Updated at: 12/24/2012 11:36 AM
By DAN ELLIOTT
(AP) PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Volunteers at a Colorado Air Force base monitoring maps showing Santa Claus’ progress are only about three hours into their goodwill mission but have already answered more than 7,000 phone calls from people asking about the jolly old elf.
Phones are ringing nonstop at Peterson Air Force Base, headquarters of the North American Aerospace Command’s annual Santa-tracking operation.
Dozens of helpers at NORAD are taking calls and tracking Santa’s location on large projection screens.
Volunteers also are posting updates for more than 1 million Facebook fans and 107,000 Twitter followers.
The maps show Santa is in Australia and heading west. The volunteers will keep updating through 3 a.m. Mountain Time on Christmas morning.
NORAD Tracks Santa began in 1955 when a newspaper ad listed the wrong phone number for kids to call Santa. They wound up calling the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD’s predecessor, and a tradition was born.
_ GIFTS IN HEAVEN: A little boy from Missouri phoned in to ask what time Santa delivered toys to heaven, said volunteer Jennifer Eckels, who took the call. The boy’s mother got on the line to explain that his sister had died this year. "I think Santa headed there first," Eckels told him.
_ IS HE THERE, YET?: James Solano took a call from a young girl and her father in Bangkok, asking when Santa would arrive. Solano checked the map and said it wouldn’t be long.
"The dad was saying, `We’ve got to get to bed soon,’" said Solano, an Army colonel.
"It was kind of neat," he said. "They were very thrilled."
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(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)