KASILOF, Alaska (Kyodo) — An American who recently found soccer and volleyballs in Alaska that had floated across the Pacific Ocean after being swept away from northeastern Japan in the March 2011 quake-tsunami disaster said April 23 he is happy to know that the owner of the volleyball is alive as well after hearing the soccer ball owner is safe.
David Baxter, a 51-year-old engineer, and his Japanese wife Yumi, 44, expressed their joy in a telephone interview with Kyodo News after the volleyball was confirmed to belong to Shiori Sato, 19, from Iwate Prefecture, one of the coastal prefectures hardest hit by the massive tsunami caused by the strong earthquake.
The Baxters plan to visit Japan with their three sons for a holiday in May and June and hope to return the volleyball to Sato and the soccer ball to its owner, 16-year-old Misaki Murakami, a high school second grader in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.
During an earlier interview with Kyodo News at his home in Kasilof, Alaska on April 22, Baxter said he hopes to hand over the balls in person to their owners only if they so wish, as he does not want to cause “commotion” or “extra problems” in their lives.
Baxter found the soccer ball in mid-March while he and a co-worker were beachcombing on the coast of Middleton Island in the northwestern U.S. state. He also found a volleyball around the same time.
“I had a slight hunch it could be from the tsunami,” Baxter said. “Because there were some reports on the news on some new debris washing up on Kodiak Island,” he said, referring to a nearby island further west.
The soccer ball’s owner was later identified as Murakami after Yumi searched the Internet based on writing she found on the ball. The volleyball, which had fewer clues, was found to belong to Sato on April 23, who now lives in Saitama Prefecture.
“First and foremost, we were hoping they were OK,” Yumi said, recalling the time while they searched for the owners’ whereabouts.
“I never thought precious items like these would reach Alaska after one year (from the tsunami),” she said.
The Baxters spoke with Murakami over the phone April 21. While expressing his gratitude, Murakami also said many people are still suffering from the disaster and asked for the couple’s support, Yumi said.
“We would like to do as much as we can,” she said.
The news story has drawn attention worldwide and the Baxters have so far been interviewed by many media outlets, including the BBC and a radio station in Australia.