LOS ANGELES – A soccer ball that apparently floated across the Pacific Ocean after being swept away by last year’s devastating tsunami on March 11 has been found on the coast of Middleton Island off Alaska, U.S. authorities say.
The ball had Japanese messages of encouragement addressed to a boy and a signature indicating it was written in March 2005 by third-graders at an elementary school, Yumi Baxter, 44, the Japanese wife of David Baxter, 51, who found the ball, said over the phone.
After the boy’s full name was found on the ball, its owner was identified as Misaki Murakami, a 16-year-old high school student in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, who lost his home in the disaster. Murakami said he believes the ball is the one he lost to the tsunami.
“We’re very happy that the owner of the ball is safe. We want to return the ball as soon as possible,” David Baxter said after learning he had been located.
The Baxters said they plan to visit Japan from May to June for a vacation and hope to return the ball to directly Murakami.
None of the tsunami debris that has reached North America has been formally returned to Japan yet, and the Baxters would be the first to do so.
“I have no doubt that it is mine,” Murakami said, describing that the ball given to him by his third-grade classmates at Osabe elementary school before he transferred to another school.
“To be honest, I’m surprised. I want to thank the person who found it, as none of my sentimental items have been found,” he said.
Baxter, an engineer working for a radar facility on Middleton Island, found the ball in mid-March when he was taking a walk along the beach with a friend.
“When I first saw the ball, I knew that it had a special meaning to its owner,” his wife, who is originally from Hachioji in western Tokyo, said. The couple contacted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to locate the owner.
Murakami said that on March 11, 2011, he was sick in bed and absent from school. But when the massive quake struck, he decided to escape to higher ground because he sensed a tsunami would come.
“My family lost everything to the tsunami, so I’m happy, but it also brings back sad memories. The soccer ball means a lot to me, so I want to put it in my room again when it comes back,” he said.
The Baxters said they also found a volleyball with similar messages addressed to a girl named Shiori but don’t have enough information to find her. The only thing they can ascertain is that it was given to her to commemorate her graduation from elementary school. The Baxters hope that they will be able to return the volleyball as well.
NOAA and other U.S. authorities are monitoring objects swept away by the tsunami in conjunction with the Japanese government.