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Student Uses GPS To Sniff Out Stolen iPhone

Eric is a veteran British tech journalist, currently editing ChannelBiz for NetMediaEurope. With expertise in security, the channel, and Britain’s startup culture, through his TechBritannia initiative

Student tracks thief, and parachutist finds dropped mobile using the free GPS app Find My iPhone

The Find My iPhone app was used by Burnley student James Bird (pictured) to track down the thief of his stolen iPhone.

Bird’s phone went missing as he worked on a computer at Manchester University. He turned to talk to students on the table behind him and, when he turned back, the iPhone 4 was gone.

He had enabled the Find My iPhone app on his smartphone before it was stolen so he asked his friend Nick Crisp to locate it using his phone. The global positioning service (GPS) showed that the phone was not far away and Bird decided to give chase while Crisp continued to track the thief on his phone.

Phone iFriends To The Rescue

With another friend, Alex Bennett, Bird headed out of the university following instructions given by Crisp over his friend’s phone. With few suspects around, the pursuers soon spotted the suspect and a foot chase followed for about half a mile.

The thief tried to escape by catching a bus but Bird managed to jump on the vehicle and confronted the felon – who denied that he had the phone and showed his pockets were empty. When the driver said the bus would not move until the situation was resolved, the thief confessed and returned the iPhone, jumped off the bus and began to walk away.

Another stroke of luck for Bird was that a police van was parked not far behind the bus. He explained to the officers what had happened and the police made their arrest.

“I doubt many people get their phone back that quickly when it’s stolen,” said Bird later. “I would have been pretty lost without my phone.”

Bird is an aerospace engineering student and, in a strange link, several thousand miles away in a US Air Force plane another iPhone relocater app user was preparing to make a parachute jump.

Combat controller Ron Walker was ready to jump from 1,000 feet when his mobile fell out of his pack and plummeted earthward. Once again, Find My iPhone came to the rescue when he and an iPhone-packing comrade landed. They tracked down the missing device to a wooded area nearby.

Reports do not record what condition the phone was in after its long vertical journey but at least it was sufficiently active to enable a recovery.

The Find My iPhone app is a free download in the iTunes App Store. A similar app is available  for Android GPS-enabled phones.