Protester Fong Yue-yuen was close to death after being pulled from the sea and flown by helicopter for medical aid in Japan, a doctor said last night. 'He was in pretty bad shape,' said Yaeyama Hospital subdirector Dr Yoshimitsu Miyaei, from the facility on the southern island of Ishigaki. 'He would have died if he hadn't been brought in.' Mr Fong was in intensive care last night after swallowing water and suffering bruises. He was likely to be breathing unaided today. Mr Fong, a 25-year-old driver and the youngest of the 17 protesters, was rescued by a Japanese Maritime Safety Agency helicopter. He had said before leaving that he was not concerned for his safety and vowed to set foot on the islands. His younger sister left Hong Kong yesterday to join him in Ishigaki.