Boy missing after experimental balloon crash lands

Falcon Heene, a six-year-old boy from Colorado is missing after an experimental balloon crash landed. The boy's brother said he saw Falcon get in the balloon before it went into the air. It rose to about 11,000 feet before returning to the ground near Denver.

Police are looking for the boy. Some say he may have fallen from the balloon and others think he never got in the balloon but is hiding because he doesn't want to get into trouble.

It doesn't look to me like a helium-filled balloon this small could carry a kid aloft.

No sign of boy said to have floated off on balloon

Update: He was hiding in a cardboard box in the garage all along! [CNN]


  1. I saw that family on Wife Swap, and I thought, those parents are putting their kids in danger. Weird.

  2. “It doesn’t look to me like a helium-filled balloon this small could carry a kid aloft.”

    I seem to remember the Mythbusters doing a bit about how many helium balloons would be needed to carry off a child (it wound up being some ridiculous amount).

  3. I might be completely off on my math and my estimation of how big that balloon is, but at 1g/1l He that balloon looks like it could only haul about 10lbs.

  4. I heard a “balloon expert” interviewed on our nationally run radio station here in New Zealand. He also said that he didn’t think the balloon would have risen that high with a six-year-old in it.

    Hopefully the kid’s just hiding under his bed playing lego.

  5. I may regret this later, but I’m going to go on the record here calling shenanigans. I don’t see how a balloon of that size could possibly lift a 6-year-old.

    Given the family’s attention whoring background, I can’t help but thinking they’re really enjoying the non-stop media coverage.

    I’ll eat my words with a slice of humble pie and side of crow if it ends tragically. But I’d put good money on my being hungry tonight.

  6. The balloon is described as 20′ in diameter and 5′ high. That’s a 10′ radius. If it was a slice of a cylinder (which is isn’t, quite) it’d carry 1570 cubic feet of helium.

    One cubic foot of helium will lift about 28.2 grams; there are 448 grams in a pound.

    So back of the envelope says the balloon could lift 98 pounds, give or take. Actual weight lifted would be somewhat less since it’s not just a slice of a cylinder, but none of the measurements we have are exact anyhow.

    A six year old kid doesn’t weigh 98 pounds unless he’s morbidly obese. Pictures of Falcon demonstrate that he was in shape. 50 pounds, maybe?

    Since we don’t have any idea what the balloon was made of, we can’t figure out how much it weighed, let alone the box at the bottom. But I don’t think we can dismiss the idea that Falcon was inside based on how much the balloon could lift.

  7. What’s the deal with the cops not wanting to touch it? Did somebody tell them it was alien technology or infected with the swine flu?

    It’s odd to me if they thought there was an actual child in there that they would like, um, grab the damn thing to keep it from floating away again.

  8. A bald guy who just escaped from an asylum says he turns out to be OK, he’s just hiding in a nearby barn.

    1. Thank you for making me not the only person to immediately think of “12 Monkeys” while watching this thing.

    2. When the story first broke, I was gonna post something about the police attaching a monkey with a roast beef sandwich in a bag to a balloon and letting him go up, but I thought I’d be accused of being overly insensitive. Last time I listen to my conscience!

  9. If, as it seems, this kid really climbed into his dad’s wacky balloon, and fell from it, then the lesson is not happy. Don’t go making things on your own, it’s too dangerous. All decisions involving flying are best left to the government. Don’t let your kids run free or take risks, that’s just an invitation to disaster.

    Actually, I don’t believe any of that is true. But risks are risks. Sometimes kids who take risks die. That’s true for swimming pools and trips to the city, and it’s true for wacky homemade scientific projects.

    I’d love to hear about now that the kid was found alive somewhere near his home, but I don’t expect to.

  10. One way or another, this family is never going to be the same.

    Even if he’s found safe, you gotta believe that child protective services is going to be looking long and hard at letting him and his 2 siblings remain with their parents.

  11. Wow… This balloon was “launched” about 2 miles from my house.

    I hope the kid is safe, but it sounds like something I would have done if I had come across a huge balloon. I can’t help but wonder if this was inspired by a recent Pixar movie.

  12. Bryant: thanks for doing the math, but now I’m bummed. I’m going to keep hoping the kid watched in innocent amazement as the balloon floated away from him until he realized “Shit, dad is going to kill me…” and then ran and hid in the woods.

  13. The news in Denver is now reporting that the boy has been found at home, and that he was never in it.


  14. I have a whole list of awesome experiments I’d like to try…when the day comes that my kids are out of the house. I trust my kids. They know to leave Dad’s stuff alone. But, some things just aren’t worth that infinitesimal risk. They’ll wait patiently for another day.

    Tethering this balloon in a manner that didn’t require a lock/key was a bad idea.

    And no one likes a wild goose chase. Recriminations are soon to follow.

  15. Given a 6m diameter and a 2m height I calculate it could lift about 40kg. That might be enough to lift a 2 year old and the balloon.

  16. I’m still awaiting the sighting of a ginormous stone fruit tethered to hundreds of sea gulls carrying a young boy and “companions” story to break.

