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Runaway homemade US balloon prompts scare

world Updated: Oct 16, 2009 02:11 IST

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A homemade helium balloon broke from its tethers at a Colorado home on Thursday sparking a full-scale rescue operation for a six-year-old boy believed to be aboard the saucer-shaped craft.

Multiple television stations beamed images of the runaway craft hurtling through the sky thousands of feet in the air moving at up to 25 miles (40 kilometers) an hour as a captivated nation watched fearing for the fate of its presumed passenger, young Falcon Heene.

An hour into the drama, police and ambulance workers on the ground raced to a Fort Collins field where the balloon finally touched down in a soft landing, releasing the helium and prising open its trapdoor only to discover the boy was not onboard.

Police said the boy was still missing as teams of police officers scoured the neighborhood where he lived.

Falcon and his father, Richard Heene, had been working on the silver craft in the family's backyard when Falcon was believed to have climbed into a plywood enclosed structure beneath the balloon.

Richard Heene -- who once appeared on television as the father of a "storm-chasing, science-obsessed" family -- said the craft was hovering above the ground, but slipped its rope tethers.

The Denver Post described Heene as a retired weather man.

At one point the craft sped through the sky at altitudes of up to two kilometers (7,000 feet) sometimes dipping violently toward earth.

The balloon saga was shown live on US cable news television networks and became one of the most popular subjects on Twitter, capturing seven of the top 10 slots on the micro-blogging service's "trending topics" list.

"We're just monitoring the situation," Lieutenant Commander Gary Ross, a spokesman for US Northern Command, told AFP earlier during the drama. "We have not launched any aircraft."