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THE SITUATION ROOM

Search for Boy Missing in Balloon

Aired October 15, 2009 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let me walk over to CNN's Tom Foreman, because we're continuing our coverage.

We thought that maybe it was resolved, even though they hadn't found the boy, Tom, because there was no evidence that anything -- that anything inside that -- that balloon had been lost or any doors opened or anything like that. But now we -- we're learning this very disturbing information that perhaps a basket or a box had been attached and -- and, perhaps, that little boy was in that basket or box.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a very interesting question, because, Wolf, there's no time -- there was certainly no time in the video that I saw that there was anything except what we saw in most of the coverage.

So let's look at where this all happened and give you a point of reference. Denver is over here. The Denver International Airport is over in this area, if you've flown in and out of there. Up here is where Fort Collins is. And, in fact, we mentioned earlier -- Abbi was talking about how these people were interested in storm chasing. This is actually one of the most popular places in the country for that, Wolf, because there's a tremendous amount of tornadic activity out here. This is Fort Collins proper.

As you move out onto the Great Plains, there's a tremendous amount of it. In fact, one of the big concerns when they built the Denver International Airport was, in fact, that there were -- there was such a likelihood of tornadoes in that area.

Nonetheless, you can see that to the west, big mountains in here. If anything goes down in here, it is much, much harder to find. Out here, it's easier, although, again, you must be talking about something quite small, because when we look at this over here, you can see that this is the starting area in Fort Collins. This thing was not moving very fast, as far as we can tell. It seemed to vary in height anywhere -- from the various reports we heard -- from anywhere from 5,000 feet. They -- they must be talking about above the level of the ground here, because the level of the ground here is about 5,000 feet, up to 7,500 feet or 8,000 feet, something like that, all in this area here.

And then it seems as if it came down somewhere out in this general area.

So the question, Wolf, is, again, as we were asking earlier, how much lift did this thing have?

There's a -- a serious question of whether or not you could even get off the ground with something of the size we're talking about, with -- with a 50 pound boy involved. Everything you add to a balloon -- if you put a box here of any sort that could have contained him -- adds more weight to it.

So, again, the question becomes, did this ever have the lift to lift the boy and this box, get airborne and for him to be lost that way?

BLITZER: And the suspicion now is that there was some sort of box or basket attached and perhaps that little boy was inside, but the box or the basket fell off at some point, whether early on or later...

FOREMAN: Right.

BLITZER: And that the search is on.

FOREMAN: And I must say that Chad hit on something earlier that I was struck by, too. At one point when we were watching this thing, it seemed -- it's very hard to tell, you know, looking through a TV camera like that. It did seem to gain a lot of altitude. But in the process of that, it never changed appearance, Wolf. There was never a sense that something was on it here, cut loose and then it took off. It just seemed, at one point, to go a lot higher and then to fluctuate back down. And at that time of day, you can have very dramatic temperature changes, which could make it behave that way (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: What about a gust of wind, too?

FOREMAN: Yes, you could. You could have it. But from what Chad was saying earlier, I don't think there's any indication of a lot of wild activity, although certainly along the front range of the Colorado Rockies here, that's always a possibility. So that may have been nothing but the behavior of a balloon floating free. And they can do a lot of things on any kind of a gust of wind that comes that way.

So we have an idea of the map, where they were. We have an idea of where they have to be looking. And certainly, we have an idea that if this gained -- if this was gaining altitude the way it was described earlier, at about the speed of a Ferris wheel, if this started going up at that speed, you know, very quickly, you're talking about in a matter of minutes being 500, 1,000 feet off the ground, something like that. So the window of opportunity, if this boy was ever on board, in which he would have survived a fall, frankly, it's quite small. It's very limited here in a very short period of time.

So I guess we'll find out -- Wolf (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: So they're going to, obviously, first and foremost, they're going to search the neighborhood right now -- the subdivision in Fort Collins, Colorado, to see if there are any boxes. They've got a big search ahead of them. And as Jeanne Meserve said, they've got helicopters flying overhead right now.

FOREMAN: Yes. And, as you know, many of the neighborhoods up in places like Fort Collins, there can be many places where they have heavy grasses, heavy trees, heavy things, where, again, to go back to one of our earlier ideas, where this boy could also be hiding if he were simply troubled. But (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: You can only hope that that...

FOREMAN: -- troubled right now...

BLITZER: Yes.

FOREMAN: -- over the question of what has happened.

BLITZER: You can only hope the little boy is hiding some place and will be found safe, because if he were in that box, you know, we don't know what -- what happened to the box or the basket that may have been attached to the bottom of that hot air -- that -- that balloon. And this is video that we recorded earlier, courtesy of our affiliate, KUSA.

FOREMAN: Yes, and it never...

BLITZER: And, as you say, it went...

FOREMAN: -- it never looked any different.

BLITZER: ...it went on for about two hours.

FOREMAN: Yes, about two-and-a-half hours of flying.

BLITZER: More than two hours.

FOREMAN: And I never saw at any point that it looked anything other than that, you know, with the -- the flat bottom on it, just like we have this sort of mushroom shape with the flat bottom, nothing attached to the bottom, no doors attached.

BLITZER: And that's when it landed. It made that very smooth landing in that dirt field. And a lot of us were surprised that there wasn't an immediate rush to try to go inside and see if that little boy was inside. But obviously, those who were on the scene were aware that there -- there was nothing inside, but maybe there was a box that was missing. I mean that helps explain that -- that mystery that I -- that I felt early on, when you see they're walking around. They're not -- they're not actually trying to go inside and look for a little boy yet.

FOREMAN: Yes. Yes. I was -- I was struck by the same thing, Wolf. The minute we saw that, I mean having been on a lot of searches on other things, the -- the primary concern is obviously with any potential victim. So, obviously, they -- they knew, at that point, that that's not what was happening. So now the mystery goes on.

