The Heene Family

The balloon drama that transfixed the nation — and left viewers terrified at the grim possibilities — ended happily and a bit absurdly Thursday with the discovery that the young boy once thought to have been carried across the Colorado sky had never taken to the air.

Cable news channels followed a helium-filled balloon thought to carry the 6-year-old boy, whose family was featured last year on ABC's Wife Swap, and the coverage continued for hours. The balloon landed softly, with the aptly but bizarrely named Falcon Heene not inside. That led to endless vamping and filler as reporters and experts tried to guess where he was, whether he was alive and whether it might have been a hoax.

At one point CNN broke the ominous news that someone had seen something fall from the balloon.

Clips of the boy and his family on Wife Swap

The boy is the son of Richard and Mayumi Heene, who have two other sons. One of the other boys, Bradford and Royo, reportedly said Falcon had untethered the mylar balloon, which his father used to chase storms, and had taken off inside.

More visually arresting than the car chases that typically transmogrify cable new channels into episodes of COPS, the balloon sped through the air at elevations of  up to 8,000 feet, looking like a Jiffy Pop popcorn bag, as Fox News' Shepard Smith was one of many to observe.

Fox News Channel, CNN and its sister headline station HLN, MSNBC and others stuck with the story throughout the afternoon and well into the evening.

Smith supplied his usually nimble ad-libbing, particularly after the balloon landed without the child.

"I know where I would look for me. I would look under my bed right now. Because my dad, if I let his hot-air balloon go, if I let dad's hot-air balloon go, dad would be asking me to go to the back yard and pick a switch off the tree 'cause he was going to use it on my rear," said the typically folksy Smith, later adding: "I still say, look under the bed."

He was close. The boy was found in a box in the attic, after supplying hours of can't-look-away, terrifying, and finally — mercifully — reassuring programming.