The boy and the balloon

A heart-stopping media spectacle ends as 6-year-old Falcon Heene is found safe. But what were we watching, and why?

Topics: Falcon Heene, Television,

The boy and the balloon

In a media spectacle of nightmarish dimensions, stunned viewers nationwide watched on Thursday afternoon as an experimental storm-chasing balloon floated around in strong winds 400 feet above Fort Collins, Colo., thinking that a 6-year-old boy was still inside. The balloon was tethered in his storm-chaser parents’ backyard; his sibling reported seeing the boy crawl in before the balloon blew away. Eventually, the boy was found in a box in his attic, according to CNN. But who could know that would happen as the heart-stopping story unfolded?

It began mid-afternoon, and we watched for almost an hour as this silver thing buffeted around in the wind. Viewers gasped as the balloon landed, slowly, maybe slowly enough that a kid inside might still be alive.

But then, the rescue workers gathered around it didn’t approach the balloon quickly to see if there was a child inside. Finally, they tied the balloon to the ground and then poked holes in it, but there was no sign of the kid.

“According to police, there is no one inside that balloon,” a CNN anchor finally told us. So we began to wonder: When did the kid fall out? Is he alive? Is this all a hoax? Did this couple, who appeared on “Wife Swap,” do this to get attention?

Was the kid ever in the balloon to begin with?

By 4 p.m, the CNN producer spoke to someone from the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office who said the search was on for the 6-year-old boy.



At first the Sheriff’s department was reportedly looking for the boy in and around the home, because they said the basket hadn’t been breached. Suddenly it seemed possible that the boy was never in the balloon in the first place, which would mean that we were all watching that thing floating around in the air for a good 45 minutes for no reason, like idle house cats.

Later, though, CNN reported that the basket at the bottom of the balloon had fallen off before they started filming its flight, and that National Guard helicopters were taking off to look for the boy before nightfall. Then, by 6 p.m., it was over: The boy was alive. But it had momentarily transformed us into 21st century rubberneckers, anxious to make ourselves sick over the tragic news story of the moment.

Note: This story was updated several times after its initial posting.

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>