BLITZER: I wanted to go back to Jeanne Meserve, our homeland security correspondent -- Jeanne, give us some context on the nature of the search that's underway right now.

MESERVE: Well, we heard earlier from the Larimer County sheriff's spokesman that there is a heavy search going on on the ground around the -- the neighborhood where this boy lived, on the chance that he never got on board this balloon. I believe the statement was that they had 20 officers on the ground scouring, as well as patrol vehicles out and around.

In addition, the Colorado Army National Guard has said that it had one helicopter in the air. Another was going up shortly. They told me they were concentrating their search around Weld County. And one of those helicopters does have night vision capability. And they'll be expanding the search, not just around Weld County, but expanding it along the entire flight path that they believe this -- this Mylar balloon took this afternoon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So there's a massive search underway for this little boy. This is this -- is the Weld County Airport. You can see this map here up on our screen where this search apparently is underway -- Tom, as we look at this -- and, you know, you can only -- you know, our hearts go out to that family, the family of that little 6-year-old boy, Falcon. You can only imagine what they must be going through right now.

FOREMAN: Oh, yes. I mean it's -- it's a horrible thought, Wolf. And this is -- you know, Jeanne was mentioning Weld County. This is Weld County. And I must say, depending on where you live in the country, I think one thing that's worth bearing in mind is the scope of the West. Counties out West are really enormous. As a -- as a point of reference, I always say to people, if you picked up Montana and dropped it down, one end would be on Chicago and the other on Washington, D.C. So you get an idea of how big a county like this can be. This is an enormous amount of area.

Over here, the same over here in Larimer County, where Fort Collins is. So even if they're flying over, this is quite a search area. And you know from your experience -- the other thing that you may not know at home, looking down from a helicopter trying to spot something on the ground -- even as big as you or I, Wolf -- is actually unbelievably hard because every little shadow, every change in the topography jumps right out at you. It's very hard to separate things. And the later in the day you get, the more you get these sharp shadows coming in off the mountains. And sunset comes much earlier there because of the mountains. This area will be in darkness earlier than you might expect. And that will raise the difficulty of any search, if they haven't found this young man by that time.

BLITZER: Yes. We're talking -- we're not talking about an airplane that they're searching for, we're talking about a basket.

FOREMAN: Sure. Sure.

BLITZER: Or a little box...

FOREMAN: And as you know...

BLITZER: ...where a little boy might have gone in.

FOREMAN: Even when they search for -- I've been on searches where they've been looking for a downed aircraft, which may be as big as this room. And many times, the searchers will go over the area many times before they can spot it, because it's very difficult to do from the air. And, again, I want to impress upon you, this is a huge area of land. It's not like an Eastern county, where you can get from one side to the other in 20 minutes. This is a much, much bigger area of land in both cases.

BLITZER: And this search is -- this search is underway right now. But I -- if, in fact, there was a box or a basket attached, my gut instinct tells me it probably fell off earlier in this -- in this runaway of this balloon than, perhaps, later. But that's just purely...

FOREMAN: Yes. It's -- it's hard to say.

BLITZER: ...purely a guess.

FOREMAN: And, of course, we don't have any good tracking of pratac -- specifically where this thing went early on. All we know is that it started flying. And we have some accounts from the ground of people saying, I saw it pass over a given area. But when you don't know how high something is, as you know, Wolf, you may see it pass over. You may be off by as much as a half mile and think you're seeing it right over some house when, in fact, it may be quite different.

BLITZER: We have a guest on the phone with us, Kevin Knapp, who's a corporate balloon pilot.

You fly these balloons around, Kevin. Give us -- you've been watching this unfold for the last few hours. Give us your assessment.

KEVIN KNAPP, CORPORATE BALLOON PILOT: Yes, sir. I fly hot air balloons and I'm also qualified as a -- a gas pilot. And we fly the big helium balloons in the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race. And this -- you know, it looks like a home built balloon. Initially when I saw it, you know, I couldn't tell the size of it.

But looking at the -- at the balloon when it compared to the authorities there to catch it, I knew that it -- it could not carry the weight of a small boy. As it's being reported now, there was a basket attached to it at one time. I would be assuming, like everybody else, that the weight of the basket separated itself from the balloon and the balloon -- we were following the balloon for over an hour, like everybody else.

BLITZER: When would that happen, most likely, based on your experience, when that basket could have separated itself for what -- for whatever reason, from the balloon?

KNAPP: It would probably happen soon after the launch. Again, not knowing the characteristics of the balloon, just looking at the size from the television, not knowing the weight of the boy, it would -- it would have to happen early into the flight.

BLITZER: But based on the dimensions of this balloon, the helium that might have been inside, how much it could lift, assuming the boy weighed 50 pounds and the basket was a few more pounds, obviously, is it reasonable to think that balloon could have run away -- just taken off, escaped the tether with a basket containing a little boy?

KNAPP: Potential -- looking at the size of the balloon and another pilot friend who's been on commentary earlier, they did some calculations. And Craig Kennedy could probably carry 100, 120 pounds- is she -- again, not knowing how the -- the basket was attached.

This is a home built. It's not like the balloons -- that that we fly that carry passengers. But it works under the same principle. You get a lighter than air gas inside -- in this case, helium -- and it's going to go into the sky.

BLITZER: So it's, theoretically, at least, based on the dimensions you're seeing, it's possible that 100 pounds could have been lifted by this balloon?

KNAPP: It is -- it is possible. And, again, not knowing how the basket was attached and/or whether the -- you know, if it was attached when it launched, you know, when -- when exactly, it would probably be early into the flight that they had separated.

BLITZER: Yes. That was my assumption, as well.

