KUCHING: Hundreds of traditional Chinese sky lanterns, also known as Kun Ming Den, were lit and released at Friendship Park here Thursday night, creating a picturesque scene over the night sky.
However to some, they felt that the floating lanterns were a public hazard.
“Surely they’re fire and flight hazards. Looking out of my window, I can see at least 50,” said Prof Andrew Aeria, a lecturer of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, who lives near the park.
“I think people should stick to the normal lanterns. What if a whole bunch of the sky lanterns drift into the path of an incoming flight?”
Unbeknownst to most, the sky lantern, which is a popular feature of the Mid-Autumn Festival, is actually illegal in Malaysia.
Every year prior to the festival, the Civil Aviation Department (DCA) issues a public reminder that the ban on sky lanterns is still very much in force.
On Feb 8, 2003, 10 sky lanterns drifted into the airspace of Penang International Airport, which in itself was not a big problem. However, all lanterns landed on the runway, resulting in the airport having to redirect a total of 12 approaching airplanes.
Following that incident, the department banned sky lanterns.
“Releasing these lanterns into the air will pose a serious safety risk to aircraft,” DCA director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman was quoted as saying in a report last year.
He said the sky lanterns could rise as high as 1,800m into the sky.
Under Section 285 of the Penal Code, those defying the ban can be jailed for six months or fined RM2,000 while under Section 5 of the Explo-sives Act 1957, those found letting off sky lanterns could also face a jail term of five years or be fined RM10,000.
Meanwhile, Local Government and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh told The Star that the practice, no matter how traditional or significant, must not be encouraged.
“I know the lighting of sky lanterns goes back thousands of years in Chinese history, but it’s not to be encouraged because it can cause unnecessary misery to others,” the minister said when contacted yesterday.
“There are other ways to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival and to perpetuate our culture. What if a sky lantern lands somewhere and causes a fire? That would be terrible.”
Although no catastrophic incident has been reported so far with regard to sky lanterns in Malaysia, reports of them causing fires are not uncommon around the world.
Most recently, a council in the UK called for a ban against sky lanterns after one fell into a recycling plant and caused a blaze that flattened the massive factory. A closed-circuit television recording captured how the fire had started.
Sky lanterns are also banned in most European countries, including Germany and Austria. In China, the practice is forbidden in the city of Sanya.