Jefe


      Plastics as used in a phone don't conduct electricity, however voltage at mains power levels (even 110 VAC @ 5 amps) can pass the insignificant insulation provided by a phone case, especially if everything is already wet and steamy.

      Don't go making any decisions based solely on electrical insulation properties you don't fully understand. That will get you dead.

  17. sguyx

    Same time in Finland:

    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.

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