Tom Foreman is here with us, Kevin.

He's got a question that he wants to ask you, as well -- Tom.

FOREMAN: You know, Kevin, it does have to do with this question of lift on something like this, because the kind of flight that we're talking about here, with this thing flying around like that, obviously, it can't be doing that with much of a burden, just by watching the nature of its flight. So even if -- if you have it at these -- these limits of its lifting capacity, which we would presume it would be, based on the size of it, is it going to take off at the same speed that it would if it had a lot of lifting power at that point or is it going to -- to go up quite gradually?

KNAPP: No. It's -- it would go up quite gradually. What you're seeing in the sky is without the weight. I -- I would assume with weight of the basket and the young boy in it, the balloon would be distorted and more shaped like a balloon instead of a flying saucer that you're seeing.

BLITZER: But if it -- if it's on the limit of its lifting power, if you're saying this balloon is having to carry this box on the bottom and we have a 6-year-old boy, so we're guessing around anywhere from 40 to 50 pounds. I think the average 6-year-old weight is like 46 pounds, something like this. Even if the box is a 15 pound box or so, then you start talking about a much more gradual ascent to begin with.

KNAPP: Yes, sir.

FOREMAN: Any idea how -- when we talk about gradual, what we're talking about?

Earlier the description was like a Ferris wheel, which can be fairly rapid.

KNAPP: Well, in a -- in a typical gas balloon flight, we get buoyant before we launch, which means we're at equilibrium. And we control our ascent by the amount of ballast that we let out. And it could go be a gradual ascent or, if we let a lot of ballast out, we could go up a couple hundred feet per minute.

In this case, without letting ballast out, just releasing the balloon, I would assume it would be a couple hundred feet per minute launch.

BLITZER: Yes. And -- and were you surprised at all, Kevin, that this balloon, you know, stayed in the air for more than two hours, as it ran away?

KNAPP: Oh, no, not at all. In a typical gas balloon flight with a 1,000 cubic meter balloon, we could be in -- in the air for three or four days at a time.

BLITZER: And when we saw that steep ascent -- at one point, it really took off and went up -- what could -- what could have been the cause of that?

KNAPP: That could have been thermal -- a pocket of hot air rising with -- with the weather. You saw clouds building in the area. The balloon responds to temperature and wind. If -- if it's in a pocket of warmer air, it's going to ascend at a pretty fast pace.

BLITZER: Because there was some speculation if the basket had been detached at that moment, we would have seen a deep ascent like that, as well.

Was that theoretically possible?

KNAPP: It is, yes (INAUDIBLE).

FOREMAN: Let me ask you one other question about this, if I can. These are the same types of balloons -- helium balloons or gas balloons -- that were used for some of the early experiments back in, what, the 1960s, where they would fly actually to the edge of the -- the stratosphere, if I'm correct, but much bigger versions of this.

Why do you believe this balloon ultimately seems to have leveled out and then come down?

Do -- do you think it was simply not that full to begin with or would that more indicate that it simply wasn't a very well sealed system?

KNAPP: I'm guessing -- because somebody mentioned a door on the side. I don't -- I can't see it. In the bottom part of the -- the envelope there, like air has -- or gas has escaped in -- in the later pictures when it's, you know, partially deflated. You know, it just didn't have enough lift for the weight of the Mylar (INAUDIBLE).

FOREMAN: And so it had to be losing some throughout the flight to come back down?

KNAPP: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

FOREMAN: Because if it weren't losing any, it would have stayed up, absent some kind of huge downdraft?

KNAPP: Sure.

BLITZER: Kevin Knapp...

KNAPP: Sure, it would...

BLITZER: ...is joining us on the phone. He's a corporate balloon pilot who's an authority on this subject.

Oh, hold on for a second.

I want to bring in our Chad Myers, because he's got a question for you, Kevin.

But let me just recap for viewers who might just be tuning in right now. There's been a new development -- a potentially very significant and very disturbing development in the search for a missing 6-year-old boy who had been believed to be aboard that -- that runaway balloon. But when it landed in a dirt field, there was no sign of any boy on board.

Only within the last 15, 20 minutes have the Associated Press, KUSA, other news organizations reported that there had been a basket attached to that balloon and that one of the little boy's brothers saw little 6-year-old Falcon go into that basket as the tether was released and the balloon took off. And now they're searching for the basket, because when they found the balloon, there was no sign of any basket or box that could have contained -- that could have contained that -- that basket. There's no -- no sign of that basket. They're looking for the basket. Fredricka Whitfield -- Chad, hold on for a second -- is getting some more information -- Fred, what are you picking up?

WHITFIELD: Right. As they look for that basket now, new information we're just learning. One of the sheriff's deputies from Weld County apparently is reportedly telling his people -- his or her people, that, indeed, he actually saw some kind of object fall from that balloon at some point. And now, apparently, they are going to be looking specifically just East of Plateville, because from a very great distance, this person is saying they actually saw something fall, possibly that basket -- that box we've been talking about that is attached to those pieces that investigators did at least see at the bottom of that balloon. They are looking for that basket. And now we're hearing, according to one of the sheriff's deputies from Weld County, that they did, indeed, see some sort of object that may have fallen from that balloon there just East of Platteville.

So you heard Jeanne Meserve reporting earlier that a lot of her sources are telling her that they are going to redirect themselves and look at the path of the -- the traveling path of that balloon. Now they're going to zero in on this area just east of Plateville to see if, indeed, they can find anything that might resemble this box that may have been attached to this balloon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did they give any information, Fred, on the altitude where the balloon was when this basket or box may have been detached?

WHITFIELD: If that has been conveyed from one of those sheriff's deputies, it has not been conveyed to us as yet. We're not -- we're not really sure exactly what kind of altitude, if this was at the low end of that balloon in its ascent or perhaps if this was a peak point.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, that's an important question that we'll try to get an answer to.

