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Colorado went to huge lengths to save balloon boy Falcon Heene

The National Guard deployed helicopters and Denver airport delayed flights thinking Falcon Heene was in a runaway balloon. He was safe at home the whole time, but many questions remain unanswered.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 16, 2009

The Heene family is pictured in this undated publicity photograph from the ABC reality series "Wife Swap." Shown are Richard Heene, his wife Mayumi and their sons Bradford, Falcon (c.) and Ryan with a homemade helium balloon in the background.

ABC/Reuters

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Colorado National Guard Col. Chris Petty was preparing to board his Black Hawk helicopter Thursday afternoon for what could have been a rescue attempt straight from the screens of Hollywood.

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There had been talk of suspending someone beneath the helicopter in a desperate bid to save a boy who was reportedly trapped in an experimental helium balloon flying thousands of feet above the Colorado plains.

Then, word came: Six-year-old Falcon Heene was not in the balloon, as his brother had insisted to police. Instead, he was found hiding in a box above the Heene's garage in Fort Collins.

What would Petty have to say to the boy, the Associated Press asked: "I'm really glad you're alive, I'm very thankful, but I'd sure like to know the rest of the story."

So would the rest of America.

Nine-year-old Ryo Heene's conviction, repeated several times to the police, that his brother was in a box suspended beneath the shiny flying saucer being tracked (dare we say) falcon-like by news helicopters set momentous events in motion.

Denver International Airport stopped all northbound flights from 1:00 to 1:15 p.m. local time.

• Search teams – including officials on horseback and ATVs – were dispatched to the Heene's neighborhood and to a nearby airport where eyewitnesses said they saw something falling from the Odd Flying Object.

The Army National Guard deployed one helicopter, a Kiowa, and was preparing to launch Petty's Black Hawk. It was also talking to pilots of local ultralight aircraft to coordinate rescue strategies – such as dropping weights onto the balloon to make it descend.

There's been no talk of treating the Heene's like New Hampshire treated teenager Scott Mason. It fined him $25,000 for having to rescue him from the side of Mount Washington. Officials said he should have known better than attempt a difficult 17-mile hike alone.

But there is still the question of why the truth didn't come to light sooner.

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