Search for missing balloonist could go on for several weeks

Posted: Tuesday, February 05, 2008

ANCHORAGE - A Japanese balloonist who vanished above the North Pacific Ocean last week has a pod-like life raft and enough food to keep him alive for at least three weeks, meaning the search could continue for at least that long, authorities said.

Searchers found no sign of Japanese adventurer Michio Kanda on Sunday, the fourth day since he went missing, but a Coast Guard spokeswoman said the search won't end soon.

"He could last a while out there," said Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Johna Rossetti "He has a personal life raft, a capsule that protects him from the elements, and he has 20 days of food and water on board."

Kanda, 58, was attempting to guide his hot-air balloon 5,600 miles from Tochigi, Japan, to Portland, Ore. His last known position, recorded Thursday, was 435 miles south of Adak.

Large cargo planes are conducting aerial searches for the Air Force and Coast Guard and the Coast Guard cutter Jarvis should be on the scene by today, Rossetti said. A helicopter from the Alaska Air National Guard also assisted in the search on Sunday.

Kanda was one day into a scheduled 60-hour trip aboard "The Starlight," a giant balloon 15 stories high and 150 feet wide.

He was hoping to become the first Japanese balloonist to cross the Pacific Ocean. He had attempted the feat once before, according to The Mainichi Daily News of Japan. In January 2004, Kanda's pan-Pacific flight ended after about 1,000 miles when he ran out of fuel and landed in the ocean.

Kanda became Japan's first balloonist to fly over the Himalayas in October 2000, the newspaper reported.

For that effort, he was given the Naomi Uemura Adventure Prize, named for the climber who disappeared on Mount McKinley in 1984.

Kanda planned his latest adventure in the hopes of breaking the world records for flight duration and distance, a member of his flight-support team has said.

Kanda set the record for flight duration, clocking in at 50 hours, 38 minutes on a 1978 trip from Chestemere Lake, Alberta, to Jordan, Mont.

The current distance record is 4,767 miles, set in 1991 by Per Lindstrand of Sweden and Richard Branson of England.

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