Fred, stand by.

Chad Myers is here.

He's got a question for Kevin Knapp, who's a corporate balloon pilot himself -- go ahead, Chad.

MYERS: Wolf, this actually comes from all the meteorologists here in Atlanta. They all want to know, all these calculations about lift and all that, is that for sea level or do you recalculate that for 5,000 feet above sea level, where this balloon actually started?

KNAPP: The calculations are for where you launch and -- and for how much weight that it's carrying. If we're planning a typical gas balloon flight, you count the weight of -- of the balloon itself, the weight of the basket, the weight of your passengers and everything else that you're -- you're carrying. And I think Craig Kennedy and pilots there in Albuquerque, New Mexico calculated for about 5,000 feet.

BLITZER: I think I want to just go to another guest.

Stand by for a moment, Kevin, Chad.

I want everyone to stand by, because Lieutenant Colonel Mark Riccardi is joining us right now on the phone.

He's the acting director of military support for the Colorado National Guard.

You've been watching this very closely, Colonel.

Tell us what you're doing to support this search operation. LT. COL. MARK RICCARDI, COLORADO NATIONAL GUARD: Yes, good afternoon, sir.

Currently, the Colorado National Guard is assisting in support of search and rescue efforts, as directed by the Weld County sheriff. And we're doing that right now with an Army helicopter that is flying along the flight path. It's a UH-60 out of Buckley Air Force Base and we are currently doing an aerial search right now.

BLITZER: And so you have one helicopter on the scene, looking -- have you been told to look specifically for a basket or a box that may contain this little boy?

RICCARDI: We have been told just to look for anything that may have come out of the aircraft. So our pilots are looking for anything along the flight path that might possibly not have to be -- should not be there.

BLITZER: So the -- but the working assumption is that at least one of the other the boy's brothers said that there was a basket or box attached and -- and he saw the little 6-year-old Falcon go in -- inside that basket. So I -- I assume that's the major thrust of this search and rescue operation, trying to find that box.

RICCARDI: Well, we're unsure exactly of that information. We're working with the Weld County sheriff to look for anything along the flight path.

BLITZER: And do you have night vision capability, your helicopter from the Colorado National Guard?

RICCARDI: The helicopters do, yes. But currently in Colorado, it's still daylight, so they don't have to employ that yet.

BLITZER: Colonel, Tom Foreman is here.

He's got a question for you, as well -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Colonel, can you give me an idea of -- of the type of search area you're looking for, what sort of range you're talking about?

We're looking at a map right now of Fort Collins all the way down to Denver.

RICCARDI: It's -- it's currently a search in the area in and around the flight path and the boy's home. I could not give you an accurate estimation of the exact distance, but it is a pretty -- a pretty good-sized area. But that aircraft can cover a large amount of distance...

FOREMAN: When you say a pretty good...

RICCARDI: (INAUDIBLE).

FOREMAN: Colonel, without -- without going too far with this, when you say a pretty good-sized area, do you mean more like several football fields or more like a couple of miles?

RICCARDI: A couple of miles.

FOREMAN: OK.

BLITZER: And, so, but basically, Colonel, the major part of the search is near the Fort Collins area or is it closer to Denver International Airport, where this -- this balloon eventually landed?

RICCARDI: It's along the entire flight path from the Fort Collins area, where the balloon left, down to the Denver International Airport area; and, again, searching that flight path.

BLITZER: All right. We're -- we've been going through the video, all of the video, Colonel. And Chad Myers is watching all of this. Jeanne Meserve is watching, Tom Foreman. And we're getting ready to show our viewers. It appears something has been detached from the -- from the balloon. We're going to show you that in a moment, as soon as we get that ready. And I want everyone, if they're near a TV screen, to watch and we can better appreciate what this might be.

We don't have the video yet ready, Colonel. But I think we'll see if this is -- this is specifically what you've been tasked -- you and the Colorado National Guard have been tasked with your helicopters searching this area, to find.

We're going to get that video for you ready momentarily. Once it is Colonel, I want you to watch it. And I know Kevin Knapp, who's a corporate balloon pilot, he's still with us, as well. We'll all -- we'll all watch it very, very closely to see -- to see what it was.

And, by the way, the video that we're going to be showing you is -- is actually a still picture of the balloon -- the runaway balloon. And something seems to have been detached. We're going to get that picture for you ready right now. We don't know what it is, what seems to have been detached. There it is right there.

Now, take a close look, Tom, and everyone else. You can see the hot air balloon up there and something below. There's a dot there. I mean, obviously, it's unclear what that could be. It could be anything. It could be something that -- that was detached from the hot air balloon. But go ahead. And, obviously, we know where this picture was taken, Colonel.

What does that say to you, if anything, as someone who's in charge of this search and rescue operation?

RICCARDI: Unfortunately, it doesn't say much. We can't see the video where I'm at right now. But from what you've described, it doesn't provide us much. We are taking our direction from the Weld County sheriff. We will be working with them and, again, looking for anything unusual along the flight path. And I'm unsure exactly of -- of what the video is showing right now.

BLITZER: Well, it's not video. It's a still picture basically showing the -- the runaway balloon. And then just below it, there is a dark spot, which may be something that was detached from the balloon, maybe not. But, you know, we know this area where we got it. So we'll be able to -- we'll be able to determine precisely the location. Maybe you can dispatch your helicopter to that area.

Tom, you have it here on the screen.

FOREMAN: And we can look at it a little bit closer here, Wolf. This is obviously the balloon up here. You can't tell anything about distance here. So there's really no gauging the distance from this to this, because we don't know how far away these are.

