Japanese Coast Guard rescues Chinese balloonist near Senkakus

In Other News - January 5th, 2014

The Japanese Coast Guard pulled a Chinese man from waters in the East China Sea after he crashed his hot air balloon in which he had attempted to land on islands at the center of a fierce dispute between Japan and China.

Spurred by nationalistic fervor, the 35-year-old man took off Wednesday from Fujian province aiming to land on one of the disputed islands but found himself in deep trouble hours into the flight. The man issued a distress signal as he went down at sea after hitting turbulence south of the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

The Japan Coast Guard said they were alerted by nearby Taiwanese authorities and sent patrol boats. A Japanese rescue helicopter found the balloon 22 kilometers (14 miles) south of the islands. The man was unhurt and handed over to a Chinese patrol ship, the Coast Guard said.

“The Chinese vessel thanked the Coast Guard via radio for the rescue operation,” the Japanese Coast Guard said, a welcome gesture of goodwill between the two nations whose ships are often locked in cat-and-mouse chases in contested waters.

Authorities said the Chinese man was in Japanese territorial waters but decided against pursuing criminal charges against the man, since they could not determine the exact place he had crash landed.

Tensions in waters surrounding the islands remain high since Tokyo bought three of the islands, which Beijing criticized as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression. China’s recent establishment of an air defense identification zone that encompasses the disputed maritime areas has fueled a bitter row in the region, and Prime Minister Abe’s recent visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine has raised hackles in both China and Korea.

By Maesie Bertumen