If you've never heard that noise before, you're bound to hear it someday: that amazing, dull crunch as your Mac slips out of your hands or off a desk and makes a date with the ground at 9.8 meters per second squared, gravity having played the role of a yenta-like matchmaker bringing together your computer and an admirably dense surface. The crunch registers in your brain, and you have a sudden mental image of the universe collapsing.
Here's how to make the best of a terrible situation, get as much of your data back as possible, and avoid a similar disaster if your Mac decides to smooch the ground again somewhere down the line.
Pick it up, clean it off
After your Mac falls, calm down, pick it up, look over the damage, and clean away whatever dirt and detritus you can. From there, make sure that your Mac is turned off, and then weigh your options.
If you feel comfortable opening the machine, find a wrist strap and tools, touch a metal object to discharge any static that your body may be carrying, and carefully open the Mac to check for case fragments, damaged parts, or debris that may have ended up in the computer. Don't turn it on; just focus on the parts that survived the fall and anything that might appear damaged, and clean out the interior as best you can.
If you don't feel comfortable with opening a Mac on your own, remember that online guides like the ones that iFixit offers can be your best friend and will help you open the case. You can always consult the Apple Authorized Service Provider Locator to find the nearest Apple Store, service provider, or consultant to help.
The first boot is your best chance
Whether you're working with a potentially damaged hard drive inside the computer or you removed the drive and placed it in an external casing, the first boot is the most critical. At that moment you're confronting the drive in the best possible condition it'll be in after its fall.
Use the drive gently, don't try to copy too much data all at once, and treat the just-dropped drive with kid gloves no matter what.
The deep-freeze last resort
If you're dealing with a physically damaged conventional hard drive, putting the device in a sealed bag and inserting it in a freezer for at least an hour may temporarily contract the drive's overheated, overexpanded metal parts back into place. If that happens, the drive can be mounted and will function normally enough to allow you to pull data from it. It sounds crazy but it works.
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