As you see, if we move in closer, this is -- this is definitely something that's -- that's there. It -- I mean this could be a speck on the lens, but it doesn't look like it because it's -- it's in the same sort of focal range as the others. When you zoom it out, you can see that this splats out about the same as this one does down here, which suggests that it's not something on the lens, Wolf.

And we also have this that I wanted to show you very briefly. This is an aerial of the neighborhood. This is not a very good rendition geographically.

BLITZER: The Fort Collins, Colorado, neighborhood?

FOREMAN: Exactly. Not a very good resolution photograph of the area, but you can see that there's a good number of houses back in here. This isn't that isolated. So, presumably, if something fell off right in here, you're not out in the wilds. This is not in a rural home, where it would be very hard for someone to have noticed something like that.

So, again, right now, you're right, Wolf, this is a very intriguing photograph.

BLITZER: Yes. And the photographer who took that picture didn't notice that dot there until she got home and saw the picture. And all of a sudden, she realized, you know, well, maybe this is related to that -- this thing, basket or box or whatever it was that they're now searching for out in Colorado. So it's -- it's an intriguing element and certainly -- and certainly something interesting.

By the way, we're also being told, Tom, that this picture was taken about 35 miles from where the -- the deputy also suggests that he saw something fall from this -- fight this hot -- this balloon.

FOREMAN: You're saying 35 miles from...

BLITZER: This runaway...

FOREMAN: what does that mean?

Thirty-five miles from the house?

BLITZER: Thirty-five miles from -- there's a deputy who said, I believe I saw something fall. And 35 miles away is where this picture was taken.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So we don't know what, if anything, this means.

FOREMAN: Sure.

BLITZER: Obviously, we're looking at -- we're looking at all the evidence there and all these little clues, because this is a desperate search underway for little 6-year-old Falcon.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: And I have to tell you, Wolf, we also don't know -- I will say this -- this part of the front rage, there are always like a tremendous number of geese and -- and all sorts of birds. At this distance, you can see how much the image has degraded here. We just don't know. This could be -- it could simply be a bird flying by.

BLITZER: Right.

FOREMAN: But you're right, you don't notice when you're taking the big picture, but later on, you see it. In fact, you -- no, you can't really tell anything here. I wonder if there's a little smearing over here, which would indicate something else going on over here. But, nonetheless, you're right, we don't know anything other than that this is a dot down below this.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Let me just recap for our viewers who might just be tuning in right now. A search underway for a little 6- year-old boy who was believed to have been aboard this runaway balloon. Now the authorities are suggesting that there may have been a basket or box attached to the balloon. Once the balloon made a safe landing, about more than two hours, while it was in-flight, made a safe landing in a dirt field near Denver International Airport, there was no basket, no box, no boy on board.

So they're searching right now for this missing basket or box. And there's a massive search and rescue operation underway right now, even as we speak. A few hours of daylight left in Colorado, Rocky Mountain time, before it starts getting dark.

Our affiliate, KUSA, caught up with a friend of this little missing boy -- a contemporary, another little boy.

Let's watch the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY KUSA)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell me how you're feeling right now knowing that maybe your friend is in danger.

RYAN TOOL, FALCON HEENE'S FRIEND: I'm feeling a little jumpy right now so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jumpy how? Can you explain to me what it's like to not know whether he's OK or not?

TOOL: Well, It's just my heart's kind of jumping every once in a while. It doesn't mean (INAUDIBLE) on TV so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what are you hoping happens to...

TOOL: I'm hoping that Falcon's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because he's a friend of yours, right?

TOOL: Yes, he is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

So are you going to take off and are you going to go help out?

TOOL: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Try to explain what you hope you can do today to help -- help your friend.

TOOL: I actually don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are some of the places that you're going to look for your friend?

TOOL: Maybe out in big fields over along.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did Falcon tell you about these balloons the family worked on?

TOOL: He hasn't told me anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever seen him working on it?

TOOL: No. He's just come over to our house. I haven't been over here yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think about this happening to your friend?

TOOL: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you learn about it? What did you think?

TOOL: I learned about it because we were out and about, and my mom got a call from this -- from my dad who got a call. That's how I figured it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty scary?

TOOL: Uh-huh, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you see any of it on TV?

TOOL: Huh? No, not until we got home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But did you see any of the pictures of the little balloon being chased by the helicopters and stuff?

TOOL: Yeah. I saw some of them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you think when you saw that?

TOOL: I thought it was kind of amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scary at the same time?

TOOL: Yeah, uh-huh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to look for Falcon, your friend?

TOOL: Yeah, uh-huh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So that's it, a little friend of that missing 6-year-old boy, Falcon. The massive search under way right now. And that's a picture we got courtesy of photographer Lisa Eckland. We don't know what that speck is below the balloon. But there's a suspicious that there was a basket or a box that was attached, may have contained little Falcon. They're searching for this basket or box right now. The little boy is still missing. There's a massive search and rescue operation under way right now in between the little boy's home in Ft. Collins and Denver international airport where this balloon eventually made a soft landing in the dirt not far from the airport.

Dick Knapinski is joining us now. He's a spokesman for Experimental Aircraft Association. What do you think, Dick, about what possibly could have happened here? I don't think we have him on the phone. We'll try to reconnect with him. We'll get his sense of what's going on.

Tom Foreman is here with us. Chad Myers is here. Jeanne Meserve, we're watching this story very closely. The Colorado National Guard has a search and rescue operation under way as well.

Tom, as we watch this story unfold, it becomes increasingly more worrisome as it gets darker and darker. Even though this helicopter that's searching does have night vision equipment.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. And it's 3:30 in Colorado right now. They've got some time before it's going to get dark out there. I was just in Colorado two weeks ago. I think it was getting dark around 6:30, maybe. Maybe they have three more hours. Again, these mountains over here cast quite a shadow over on to the plains. Sundown comes earlier than you would expect because the sun stops dropping behind there. These are huge, 14,000 foot pee peaks. We talk about the search area. We had it drawn up here earlier. This is the search area we're talking about roughly.

