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Chinese cook crashes while attempting to fly hot-air balloon to disputed islands

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Jan. 1, 2013: A hot-air balloon in which the Coast Guard says a Chinese cook took a ride, in waters near the East China Sea islands called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China. (AP)

A Chinese cook who crashed into the sea while trying to fly on a hot-air balloon to islands claimed by both China and Japan has been rescued by Japan's coast guard.

Xu Shuaijun, 35, crashed Wednesday after hitting turbulence as he approached the islands, known in Japan as Senkaku and Diayou in China, the coast guard said Thursday.

The coast guard said it received a missing-person report from Taiwanese officials and that one of its helicopters spotted Xu about 12 miles from the islands.

He was picked up by a boat and later handed over to a Chinese patrol ship, the coast guard said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Xu was in good condition.

Qin disavowed any official ties with Xu. "I note that he is a hot-air balloon enthusiast," he said.

The islands have been a sore point in bilateral relations for years, and nationalists from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have occasionally tried to sail to them.

A recent visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a Tokyo shrine that honors World War II war criminals has outraged China, adding to the bilateral tensions.