The man, surnamed Hu, had been working alongside a colleague on Sunday in Hailin county, Heilongjiang province, when they lost control of the balloon. While his colleague jumped to safety, Hu missed his chance and drifted away.
He was not found until 9 am local time on Tuesday when — after tracing his mobile phone signal — a rescue team made up of more than 500 people from the local police and fire departments spotted his balloon stuck in a tree, state-run Global Times reported on Wednesday.
“I almost gave up,” Hu told the Chinese state-run broadcaster CCTV. “Thanks to the rescuers, otherwise, I wouldn’t be alive.”
Hu told interviewers he had been cold and hungry during the ordeal. However, he was largely unharmed, suffering what were described as only minor injuries to his waist.
The use of hydrogen or helium balloons to harvest pine nuts has become more common in China in recent years and there are occasionally reports of pickers being swept away — though not usually as far as Hu.
In 2019, two men picking pine cones in China’s Changbai mountains reportedly lost control of their balloon and drifted 10 kilometers (6 miles) — before landing safely and being arrested for breaking aviation regulations. In another case, in 2017, a nut picker went missing near the North Korea border after his balloon became untethered.
Even without out-of-control balloons, harvesting pine nuts in China can be a dangerous business. Traditionally, pickers wearing spiked shoes climb the trees — which can grow to 20 meters (about 65 feet) — and falls can be fatal.