BLITZER: This is the boy's home here in Ft. Collins?

FOREMAN: Yeah. This is where he is. We're told that the search area is maybe a couple of miles wide. Something like that. All the way from here to roughly where it landed. We don't know that this was the real flight pattern. But this is where it wound up. We know it had to go somewhere in this vicinity. If they're searching through here, I guess the other question, Wolf, is if we're talking about the zone where there's a lot of -- where there's potentially some good hope here, it's got to be right in this area. Because I was looking a moment ago at this. We were talking about this balloon rising at the rate of a Ferris wheel or even if it were heavily burdened and barely able to lift, which seems to be the consensus, rising at a rate of 100 feet or so a minute. Well, you're very quickly -- you're in very, very short order getting beyond the limits of what anybody would have much hope at if they were released from this thing. It would have to be really in the very beginning stages here. We're talking about this thing having risen at some points, conflicting amounts, anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 feet. Something like that. I can't remember the exact numbers right now. But this would have happened fairly rapidly. Really the zone that we're interested in is very close here, and frankly when we look at that search map and the picture we had of the neighborhood he lived in, you're talking about a very limited area, Wolf. The only way it would not be a limited area is if this came up and it was so heavily burdened that it came up and just skimmed, barely flying for a period of time before that box cut loose and then it shot up and gained altitude. But the truth is we just don't know right now. That was in a neighborhood where if the release happened there, there are enough houses around there, presumably somebody would know something.

BLITZER: I think we've reconnected with spokesman for Experimental Aircraft Association. I hope I'm pronouncing your last name correctly. Give us your assessment of what it looks like -- looks like happened.

DICK KNAPINKSI, EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT ASSOCIATION: It is very interesting. I know you use the word intriguing before, Wolf. I think that's maybe the best description of what we've seen so far this afternoon. The big questions we have, it first of all does not appear that this aerial vehicle had any kind of markings that showed it was a registered home built balloon or anything like that. Where it would usually be in the FAA category of experimental aircraft, even lighter than aircraft where the balloons would be categorized. We don't know if it was intended to be a flying machine, intended to be a project that maybe got loose somehow, or if it was just something that was intended to be tethered to the ground at all times and for some reason something went wrong at some point. Those are some of the questions until we know more about the back story. I think everybody that has mentioned things so far is exactly correct. There are many things we just don't know about this.

BLITZER: It looks like -- everybody says it's a homemade balloon. What do you make of the material that was used? How sophisticated of a balloon was this? KNAPINSKI: You know, I haven't heard a lot about the material so far. Whether it's, you know, a Mylar, a plastic, some kind of tarping, whatever it happened to be. Once more is known about that, certainly if it was a helium type envelope it would have the capability of rising fairly quickly as one of your other guests had mentioned. So it was something that certainly could be a project where it was intended to be tethered and go to several hundred feet and maybe come back down. Again, the people who built it would probably have to answer those questions.

BLITZER: As you look at the lessons that we should all learn from this incident right now, it's very disturbing because there's a little 6-year-old boy who's still missing right now. May or may not have been in a basket or box that was attached to the bottom of this balloon, let's start drawing some lessons. I don't think it's too early to start drawing some lessons, what folks should be thinking about right now, Dick.

KNAPINSKI: I think first of all the lessons we have to draw from it come from whatever we discover what this happens to be. What was the intended use of the project? Certainly there are rules and regulations that fall upon home built balloons just as home built aircraft. They have to be inspected. They have to be maintained and they have to have airworthiness certificates. Everything we could see from it so far, Wolf, indicated it really had nothing like that. That leads to the question whether it was ever intended to be a flying vehicle of any sort.

BLITZER: As we watch these pictures, they're so dramatic. And we can only imagine what it was like if, in fact, there was a basket or a box attached. There are reports, dick, as you know, that one of the little boy's brothers saw the -- Falcon go into that basket or box just as it began to lift. That's obviously a very worrisome situation. As you see here, once that balloon landed in that dirt field, there's no sign of any box or basket. No sign of Falcon either. Tom foreman has a question for you, dick. He's here covering this story as well. Tom?

FOREMAN: Let me ask you this, Dick, if I can. When we talk about the overall range of this thing, we're now -- this is a map showing where people say they saw something possibly fall off. Talking about Ft. Collins up here down to Platteville, which I remember and I have been told also is about 30 miles in this distance here. By the time you reach some place like Platteville with a balloon like this flying 30 miles, certainly it's -- there's no question that at this point it was at some of the limit of how far it was going to go up, I guess. Because it would have been in the air for at least an hour at this point, correct?

KNAPINSKI: It would be. You know, helium devices can fly for some time. Not knowing exactly what the envelope of this flying device was, which became a balloon and was flying across the sky, you know, how long the helium or whatever gas that helped move it through the air could be contained in there, actually some helium devices will stay up for hours at a time. And hot air balloons, of course, have control devices as well. But this is very unusual, out of the ordinary. I think that's the one thing that we have to go back and say, what was the original intent of this project? Was it ever meant to actually fly or did it somehow get away from those who might have built it.

BLITZER: Based on everything we know, Dick, this was just a homemade experiment. The father was just working on it. Obviously it got out of control one way or another earlier today when it just took off from the family's back beyond a reasonable doubt -- yard, apparently. Kevin Knapp is still with us. A corporate balloon pilot as well. You listened to this conversation. Kevin, you saw that intriguing photograph taken near Platteville. When you saw that little speck, that little dark spot below the balloon, what did you think, Kevin?

