TOKYO — Coast guard and navy planes searched tonight for a Japanese adventurer whose helium balloon plunged into the ocean hours after the start of an attempt to cross the Pacific alone.
Planes spotted Fumio Niwa floating in the balloon's gondola in the ocean 260 miles southeast of Tokyo and dropped a marker buoy to guide rescue boats and helicopters through the choppy waters, coast guard officials said.
But the approach of darkness prevented the planes from tracking Niwa, and when a rescue helicopter reached the buoy in the evening, it was unable to locate the gondola, the officials said.
"The search is extremely difficult because of the darkness," one official said.
Niwa was seven hours into an attempt to become the first balloonist to cross the Pacific alone when the craft ditched into the ocean.