Coast Guard searches for missing hot-air balloonist

Posted: Sunday, February 03, 2008

ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Coast Guard was continuing its search Saturday for a Japanese hot-air balloonist who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean south of the Aleutian Islands.

Michio Kanda, a world-record holder, vanished Thursday about 435 miles south of Adak Island.

The Coast Guard said Saturday that searchers were en route to the area, which is where the 58-year-old balloonist last made contact with his support team.

Kanda departed Tochigi, Japan, on his way to Portland, Ore. He is trying to break world distance and duration records, according to his assistant, Chika Edgar.

The balloonist's wife, Michiko Kanda, told the Anchorage Daily News in a phone interview from Saitama, Japan, that she was holding out hope that her husband was still airborne.

"I'm worried," she said through an interpreter. "I'm waiting and hoping that he's still flying and going to land in North America."

Michio Kanda is the father of three children and a supervisor at a government factory that makes school lunches, said Edgar, a member of the balloonist's support team.

Kanda's pan-Pacific voyage was to challenge the current long-distance world record of 4,767 miles, according to Edgar. She said Kanda also wanted to beat a duration record he set in 1997 with a 50-hour, 38-minute flight from Chestemere Lake, Alberta, to Jordan, Mont.

Kanda's red and black balloon, the Starlight, is 15 stories tall and nearly 150 feet wide. It is the largest hot-air balloon in existence and the second-largest ever built, according to the Japan Balloon Federation.



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