Man drifts more than 300km away for two days in untethered hydrogen balloon

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Man in China drifts for 320km after hydrogen balloon is untethers  (Representational image/Getty Images)
Man in China drifts for 320km after hydrogen balloon is untethers (Representational image/Getty Images)

A man in China drifted 320km away for two days by accident after he lost control of his hydrogen balloon while harvesting pine nuts.

A team of more than 500 people, including a local company, firefighters, police, and professional rescuers was mobilised to carry out the rescue operation.

The man, surnamed Hu, and his partner were collecting pine nuts in the field on Sunday in a forest park in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China when they lost control of the balloon and it set sail.

While his partner jumped off to safety, Mr Hu drifted away in the hydrogen balloon, reported Chinese state-run broadcaster CCTV.

Rescuers were only able to contact the man by cellphone the morning after he flew away and instructed him to slowly deflate the balloon to begin descent.

But the man continued to float for another day before reaching ground about 320km away from where he was, to the northeast in the Fangzheng region which is near the border with Russia, on Tuesday morning.

An official, surnamed Fu, at the publicity department of the Hailin Forestry Administration Co confirmed the incident and said Mr Hu was in his 40s.

“I almost gave up,” Mr Hu told the broadcaster after his two-day-long extraordinary aerial journey. “Thanks to the rescuers, otherwise, I wouldn’t be alive.”

In a video purportedly shot from the balloon, Mr Hu can be heard saying “it is quite high up, and I can’t see anything”, reported local online portal Jiupai News.

He said he battled cold, hunger and fear of danger to his life before escaping largely unharmed, suffering some minor injuries around his waist and pain in his lower back, possibly from standing the entire time he was in the air.

The practice of Chinese farmers using hydrogen or helium balloons to harvest pine nuts has become common as demand has seen the ingredient being used in dishes served in the country’s northeast, an area formerly called Manchuria.

There have been occasional reports in recent years of pickers being swept away across small distances.

In one instance in 2019, two men picking pine cones in Changbai mountains drifted 10km away in their balloon before landing and being arrested for violating aviation rules.