Jack Handy once mused that if you drop your keys into molten lava, you should probably just let them go. Apparently, the same is true for cellphones dropped into toilets on trains. As first reported on the BBC, a 26-year old Frenchman got stuck up to the shoulder in a high speed TGV train toilet after dropping his cellphone into the bowl.
The BBC article claims the victim “fell afoul of the suction system,” but some think that claim is either incorrect or raises more questions than answers.
According to Charles Iliff, president of Iliff Aircraft Repair and Services, vacuum pump toilets (like the kind used on airplanes), don’t produce nearly enough suction to trap someone. And even if the suction did draw in the victim’s hand, the suction would stop shortly thereafter, allowing the victim to remove his arm.
In fact, most trains don’t use vacuum pump toilets at all. Rather, they use chemical recirculating toilets. These toilets flush the waste with a chemical solution, and can easily trap an arm. Instead of terminating in a small aperture like the vacuum pump toilets, the chemical recirculating toilets end in a metal flap.
“A flapper valve acts like a Chinese finger cuff,” said Jaret Gallagher of the 360 Corporation, which installs and repairs airline toilets, “so when the gentleman put his arm in the toilet it wouldn’t let him pull this arm out because the flap shut on his arm. In other words he could push his arm in further but not pull it out.”
Depending on the toilet in the train in question, either the BBC article slipped slightly, or there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
“In a vacuum pump system there’s no way in hell,” said Iliff, “sounds to me like he was hunting some insurance money instead of his cellphone. I don’t much buy this story.”
Regardless of what kind of toilet the victim got stuck in and why he ended up getting stuck, the deep thoughts of Jack Handy are as true today as when they were first spoken. Just let the phone go, because man, it’s gone.