Yin Yanlei was literally blown away recently when a hydrogen balloon he bought and boarded to pick pine cones from the tops of trees was caught by a strong gust of wind.
The 29-year-old farmer from Wangqing county, Jilin province, and his older brother were sitting in the hanging basket under the balloon, while his mother and a helper were on the ground holding the ropes attached to the balloon.
But lacking experience, they didn't tie the ropes to trees fast enough. As a strong wind lifted the balloon, they were unable to hold it. Yin's mother was hauled off her feet before falling back to the ground, breaking her leg. Yin's brother jumped out of the basket in time, but Yin failed to do so.
"Not knowing where I was going, I was too anxious to enjoy the spectacular forest view below," he said.
His biggest fear was that the balloon would take him out of the country, as Wangqing is located on the border of China, Russia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
After drifting for a while, he finally got a signal on his cellphone. "The first call was from my wife, who cried as she spoke, asking me to wait to be rescued and not to jump," he recalled.
Thinking of his family and his unborn, second child, he said what were possibly his last words: "I love you. If I survive, my love will last forever; if I don't, please take care of yourself for me."
His wife called police for help. Ye Zhenyu, one of the police officers, told the Beijing Morning Post that they had never received an emergency call about such a case before.
The police sent out a team of more than 40 officers and seven vehicles, which tracked Yin through his cellphone signal.
Meanwhile, they called hydrogen balloon producers for possible solutions, and later told Yin to find tools and cut the balloon. With a piece of iron he broke off from the basket, Yin made three cuts in the balloon and waited for it to drop.
After more than two hours in the air, he finally saw his chance and jumped onto a nearby tree. Police officers rushed to his location, some 50 kilometers away from his home, and brought him down. Yin suffered only slight scratches.
When asked why he decided to use a hydrogen balloon for pine cone collection, he said he got the idea from other farmers.
Wang Mingli, an official with the forestry authority in neighboring Fusong county, said traditionally farmers climb trees and hit pine cones with sticks so that they fall to the ground. "But the trees are tall and those who climb them can be seriously injured if they fall. Every year there are such accidents," Wang said.
This way of harvesting pine cones can damage the trees, as the climbers wear shoes with nails in the soles, Yin said. Other methods include using long sticks to hit the pine cones from the ground, but often it is difficult to reach the tops of the trees, Yin said.
According to Wang, hydrogen balloons have gradually become a popular collection method with young forest farmers in northern China that is both effective and efficient, although hard to control.
When asked if he will try again, Yin said yes. "I have already bought a new balloon for my next harvest. I am willing to give it another try after careful research and study of its operation and safety measures."