A bizarre and senseless tragedy unfolded last week in China’s northern Henan province, when two people died trying to retrieve a cell phone that a woman had dropped — into a festering cesspool.
The cell phone was worth $300, a lot of money in a country where, despite widespread fears of China’s coming economic dominance, per capita Gross Domestic Product is just $9,800 per year, ranking China only 121st in the world. By comparison, the United States ranks 14th at $52,800.
Still, two lives lost — and in a truly grotesque way — is a high price to pay for a cell phone of any value, in any country.
According to local media in China, the cell phone tragedy took place in Xinxiang City, a metropolitan area of more than 5.7 million, on May 28. Reports indicate that a woman accidentally dropped her newly purchased, 2,000-yuan (about $320) cell phone into a knee deep cesspool filled with filth and excrement.
Wading into a cesspool isn’t something most people would do for any reason. But the woman’s husband decided to brave it. He stepped into the horrendously repulsive pit — and almost immediately passed out, unable to breathe due to the overwhelming stench.
The man’s own mother — mother-in-law to the woman who dropped the phone — panicked and leaped into the pit of excrement to save her son. But the suffocating odor overcame her as well. Both mother and son perished.
The woman who actually dropped the pricey cell phone followed them, stepping into the open filth herself. She also succumbed to the fumes, but survived when two neighbors managed to pull her out. They too were assaulted by the fumes, to the point where they had to be hospitalized.
“The smell was too strong. I lost consciousness before I could see anything,” said one of the heroic neighbors.
The husband’s father then rounded up more neighbors who wisely used a rope to secure themselves when, one by one, they braved the cesspool to pull out all of the victims.
The woman’s father-in-law lost both his wife and son in the pointless mishap, and suffered injuries himself. The woman who dropped the phone and one of the neighbors remained in an intensive care unit two days after the gruesome incident.
While the tragedy seems especially senseless, and perhaps the result of the desperation caused by living in an impoverished country, it is not the first time — or even the first time this year — that an attempt to retrieve a dropped cell phone has ended in death.
In February, two people drowned in the Chicago River trying to retrieve a dropped cell phone from a block of ice there.