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Aviation & Space Law

Boy, 6, Reported Aloft, Alone in Balloon, Found Alive at Home

Posted Oct 15, 2009 5:18 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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An accidental launch today of an experimental helium balloon reportedly sent a 6-year-old boy high into the air above Fort Collins, Colo., alone, as authorities—including the Colorado National Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force—pulled out the stops as they scrambled to try to figure out a way to get him down safely.

But the afternoon drama proved to be an expensive opportunity to test the powers and effectiveness of the nation's aviation administration: A few minutes ago, the On Deadline blog of USA Today reported that he has been found at home, where he was hiding in a box in the attic of a garage, alive and well.

When the dome-shaped balloon, which is roughly 20 feet in diameter, reached the ground near Hudson this afternoon, rescuers found the child wasn't aboard, according to the Denver Post and the Coloradan. The Weld County Sheriff's Department has had four cars tracking the homemade craft's flight path, and at least one news helicopter is also participating in the search for the boy, Falcon Heene.

Authorities feared the boy might have fallen out of the balloon, because the door to a small passenger cabin underneath it wasn't locked, reports CNN.

The cabin reportedly wasn't with the balloon when it came down in a dirt field, and some media accounts said it was never intended to carry a passenger, only batteries.

Legally, "if you were to build something like this, it would need to be registered with the FAA," Dick Knapinski of the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wis., tells ABC News. "It would have to be inspected, and it would have to have markings showing its identity."

Authorities had also been searching near the boy's home in the Fort Collins area, hoping that reports that he was aboard when the "homemade flying saucer" took off were mistaken, says another ABC News article.

Falcon Heene is the son of Richard and Mayumi Heene, who are recreational storm-chasers and have participated on the Wife Swap television show on ABC.

Earlier today, as the balloon was still aloft in its two-hour flight, an official said authorities were considering shooting it as one possible option to get it back on the ground, reports the Lede blog of the New York Times.

“We can’t get this thing down,” said Erik Nilsson, the emergency manager for Larimer County. “We may end up having to breach the balloon, possibly with small arms fire.”

Northbound departures at Denver International Airport reportedly were shut down by the FAA as a precaution while the balloon was still aloft.

Additional coverage:

CBS News: "No Sign of Boy after Balloon Landing"

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