The man, surnamed He, was working with a colleague on Sunday in Hailin County, Heilongjiang Province, when they lost control of the airship. As his teammate jumped to safety, he missed his chance and drifted away.
He wasn’t found until 9 a.m. local time on Tuesday when – after tracing his mobile phone signal – a more than 500-person rescue team from local police and fire departments discovered his balloon stuck in a state-run tree. The Global Times reported on Wednesday.
“I almost gave up,” Hu told China’s state broadcaster CCTV. “Thank you to the rescuers, otherwise I wouldn’t be alive.”
He told interviewers that he was cold and hungry during the ordeal. However, he was largely unharmed, suffering what were described as just minor injuries to his waist.
The use of hydrogen or helium balloons for pine harvesting has become more common in China in recent years, and there are occasional reports of pine pickers being swept away – but not as far as Hu.
In 2019, two men living in pinecones in China’s Changbai Mountains reportedly lost control of their airship and drifted 10 kilometers (6 miles) – before landing safely and being arrested for violating flight regulations. In another case, in 2017, a nut collector was lost near the North Korean border after its balloon detached.
Even without the out-of-control balloons, harvesting pine nuts in China can be a dangerous business. Traditionally, spiked shoe collectors wear trees—which can grow up to 20 meters (about 65 feet)—and falls can be fatal.