web analytics
Your Independent Alternative!

Balloon Boy Saga Captivates Nation

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — It was a real daytime drama.
People froze in front of TV sets Thursday as a helium balloon sped through the Colorado sky, believed to be carrying an adventurous 6-year-old boy as it tipped precariously back and forth.

Through an afternoon of roller coaster emotions, that little boy, it turned out, was nowhere near the balloon. He was in the attic above his garage, hiding in a cardboard box.

"It's not the first time investigators have been searching for a child and they hide when they find out people are looking for them," Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said when he announced that Falcon Heene had been found safe at home.

That announcement was the end of an afternoon that had all the ingredients of a gripping tale, said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. "It's a drama stripped down to the absolutely most basic elements of the safety of a little child," he said.

It also had an element of fancy that captured people's imaginations, Thompson said. "There's something fairy tale about it because you've got the element of flight," he said.

Parents were riveted.

"Every parent's deepest fear is that something bad will happen to their child," said Judith Cohen, a child psychiatrist at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. When a child's story of danger goes live on TV, she said, "we're transfixed, because it plays out this fear. … There's also relief: 'Thank goodness it's not me.' "

Falcon is the son of Richard and Mayumi Heene of Fort Collins, storm chasers who study twisters and other violent weather up close. The family has appeared on ABC's Wife Swap.

The show's website says the couple takes their three boys — Brad, 10; Ryo, 8; and Falcon — out of school to go on storm-chasing expeditions testing the father's theory that rotating storms create their own magnetic fields.

The sheriff's department said the family had been building an experimental aircraft, a silvery helium balloon 20 feet across and 5 feet high, in the backyard.

The drama began when the balloon floated away.

Brad told his parents that Falcon had crawled into a box on board.

The father called 911, triggering a massive rescue effort that involved the Colorado National Guard. At one point, the Guard was considering lowering a search-and-rescue soldier to try to extract the boy, according to Capt. Michael Odgers.

Air-traffic controllers in Denver held takeoffs for three minutes, then rerouted planes from the area.

The balloon spun through 50 miles of Larimer, Weld and Adams counties for two hours before crashing gently into a field.

Rescuers rushed in.Falcon wasn't there.

The good news led to a gasp of fear: Had he fallen out?

A "reverse 911" call went out asking people to be on the lookout. Authorities and volunteers began to search the boy's neighborhood and the balloon's path.

It ended when Falcon emerged from the attic and walked into the house.

"We searched the house. We searched it twice," Alderden said later, a persistent grin of relief on his face. "But obviously we didn't search it well enough."

The drama over, Falcon told reporters he was playing with his toys in the attic and took a nap.

"I didn't know people were looking for me," he said. "I was in the attic because (his father) scared me because he yelled."

Richard Heene said he had scolded Falcon that morning for playing in the aircraft.

Heene said he wanted to build a balloon that someone could operate from inside, hovering as much as 100 feet above ground

It is possible to build a balloon in your backyard and fly it legally, but it was unlikely that the Heene's balloon met federal standards, said Glen Moyer, spokesman for the Balloon Federation of America.

Alderden said the county does not bill for search and rescue unless criminal charges are filed.

Heene said he wept when his son appeared.

"My legs got weak," he said. "I couldn't even walk from one room to the next."

1 Responses »

  1. Police Work 101

    Number 1: Nothing is what is seems.

    Number 2: Do not believe children.

    Number 3: Search the house and one mile radius and continue doing so until there is a conclusion.

    Number 4: Bring in the dogs. This could have been a JonBenet Ramsey case all over again.

    How embarrassing for a police agency.

    At least it gave the country some entertainment to take their minds off the pressing issues of the world.