A man from China has been missing since September 20 2017, as he drifted off in a hot air balloon. The man was near the North Korean border and this has created more tension about his unknown fate.
The man has only been identified by his last name, Bi.
Bi is 59-years-old and was in the process of harvesting nuts in a hydrogen hot air balloon when he drifted off. The balloon was on a farm by the city of Linjiang, in the north-eastern portion of China. The nuts he was harvesting were the edible seeds from pine trees
Photographs capture the hot air balloon as he is working and when the balloon started to float upwards. Worries about his fate have increased because of the proximity to the North Korean border; some people fear that North Korea may think that Bi is a spy.
It has become recent practice to use the hot air balloons. Before implementing hot air balloons, the workers climbed the pine trees. Generally, the balloons are tethered to the ground in a way similar to that in a stationary hot air balloon ride. How the worker’s balloon became untethered and floated away is not known at this time.
A fellow unidentified worker on the scene said that the hot air balloon was “out of control.” The worker tried to assist Bi by attempting to grab the rope, but he was unsuccessful.
To make matters worse, the Chinese media reported that rescue efforts proved unsuccessful. Search parties were unable to find the missing worker due to the weather, as fog hindered the rescue efforts. In addition, the man did not have a cell phone with him at the time of the incident.
Chinese police explained that the balloon had a cord that allowed workers to let some of the hydrogen out of the balloon so that it could descend. However, it was unclear whether Bi was aware of the chord or how to use it.
Gao Qing, who works for the Linjiang police, said that no new updates had been reported and was not sure why Bi and his colleague lost control of the balloon.
According to one source, the worker may have been unfamiliar with the features of the balloon. An unidentified local worker said, “Not all pine nut pickers use hydrogen balloons. This only started a few years ago. Often pine nut pickers just climb trees with their bare hands. It is the most difficult job. They are risking their lives for money.”
According to the Chinese media, nut harvesters are paid close to 100 Yuan (RMB) for a day’s work, which equates to roughly $15.05 US.
The Chinese province of Jilin is a major producer of pine nuts. Another local, identified by the name of Liu, said that normally the balloons are anchored by a rope or another person.
Liu said that several similar accidents had occurred in 2017, but the workers ended up returning safely. Earlier in September 2017, strong winds snapped a rope attached to a hot air balloon. In this case, the worker had his cellphone with him. He was able to contact authorities about his location and received instructions on how to land the hot air balloon.