balloon, helium balloon
AP Photo/Alamogordo Daily News,
J.R. Oppenheim

6-Year-Old Boy Adrift in Parents’ Experimental Aircraft

October 15, 2009 05:00 PM
by James Sullivan
Authorities in Colorado are searching for a boy that was initially thought to be trapped in a homemade, helium-powered aircraft as it floated over the state. New reports suggest the now grounded balloon is empty.

Boy Absent From Craft

The balloon believed to be carrying 6-year-old Falcon Heene has crash-landed, and authorities say it is empty.

Early on Thursday, the drama of a boy trapped in his parents’ homemade flying device played out live on television, as authorities tracked and chased the balloon in hopes of performing a rescue. Reaching heights of several thousand feet, the aircraft, shaped like a flying saucer, pitched and rotated dangerously as it moved through the sky.

The balloon reportedly detached from its tether as the boy crawled into a passenger compartment at its base.

Related Topic: Armchair balloonists

Motivated by charity, a desire for fame or boredom, many have taken to the skies in homemade, balloon-powered aircraft, and the journeys are almost never devoid of drama.

On July 5, 2008, Kent Couch launched from his Bend, Ore., gas station. Nine hours later, he landed successfully in a field in Cambridge, Idaho, 235 miles from his takeoff point. Using 150 party balloons attached to a 400-pound lawn chair, Couch traveled 200 miles before finally landing.

That was Couch’s third attempt at flight since 1982, when a television program about the efforts of Larry Walters inspired the gas station owner to try it himself.

Dubbed “Lawn Chair Larry,” Walters had planned on traveling only 30 feet above the ground but an unplanned ascent took him 16,000 feet into the sky.

More recently, Father Adelir Antonio de Carli of Brazil set off in April 2008 with a goal of breaking the 19-hour world record for the most hours flying with balloons. His bundle of balloons was quickly blown off course, and sadly, Father Carli was not seen alive again. His body was found by an oil-rig tugboat off the coast of Marcia, Brazil, on July 4, 2008.

Reference: Lawn Chair Larry and Kent Couch

Larry Walters, a former truck driver known as “Lawn Chair Larry,” was awarded an “honorable mention” by the Darwin Awards, which salutes “the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it.” Walters took flight equipped with only some sandwiches, Miller Lite and a pellet gun. His plan had been to fly up to 30 feet high in his own backyard—instead he ascended to 16,000 feet. When asked why he had done it, he replied, “A man can’t just sit around.”

Kent Couch, an Oregon gas station owner who took his lawn chair up to 13,000 feet in 2007, surprised an airplane pilot that radioed to his control tower that he had just passed “a guy in a lawn chair with a gun.” He used 105 balloons to make his flight and carried a global positioning system device, a two-way radio, a digital camcorder, a cell phone, instruments to measure altitude and speed, and four plastic bags holding water to act as a ballast. “When you’re a little kid and you’re holding a helium balloon, it has to cross your mind,” Couch told the Bend Bulletin of Oregon.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines