Balloon boy story a betrayal of public’s trust

As Advocate readers know, I love to argue with Lee Giles. Today I vehemently reject his view that the recent balloon-boy hoax was good for a laugh. It’s hard for me to do this because I love lighter-than-air technology.

As Advocate readers know, I love to argue with Lee Giles. Today I vehemently reject his view that the recent balloon-boy hoax was good for a laugh.

It’s hard for me to do this because I love lighter-than-air technology.

Upon seeing the first stories break, I emailed the managing director of World SkyCat in England and told him that this was probably a childhood fantasy of both of us fulfilled.

As the story unfolded, revealing the dangerous altitude and the ultimate landing of the deflated balloon without the boy, I cringed at my earlier bon vivant comments. I thought of how a naïve child or siblings could have inadvertently lead to an adventure doomed to serious injury or death — had the little boy fallen out? From thousands of feet?

Alone in the air — crushed upon landing, alive but in terrible agony? And how could rescuers find a needle-in-the-haystack body of a small child that might have fallen anywhere along hundreds of kilometres between points A-B. How long would he suffer before he died a terrible death alone; what would the parents feel for their lack of attention to the possibility of such a flight of wild abandon?

Yes, many of those emotions Giles talked about swelled up inside me — and then the next emotion was feeling sick upon discovering the boy had been hiding. And then rage upon realizing we had all been duped.

I thought of all those American Air Force pilots, county sheriffs, local citizens, and first responders who had jumped up to follow that balloon, find that boy, save his life — only to learn that their richly human, serious intent was the butt of a giant media joke.

Humans appear to be the only creatures who actively risk their lives, alone and in groups, to save others of their own kind in this way.

Yes, a loyal dog, cat or horse may come to your aid through their limited means to rescue their owner. Yes, a whale or dolphin will help out their own kind and occasionally will help a stranded human.

But the almost innate human desire to rescue and preserve the life of another is something that should not be toyed with.

Even now we hear that many search and rescue teams are afraid of being sued.

How many of those search and rescue workers who saved Gilles Blackburn, the survivor of the Quebec couple who last winter knowingly strayed out of bounds at a Rocky Mountain ski hill might now wish they’d not managed to find him? His ingratitude and sense of “rescue entitlement” is so great that now he is suing!

Just because he managed to stamp an SOS in the snow does not require anyone to save him. But save him they did — at risk to their own lives of avalanche, cold and chopper going down in those unpredictable mountain updrafts.

I agree with Giles that we need silliness in our lives — and I loved the silly and heart-felt balloon adventure of the movie UP. But the recent balloon-boy scam was a huge betrayal of trust inherent in society where to survive, we need each other. And a fundamental element of being able to survive is to trust and believe one another.

That’s what the Heene family destroyed with their inflated egos and desire for national fame.

When I think of the many firefighters, search and rescue folks, first responders and emergency medical teams who give their hearts and souls, as well as frequently risking or losing their lives to rescue another, the full force of the law is not a great enough penalty to hit the Heene family with, in my view.

In one fell swoop, they have taught millions of children (and their own) that it is OK to cry wolf; you’ll still get publicity anyway!

Now the Heene lawyer is spinning a story that the authorities, who worked hard to rescue the boy are the villains — thus further debasing our respect and trust in the law. In all this, the Heenes have made a mockery of a common human drive.

The instinct of survival that underlies the existence of the human race. The willingness to sacrifice one’s own life to save that of another.

If you look deeply, it’s a fundamental premise at work in some of the most mundane jobs and some of the most exalted endeavours of scientists, researchers and caregivers, not just the exciting adventures on the front line.

Giles mocks the sheriffs for their apparent gullibility, but I bet every first responder could tell you unbelievable tall tales that turned out to be true. And lives were saved only because the rescuer was willing to believe the story and willing to try to save someone.

Next time you smell smoke, see fire or have some drug-crazed lunatic with a gun to your head — next time your plane goes down in flames or find yourself trapped in your car in a rollover, I wonder how naive and stupid those determined law enforcers or rescuers will seem as they try to pull you back from the jaws of death.

Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka freelance columnist.

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