  17. @ toolbag

    Yay! Looks like your theory was right.

    With that said, a huge amount of government money has been spent on a wild goose chase. Should the parents have to pay it back? Should the money have been spent at all, or should the powers that be have just said, “it’s not our problem, let the kid die for all we care.”? As a matter of libertarian principle, I think I’d have to go with option number two, although I don’t think that’s the call I would have made if I were in charge of the various rescue agencies at the time.

    1. Maybe all of the media channels that made money from advertising while reporting this story should donate all of their proceeds to pay back the expenses of this entertaining diversion?

  18. And now their phone is ringing off the hook. Oprah, Leno, Couric. Their next big decision? An L.A. agent or a N.Y agent? Planned?

    1. And now their phone is ringing off the hook. Oprah, Leno, Couric. Their next big decision? An L.A. agent or a N.Y agent?

      which ever promises the most cash & prizes


      do you really need to ask?

  19. I’m surprised that none of the so-called ‘Rescuers’ made any attempt to secure the balloon once in hit ground.

    It easily could have begun blowing across the landscape or with a quick gust, become airborne again.

    The immediately fan-out and treat it like a hands-off crime scene.

    Of course we know know that the kid is fine…

  20. No, a balloon that size could not lift a six year old. It could barely lift a small cat or dog. Get a Edmund scientifics catalog (or go to their website) and read the specs on weather baloons lifting power when filled with helium. If you have to do math, remember since three dimensions are involved you will have to cube some numbers.

    Or simply consider the typical size of an object a small helium baloon can lift. As these balloons get larger, they have more of their own weight to lift.

    I tried to do similar math to determine what would be needed to lift a camera

  21. @JG: That’s exactly what they did. The first guy there tethered it with a rope, and when everyone else got there they put more ropes over it while attacking it with a shovel.

  22. Here’s some math from an engineer for all those wondering about the weight issue:

    radius of balloon = 2.5m average height of balloon = 2m Density of air at 5000ft (Ft. Collins) =1.056 kg/m^3 Density of Helium at 5000ft = 0.1458 kg/m^3 Weight of kid – 60 lbs ~ 28kg Weight of Helium ~ 6 kg Weight of other stuff ~ 1kg (1.056 kg/m^3 – 0.1458 kg/m^3)((2.5)^2pi*2)m^3 – 35kg Net upward force: ~2kg

    You’re right. Made one mistake. Used 1.3m as the average height. Instead, it’s the maximum. If I only use 1/2 that as the average height (good estimate), I get (1.056 kg/m^3 – 0.1458 kg/m^3)(6^2pi*1.3/2)m^3 – 35kg ~= 31 kg. My bad

  23. This is sooo 12 Monkeys. I am now expecting the flupocalypse to kill 6 billion people before Christmas.

  24. Is it just me, or does this look like it was created in the Sims? Half way through I’m just thinking this is something elaborate that someone created with a video game.

  25. I knew this was BS when I saw ‘Golden Palace’ on the balloon.

    I got a sense there’s a new ‘Jon & Kate’ type series being planned around this family.

    This week: Falcon gets carried aloft on a balloon!!

  26. The only way to make this hoax even less credible is if “Jon and Kate” sent the sextuplets up. A scam from beginning to end.

  27. anonymous: Well, if there’s only one good thing to come of this balloon fiasco it’s that you pointed me to Now, I’m going to see if I can buy something that actually can lift a six year old child into the stratoshpere. I don’t have any kids of my own so I’ll have to use one of my neighbors.

  28. Its a secret army. The Army of The Four Boing Boingers. I’ve told you about them. They spread the H1N1 virus. That’s why I have to get to San Francisco. I have to find them — it’s my assignment. I just have to locate the virus in its original form before it mutates. So scientists can come back and study it and find a cure. So that those of us who survived can go back to the surface of the earth.

  29. I don’t think the family should be liable for any of the costs for the “rescue” since if the responders had been a *bit* more thorough in their search of the home and yard, none of it would have been necessary.

  30. I’ve had a little experience with big balloons (I’ve got one in my garage big enough to lift a kid, if the material was strong enough to support that much weight) and what I can’t figure out is what this balloon was supposed to be for, if not attention whoring.

    I supply hardware to storm chasers and balloon builders all the time, and it’s rare to see any payload over 12 pounds – partly because of FAR 101 regulations. And that’s enough to include a ton of instruments and some cameras.

    It’s too small to be a plausible manned balloon, and too dangerous a design, so I can’t imagine that they were intending to pull a Larry Walters and fly it away at some point.

    If the point was to make a flying saucer to launch as a joke, it’s got far too much lift. That’s hundreds of bucks worth of helium in there, and for a gentle drift over the city you’d only need a couple of pounds of free lift. And no way is that thing going to hold up in any sort of storm like they’re implying it was designed to ‘research’.

    So I keep coming back to the hoax angle. I haven’t heard any more plausible explanation from anyone else. There’s just no other obvious reason for spending that much to build something that doesn’t make sense for any other purpose.

    The ambiguity around the lift capacity of this thing also bugs me. Yes, with those dimensions it *might* lift a kid. But with that much free lift, it ought to have shot straight up to a level where it’d burst very quickly, not float around at several thousand feed, unless it was an exotic superpressure balloon, which it’s clearly not. There’s no way the family could have been unclear as to whether it had 2 pounds of excess lift or 60.

    I’m really curious how this came to the attention of the media so fast. Does anyone know who was first contacted? I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the family called the TV news directly – to get a helicopter up there quick, I’m sure.

    1. They DID call the TV stations directly. This was mentioned as it was all happening, that the family feared the boy was in the air, and could you send your news choppers to find him.. btw, we need to phone the police I guess…

      That dad was sure at a loss for comprehensible words when the kid gave up the jig. Say bye-bye to your kids.

  31. I hate to quote fox news, but from,2933,567320,00.html:

    During a live interview on CNN, Falcon Heene said he heard his family calling his name as he hid in the rafters of their garage. At the time, there was a frantic effort to bring down the balloon safely.
    Falcon’s father asked, “Why didn’t you come out?” The boy answered, “You had said we did this for a show.”

  32. The best point of all is that if he built the damn thing, and knew how it appeared in-flight, then he had to have known that the kid couldn’t be lifted by it. The only other scenario is the kid climbing into a chamber filled with helium and everyone quietly watching as he suffocated to death while slowly ascending into the sky, coiled in the corner, a lifeless, fetal impression of a boy.

  33. @Madsci

    I’m reading on FARK that the dad originally called the news channel–to ask them to assist with tracking it. When they said, WTF??!?! Call 911!!! That’s when things began to unravel for his insidious little AW plan.

  34. I always thought that the “kid down the well” story or something similar really did happen sometime in the ’50s.
    Well, I’m off to the zoo with a pair of bolt clippers.

  35. After the kid said “We did this for the show,” Larry King asks the father to clarify. The mumbling, awkward answer the father gives is so completely obviously him quickly coming up with something to cover that up.

    I don’t often call people liars, but in my mind, this is open and shut. After watching the ridiculous overly-acted performance by the father on that Wife Swap episode someone linked above (what an absurd show), the man does not strike me as a bastion of honesty.

  36. Re: who should pay for the effort?

    We should fund more science education. There are two problems here: a balloon filled with helium has no oxygen, so a kid inside would be dead in minutes, and a balloon that size would not have enough lift to carry a child. As such, the media and police should have immediately declared it a hoax and went home.

    Unfortunately, people think “science” is something you can optionally believe — they think it’s like someone saying “I prayed and the answer I received was there was no child in the balloon”. As such, if the authorities fail to respond, and a child did die, the consequences would be dire. _Everyone_ should understand the underpinnings of science and logical proof and — even if they don’t know the nuances — they should be able to follow a simple proof from someone with expertise. As such, if an expert can demonstrate to authorities that there was no way for the saucer to lift a child, that should have been the end of it.

    So I say: let the stupid people pay. I’m sick of being smart, doing things that stupid people don’t understand, and being at fault for scaring them. I’m sick of being smart and bailing out stupid people for being stupid. I’m sick of stupid people running everything. Look at Y2K: nothing happened because _smart people had a handle on it_.

    Alas, I realize on average that we’re much closer to witch doctors and mythology than to intelligence.

    1. I think it was at least implied that there was a gondola of some sort that the kid could have climbed in that wasn’t full of helium.

      But a balloon with 50 pounds of free lift doesn’t float around at a few thousand feet. This thing was launched barely buoyant and there would have been no mistaking that fact at launch.

      @Jason Rizos – can I call them or what? A stunt like this doesn’t work if you don’t get media coverage right away.

  37. Since this is colorado, you need to reduce the density of air, so there is no way that ~ 1000 cubic feet of helium could lift a boy.

  38. Exactly, Madsci. He called the news channels (which apparently he calls a bunch, but they won’t feature him as a human-interest story), and perhaps they weren’t interested in chasing his little blimp with their news copters–until he mentioned that he “didn’t know” maybe his kid was inside.

  39. The parents of these children should be brought up on charges. First of all for endangering their children by bringing them “storm chasing” and second for this obvious hoax.

    You need a license to drive a motor vehicle, but not to procreate. We may want to rethink this.

  40. Only in America can a man build a flying saucer balloon, have it go aloft, assume his son is on board, and have the whole affair turn into a media circus.
    Where were the science journalists, the ones with good science training? The ones who could have said, “well, just how big is that balloon?” Or “how small is the boy?”
    Oh, right… forgot.
    I miss Jules Bergman.
    Maybe CNN should bring back Miles…

  41. I once saw a mythbusters show where they tried to lift a human. It took an astounding amout of helium to lift one man.. The way that weather ballon floded jusy before takeoff, I would have to say that there is no way it could have lifted a small boy..
    I would love to get a amount to weight ratio needed to lift the boys weight.
    My call.. not possible to lift the boy – the father would have known that.. TV Stunt!

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