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Published: Friday, 10/16/2009

Boy thought aloft in balloon found; he believed he was on shaky ground

DENVER POST

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - A 6-year-old boy thought to be missing when a homemade balloon craft floated away from his home was found safe several hours later hiding in his attic.

Richard Heene, father of Falcon Heene, said he designed and built the mylar craft with a box underneath to hold batteries.

Falcon had been getting into the box that holds the batteries, and Mr. Heene said he had yelled at his 6-year-old for doing that.

"He said he was hiding in the attic because I yelled at him. I am really sorry I yelled at him," Mr. Heene said, his voice breaking, "but we got him back."

"He scared me because he yelled at me," Falcon told reporters. "That's why I went in the attic."

** RETRANSMISSION TO CORRECT THAT THERE WAS NO BOY IN THE BALLOON ** In this image rendered from video and released by KMGH-TV in Denver, a hot-air balloon is seen over Colorado, near Fort Collins. Larimer County sheriff's spokeswoman Eloise Campanella says the device, which is shaped like a flying saucer, has the potential to rise to 10,000 feet. (AP Photo/KMGH-TV )** MANDATORY CREDIT; NO SALES ** ** RETRANSMISSION TO CORRECT THAT THERE WAS NO BOY IN THE BALLOON ** In this image rendered from video and released by KMGH-TV in Denver, a hot-air balloon is seen over Colorado, near Fort Collins. Larimer County sheriff's spokeswoman Eloise Campanella says the device, which is shaped like a flying saucer, has the potential to rise to 10,000 feet. (AP Photo/KMGH-TV )** MANDATORY CREDIT; NO SALES **
AP Enlarge

Falcon's older brother told investigators and his parents that Falcon was in the balloon when it became untethered and went up. The flying-saucer-shaped bal-loon dominated cable television nationwide for several hours as it floated over northern Colorado until it landed about 50 miles away.

Officials had searched the home - twice - and the neighborhood, but the initial search did not turn up the boy.

After the balloon landed and Falcon was not in it, a massive search for him was launched.

"Apparently, he's been there the whole time," Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said. "Hiding in a box - a cardboard box - in an attic above the garage."

The sheriff indicated that he did not think Falcon Heene's parents knew the boy was there. "They were beside themselves with worry," he said.

Officials from three northern Colorado counties worked with the Federal Aviation Administration and with assistance from a television helicopter to track the silvery balloon that sometimes drifted as high as several thousand feet and flew as fast as 30 mph.

Authorities weren't sure what to do or how, exactly, to launch a rescue mission.

The Federal Aviation Administration was called. The Colorado Army National Guard scrambled an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter and a Black Hawk UH-60 to try to rescue the boy, possibly by lowering someone to the balloon. The helicopter flights alone cost about $14,500.

Richard Heene is an amateur scientist and he and his partners call themselves the "psyience detectives."

Mr. Heene is a storm chaser who collects data to prove that rotating storms create their own magnetic fields.

Neighbors of the Heenes described the family as eccentric but kindly.

Mr. Heene and his wife, Mayumi, have sons Bradford 10, and Ryo, 8, in addition to Falcon.

They were featured twice on the ABC-TV series Wife Swap, in which two mothers trade places for a few weeks. In a promotion for one of the Heene episodes, Wife Swap described the family this way: "When the Heene family aren't chasing storms, they devote their time to scientific experiments that include looking for extraterrestrials and building a research-gathering flying saucer to send into the eye of the storm."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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