KEVIN KNAPP: Wolf, I can't, again, like everybody else, I can't describe what it could be. Whether it's a speck on the camera lens or something actually falling from the balloon, et cetera. One of the things I would look at is the shape of the balloon. Again, we're looking up at it from the ground. But it appears to be more flat and shaped like a flying saucer than it is in any other of the video that's been shown on television so far. To me as a pilot, that would indicate a loss of weight and the pressure of the air on top of the balloon as it goes up at a faster rate compressing the balloon to a flatter flying saucer shape. So that -- it could be a good indication that it's lost weight at that point. And I would direct search and rescue in that area. Keeping in mind, too, the speed of the wind from that point and forward motion, continued forward motion of the basket, if it was the basket that fell, it would not come straight down. It would continue moving forward until it actually hit the ground.

BLITZER: If it were a bird, that speck below that balloon in that still photograph, Kevin, if it were a bird, would that show up like that given how small those birds are?

KNAPP: From the photograph of the tree and the size of the balloon in that picture, it would have to be a pretty large bird if it were a bird.

BLITZER: Yeah. That was my assumption as well. It's something bigger than a bird. We obviously don't know. Could just be some dirt on the lens of the camera. Or, on the other hand, it could be a basket or a little box that may have detached from that -- from that balloon. Because there's a massive search under way. The assumption is that the little boy was inside that basket or box that was attached to the balloon. But somehow that basket or box was detached and they're looking for that box right now even as we speak. There's a massive search and rescue operation under way. The national guard of Colorado has dispatched a helicopter to the region as well. We know where that photograph was taken. They could direct that search and rescue operation to go there to find out -- you know, to see if there's anything on the ground near there. All right. Kevin, thanks very much for your expertise.

Peter Goelz is joining us now, formerly of the NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board, a friend of ours here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Peter, we've been looking. We've been speculating. And we've been bringing in experts to help us better appreciate what's going on. You understand the situation. What do you think?

PETER GOELZ, NTSB: I think it's -- it is an awful tough afternoon for that family. I mean, the NTSB can help figure out the trajectory of an object that fell. They'll be able to find whatever fell from the plane, I think, relatively quickly.

BLITZER: Yeah. If, in fact, something did fall from the balloon.

GOELZ: Yeah. And the NTSB investigates both home built, you know, accidents and balloon accidents. So they've got people trained in both. So they'll take a hard look at this. At this event today. And they'll probably have some recommendations on it.

BLITZER: It's just -- looks like sort of a homemade flying saucer. But it is a balloon. I believe a helium balloon. A gas balloon that's been flying around like that. But would you say the NTSB under normal circumstances would immediately launch an investigation?

GOELZ: Well, I think, no, under normal circumstances they probably would not. They would probably, you know, let the FAA take a look at it and they probably wouldn't send -- given the high profile nature of this event, I think it's important to find out what happened. People are going to want to know. The NTSB, they'll be able to figure out what the sequence of events was. Boy, this is just tough if it is -- if it is true that this poor boy was in the box when it fell.

BLITZER: Tough, indeed. Stand by, Peter.

Patrick Love is on the phone with us. He's the public information officer in Larimer County for one of the fire authorities there. He's in the joint information center of the Larimer County sheriff's office.

What can you tell us about this?

PATRICK LOVE, LARIMER COUNTY PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER: Good afternoon, Wolf. What I can tell you, some things that have probably already been covered. This originally was reported to Larimer County sheriff's office at 11:30 this morning. And we have some conflicting reports, and we're still trying to confirm as far as when and at what time the child may have gotten into the balloon. Right now we have Larimer County search and rescue searching from the house where the balloon came from. And that search is continuing to the east of the house. Now, that will involve both Larimer and parts of Weld County, which is directly east of Larimer County. We're also getting search and rescue personnel in news helicopters so they can do as much as they can from the air also.

BLITZER: So, Patrick, just to recap, you believe it took off from Ft. Collins, from the neighborhood where this family lived, around 11:30 a.m. local time. That's Rocky Mountain Time. 1:30 p.m. eastern time. What time did it eventually land in that dirt field?

LOVE: Wolf, I believe it landed in the dirt field at approximately 1:30 mountain standard time.

BLITZER: So it was a two-hour flight that this balloon was up in the air?

LOVE: That's correct.

BLITZER: And do you have any evidence that during the course of those two hours a basket or a box was detached from that balloon that perhaps contained little 6-year-old Falcon?

LOVE: We have not been able to confirm those reports.

BLITZER: Did any eyewitness, any brother say that to authorities? That there was a basket or a box, and he saw Falcon go into that basket or box?

LOVE: You know, Wolf, also we cannot confirm that at this time. We have numerous people who are working the scene and trying to gain as much intelligence as quickly as possible. So we are, again, having as many people as we can throw at this as we can get.

BLITZER: And what has the family, if you can share with us, the parents, the other brothers, the siblings, other relatives who may have been there or neighbors or friends, what have they said based on what happened? Just if you could walk us through this tragedy?

LOVE: Unfortunately, Wolf, I do not have that information right now.

BLITZER: You don't. All right. Well, I think tom foreman may have a question for you. But go ahead, Tom.

FOREMAN: Patrick, could you describe again for me the search area you're looking at right now? Because I was thinking that it actually headed a little more southeast from Ft. Collins, from the house, but you're talking about going directly east over toward Weld County, is that correct?

LOVE: That is correct, Tom. We're also still trying to confirm the route of the balloon. And so we are going to keep that search area as wide as possible right now. And as far as being around the house, I can give you a couple county roads that we have -- or we are including in our search. Larimer County road 34 and Larimer County road 11.

FOREMAN: Okay.

LOVE: And, again, that is in the southeastern portion of Ft. Collins.

