Into Thin Air

by Bryan

UPDATES: About 20 minutes after I posted this, I was sent the Balloon Boy Game. I know what I’m doing all morning. And then there’s this, which is just awesome—the Balloon Boy adventure as the Fresh Prince song, in Facebook comments. h/t TA.

The Balloon Boy story didn’t make sense from the beginning.

“URGENT,” a tweet from the Europe-based Breaking News Online blared over my Tweetdeck, “Six-year-old stuck in a hot air balloon near Denver.”

I wasn’t sure how that was urgent, to me, sitting at my computer in New York. Still, I pointed my browser over to, where I saw a photo of the UFO-like spycraft floating east across Colorado. The whole thing sounded horrifying: a six-year-old kid had gotten into the inflated apparatus, unhitched it from the Earth, and had flown away? It sounded like a tragedy, or at least TV movie, in the making.

Doubt started to creep in when I heard the TV newsers describe the dirigible. I alternatingly heard that the compartment in which 6-year-old Falcon was stuck was made of “thin plywood” and then “cardboard,” leading the TV announcers to speculate that “he may have fallen out.” I came to a different conclusion: if the cab was that flimsy, how would the thing take off in the first place? Wouldn’t he just fall out the bottom?

But no. His brother had seen him elevate, flying far, far away. The ship kept going, and police needed to find a way to stop it.

I took an informal poll on Twitter, searching for solutions to a problem that sounds like something you’d hear at a job interview for a consulting agency. A six-year-old is stuck inside of a helium balloon. It will explode if ignited, and if it lands too hard, he will die. How do you save him? Responses included a net, a harpoon, and a Patriot Missile (that one was helpful). I thought that if a helicopter could get above the balloon, and match its speed of roughly 30 miles per hour, they could drop light weights on it and gradually bring it toward the ground.

Not a perfect solution, I know. But it was something.

As the drama unfolded, we learned more about the family. They were featured on ABC’s Wife Swap twice, the premise of which is that you’re a crazy family that will do anything for money. Why is it okay that America’s most family-focused network features a show that is directly inspired by ’70s-style key parties, and no one seems bothered by this? Of course, maybe a wife swap would have helped in this case, because maybe a replacement spouse would have pointed out the folly of keeping an INFLATED HELIUM BALLOON LOOSELY TIED UP IN THE YARD WITH A CABIN BIG ENOUGH FOR A SIX-YEAR-OLD.

But I digress.

Soon enough, the balloon crashed in a dirt field. Cops and paramedics were on the scene in no time, and found no kid. He wasn’t there, and they soon devised an alternate theory: Falcon hadn’t flown at all, and would reveal himself soon enough. This is, of course, exactly what happened. Within a couple hours, he was found in the attic of his house, napping through the drama. He was the one who had the good sense not to watch. We could learn something.

On Larry King Live last night, Falcon inadvertently put his dad in an odd position when he said that he had been instructed to do something “for the show.” Dad got defensive and tried to explain it away. Cops are now looking into the whole episode as a hoax, but what does it matter? The damage has been done. That’s two hours of my life I’m not getting back and frankly, I’m glad the kid’s okay, physically speaking. Psychologically, who knows. Maybe this was just a huge accident, and his parents are just as down-to-Earth as the rest of us and have an explanation for everything. I’d just be surprised if it wasn’t flimsier than cardboard.