Soccer ball lost in Japan's tsunami found off Alaska

A soccer ball that apparently floated across the Pacific Ocean after being swept away from northeastern Japan in the March 2011 quake-tsunami disaster has been found on the coast of Middleton Island off Alaska, according to US authorities.

The ball had a message of encouragement to a boy in Japanese and a signature indicating it was written in March 2005 by third graders of an elementary school, Yumi Baxter, 44, the Japanese wife of David Baxter, who found the ball in mid-March, told Kyodo News over the phone.

Its owner was later identified as 16-year-old Misaki Murakami, whose name was written on the ball. Murakami, a high school second grader in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, told Kyodo News he believes the ball is the one he lost in the tsunami.

The Baxters said they plan to visit Japan from May to June on vacation and hope to directly return the ball to the owner.

If realised, it would be the first case in which an object that reached North America after being lost in the tsunami was returned.

"I have no doubt that it is mine," Murakami said, adding that the ball was given to him by his classmates in March 2005, when he was in third grade, as a farewell gift before he transferred to another school in the city. "To be honest, I'm surprised. I want to thank the person who found it," he said.

"While I'm glad, it also reminds me of sad memories as none of my furniture or sentimental items have been found," he added, referring to uneasy nights he spent at a shelter after fleeing from the tsunami.

Kanji that appear to be three different boys' names are also written on the ball in the photo made available online by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

David Baxter, a 51-year-old engineer, said he picked up also around mid-March on the beach a volleyball ball with messages apparently for a girl graduating an elementary school written in Japanese, but this ball has no information to specify the school or location it came from.

NOAA and other US authorities are monitoring objects adrift in the sea after the tsunami by maintaining close contact with the Japanese government.

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