FOREMAN: And how wide would you describe the search area? Earlier we had a fellow from the military describe it as maybe a couple miles wide, I believe is how he was describing it. Is that about right?

LOVE: You know, I cannot confirm that right now either. But I would say that's pretty darn accurate.

FOREMAN: Okay. And do you have yet a good feeling on what the actually flight pattern of this thing was? Because you're talking about a direct east path. Earlier it seemed like it might have been more of a southeast path. We're talking about people saying they think they saw something down around Platteville, which would certainly be southeast, almost directly southeast. Then it ends up a little bit farther out on the plains.

LOVE: You know, Tom, it all depended on the wind at the height that the balloon was at that time. So I'm sure it took a number of different geographical paths, depending on the height it was up in the air because of the wind currents. And in a general direction, yes, it did eventually go southeast.

FOREMAN: And how do you reconstruct that now? I'm very curious about this. Are you doing that through radar or eyewitnesses or a little bit of both? Where are you in that process?

LOVE: Unfortunately from what I understand, they could not track this from radar for some reason. I don't know the technological aspects of that. However, mostly what we can -- or what we have to go on now is eyewitness reports, not only from the ground, the news helicopters that were flying around or near the balloon at the time.

FOREMAN: And this final touchdown point where this landed, can you tell me exactly where that is? It's near Platteville, but it seems like it was out near the reservoir?

LOVE: I do not have that right now, I apologize for that, but that's the best I can describe it right now is near Platteville.

FOREMAN: When you're talking about the focus of this, you were talking about an area that's up near Ft. Collins, near the house. I guess that's the chief focus right now, not so much further downrange, where admittedly we don't know where this was anyway.

LOVE: That is correct.

BLITZER: Patrick Love is the public relations officer down there involved in this search. We're learning more information about the family, about this little boy. Much more of our breaking news coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Search is underway for a 6-year-old boy who is missing as a result of this balloon that simply took off from his backyard. There's a picture of the balloon for some two hours. The balloon was flying around Colorado between Ft. Collins Colorado eventually landing safely, smoothly in a dirt field near Denver international airport, but no boy on board. There's a search underway for a basket or a box that may have been attached to the bottom of the balloon and there's some suspicion that little boy was on board inside that box, the box may have gone away. This is still photo that was taken of the balloon and you see a speck below the balloon, some suspicion perhaps that's the box or the basket or could be something totally random like some birds flying in the area, but that photograph was taken by Lisa Ekland. Ray Johnson is on the phone, he's a former U.S. army pilot. He also knows about night visual equipment and goggles. It's going to be dark fairly soon, Ray, in Colorado. How good is this night vision equipment that may or may not be able to find a box or a basket that was attached to this balloon?

RAY JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. ARMY PILOT: The technology on the night vision equipment that we have now is tremendous. However a good search pattern has to be established, but the equipment is phenomenal.

BLITZER: Even if it's a small little box or basket? Because we know there's been massive searches in planes that have taken a long time to find wreckage for example, you think this kind of equipment might be able to detect a little basket or a box?

JOHNSON: We're talking about a flare which is a forward looking infrared. The only limitation that it does have, it cannot see through vegetation, such as if there's a lot of leaves on the trees up there, it cannot see through the trees to pick that signature up and it does pick up a heat signature.

BLITZER: You get a lot of useful information from the air, but in the end a ground search and rescue operation may be essential is that what I'm hearing you say?

JOHNSON: Actually a coordinated ground search, but they're going to cover a large, large area, but a good, coordinated ground search with an air search can be tremendous in finding this little boy.

BLITZER: And I assume that's what's happening right now. Tom Foreman is covering this with us. I wanted him to ask you a question as well, Rick.

FOREMAN: I wanted to ask you about this ground area, and I wanted to show this to our viewers before we start. This is where the house is south of Ft. Collins, we were told a little while ago the search area is generally right now aimed out this way, this is Larimer County, this is wells county over here, maybe a couple of miles wide, but now I want to show you what's in that area, if you look a little bit more closely, if we pull this map over, this is the neighborhood where it all began. South of Ft. Collins where it all began, you can see this whole area, so pretty dense housing in there, not terribly dense, but suburban housing, this is the search area, this is the house area up in here. And as you can see, it spreads out and I guess my question to you is, when I'm looking here, I see a lot of housing areas, I see golf courses, I seen ponds, I see open fields, I also see limited woodland as you would see on the plains. But nonetheless, all of that ground clutter complicates things I would think?

JOHNSON: Yes, it does, the ground clutter does make it a little bit hard because you don't know if you're going to be picking up animals, which again, the heat signature would pick up an animal and, again, you would have to have the ground crew, the coordinated search with the ground people to go in and check that area out. But you got to remember air search can cover a lot of area, if they have a good search pattern and that's the thing.

FOREMAN: That seems to be the issue right now because we don't know exactly where this balloon went, which makes it difficult to narrow that pattern. We also have reports of it going all the way down to Platteville, for example, where some people believe they may have seen something fallen off at that point.

BLITZER: That still photograph we saw was near Platteville.

FOREMAN: When you go from Ft. Collins down to Platteville and you start spreading out in a cone shape, because we don't know how far north or south it is, for search purposes, that becomes very, very complex because your search area is just so big.

JOHNSON: Yes, that's correct. That weather balloon or the balloon, what they were talking about with that small child can go a tremendous amount of distance and everything and there's just no telling, you know, where you dropped off or where he fell off. But, again, the best thing to do is get that good, coordinated search pattern and just look and kind of looking for a needle in a haystack, it can be done, but, again, you're going to need, you know a ground team and some good search dogs too would be a tremendous help.

BLITZER: Ray Johnson is a former army instructor, pilot helping us, Ray, I'm going to have you stand by. I just want to recap for our viewers, the breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM.