The bizarre drama that played out live on the major news networks Thursday was reminiscent of the time baby Jessica got stuck in the well. All afternoon the cameras followed the silver balloon across the skies over Colorado while we breathlessly waited to see if the balloon would land and the 6-year old boy whom we all presumed to be inside would land safely. It was one of things where we all - or at least most of us - allowed ourselves to become emotionally invested in the fortunes of a complete stranger.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Colorado Air National Guard got involved and spent a lot of time, energy and taxpayers resources tracking the balloon - which resembled a flying-saucer more than it resembled the Hindenburg. At least one Black Hawk helicopter was sent to track the flying apparatus. Plans were made to try and lower a rescuer into the balloon in midflight. Air traffic had to be diverted and the Denver airport was temporarily shut down.
After the balloon floated to a gentle landing - with no signs of a boy inside - we panicked and assumed the worst. I watched one news anchor spend 10 minutes displaying a still photograph of the balloon while debating whether a blotch on the picture might be the boy that we all believed to be inside the craft tumbling to his certain death.
The whole thing reminded me of the time I was spending the night with Wayne Penn. I was probably 8 or 9. I shared a bed that night with Wayne and his brother Harold, and Harold kept hogging all the cover. I got cold, so in the middle of the night I got up and rode my bicycle home.
Home, understand, was in Porterdale and Wayne lived in Covington - about five miles away. The next morning, when Wayne's mama discovered that I was missing they put out an APB for me and my bike. Sheriff Junior Odum had the entire Newton County Sheriff's department out looking for me. They looked everywhere except where I was - at home in my own bed.
My mama was glad to see me, but she still made me go and cut a switch when she got through hugging me. I am still not real clear on what I had done wrong.
But back to the boy in Colorado.
This kid's family is - well, in today's vernacular I guess we would say that they are "out there." We would have called them "peculiar" back in the day. I mean for one thing, they named their son Falcon. For another, they kept a homemade helium balloon at their house. (They call it a "3-D low-altitude vehicle.) That's pretty "out there." The family has also been known to enjoy the limelight - they have appeared on at least one television reality show - and they are also know to be "storm chasers" with a penchant for adventure and the unusual - not that there is anything wrong with that.
But now there is speculation that he whole scenario that played out Thursday was an elaborate hoax aimed at somehow allowing the family to extend the 15 minutes of fame they enjoyed after appearing on the television program "Wife Swap."
But I might be getting ahead of myself. Just in case you happen to be the one person in the world who didn't watch the events unfold yesterday, it turns out that Falcon Heene's family was videotaping the assent of their homemade balloon when it broke away from the restraints that were supposed to keep it tethered to the ground. How fortunate that they just happened to be filming at the time. The father, Richard Heene, kicked at the ground in disgust when the balloon broke free and then one of his children claimed that he had seen the man's youngest child - that would be Falcon - climb into the balloon's basket before it lifted off the ground. And the chase - and the publicity - was on.
But as it turns out, young Falcon was hiding in his attic the whole time and had not been seen climbing into the flying contraption as had been reported by his brother. And here's where the wicket gets a bit sticky.
On two separate occasions, when asked by reporters why he didn't reveal his whereabouts once he realized people were looking for him, Falcon looked quizzically at his father and said, "You said we did this for a show."
His father became outraged, of course, when that statement led reporters to question the veracity of the whole incident. Maybe we will learn the whole truth, maybe we won't. Maybe the Heene family will be remembered two days from now, maybe they won't. Who is to say in this day and time. I know one thing, though. If it turns out that the incident was a hoax, somebody needs to send Richard Heene out to cut a proverbial switch.
And in a non-related incident, while we were all still engrossed in the discussion of the Heene family's homemade balloon Thursday night two F-16s collided off the coast of South Carolina and as this piece went to press the whereabouts of Capt. Nicholas Giglio was still unknown.