UK drive recovery company Retrodata is warning customers of a rash of failures involving a particular Seagate drive model, a SATA unit made in China and used in Apple laptops. This specific mechanism, according to Retrodata's intake notes, seems to be prone to a spectacular self-destruct where the drive heads auger into the platter, rendering the data mostly dead.
How to spot the potentially affected drive: check System Profiler under Serial ATA, and if you have a Seagate drive with a 7.01 firmware revision... well, double-check those backups.
As yet, we have not seen confirmation of this problem from either Seagate or domestic drive recovery vendors, but better safe than sorry, no?
Thanks Jeff, Laurie, and everyone who sent this in.