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Format: 04/24/2014
Format: 04/24/2014

News

USA Today: Balloon boy saga captivates nation

Friday, October 16th, 2009

By Nate Taylor and Emily Bazar, USA TODAY

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.

To read more, visit the USA Today web site.

 

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