A man in China who lost control of an illegal hydrogen balloon he was using to pick pine nuts has survived after drifting for eight hours before being injured and stranded in the wild for another 40 hours, local media has reported.
On Tuesday (Sept 13), Hu Yongxu was rescued from a mountainside 300km from where he and another man had been collecting pine nuts in Heilongjiang province, northeastern China, after losing control of the balloon, the Liaoshen Evening News reported.
On Sunday morning while picking cones from pine trees in the forest the balloon began drifting out of control. Hydrogen gas is highly flammable and it is banned for use in balloons in many parts of the world including China, despite this its use is popular with pine cone pickers as it eliminates having to climb high trees.
The unnamed second man managed to catch hold of a tree and jump down safely as the balloon started drifting away, but Hu was stuck in the gondola. He was unable to call for help for the next 48 hours due to poor mobile phone signal in the area.
Hu managed to jump onto a tree after the balloon drifted for eight hours before it finally collided with a rock. He then fell onto another tree before landing on the ground, injuring his waist and unable to walk.
He spent two nights and a day in the wilderness with only a small amount of food and water. Rescuers only found him when he eventually moved to a location where he was able to get a phone signal.
Hu is currently being treated in hospital for his injuries.
He said after being rescued that he tried to deflate the balloon by following the manufacturer’s instructions to engineer a soft landing but failed.
“It just flew into the sky like a plastic bag,” he said.
Local authorities have banned the use of gas balloons for harvesting pine nuts as similar accidents have repeatedly occurred in the past.
While most pickers involved in accidents have lucky escapes, one picker named Bi Kesheng from Jian, Jilin province, northeastern China, was never seen again after his balloon rose unexpectedly into the sky before vanishing in foggy conditions in 2017.
Dubbed one of the world’s most dangerous jobs, pine nut harvesters traditionally use spikes attached to their shoes to climb to the top of pine trees, which can grow up to 30 metres tall. Balloons were introduced in recent years as a labour-saving method and to reduce the risk of falling from the trees.