'Balloon Boy' found alive at home after media drama
Issued on: Modified:
"Balloon Boy" Falcon Heane, a six-year-old boy, was found hiding at his home and had not flown away in a home-made balloon craft as claimed by his brother. His four-hour disappearance caused a media frenzy after the balloon was found to be empty.
AFP - A six-year-old Colorado boy feared to have fallen to his death from a home-made helium balloon has been found hiding in his garage, ending a riveting televised drama that transfixed the nation.
Falcon Heene was discovered in the garage attic of his family's home in Fort Collins, outside Denver, roughly four hours after his brother told police he had climbed into the balloon and taken off.
The story dominated US television networks which followed the progress of the runaway flying saucer-shaped balloon as it drifted thousands of feet into the atmosphere before making a soft landing two hours later.
Authorities began fearing the worst after the craft -- which had been tracked by television news choppers -- was found to be empty after it landed. Local media reports cited witnesses who reported seeing an unidentified object fall from the balloon during its flight.
But fears of a tragic ending to the story evaporated after Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden received a call from an officer during a briefing with reporters -- Falcon had been found alive.
"The boy's been there all the time. He's been hiding in a cardboard box in the attic above the garage," a beaming Alderden told reporters.
"I don't want to make a conjecture, but this is not the first time when we have been involved in searching for some child and once the child realizes people are looking for them, they hide because they're afraid they're going to get in trouble," he added.
Alderden said police had questioned Falcon's brother several times about what he had seen shortly before the balloon drifted away.
"What he said was that he saw his brother climb into that apparatus and he was very adamant, they interviewed him multiple times and that was his consistent story," Alderden said.
"I can't tell you how many times this has happened over the course of my career. I think the thing that was confusing is that we had the eyewitness that said that he climbed into this apparatus, which clearly was not the case."
A sheepish Falcon later appeared before a scrum of journalists outside the family home alongside his father, Richard, mother, Mayumi, and two brothers, Brad 10 and Ryo 8.
"I was in the attic, and it scared me because he yelled at me. That's why I went in the attic," Falcon said, adding that he later fell asleep.
"After I played with my toys, I took a nap ... I got up because I was really bored."
Richard Heene, a keen amateur scientist who spends his spare time studying storms, clouds and weather patterns said he had no plans to ground his son.
"We don't ground our children. But we are going to talk to him," he said, before bristling at suggestions that the drama had been a publicity stunt.
"That's horrible. After the crap we just went through, no, no, no," he said.
Heene would not say whether he planned to give up his balloon experiments. "I really have to sit down and talk to my family about it," he said, describing the craft as "like something out of 'The Jetsons.'"
Heene once appeared on ABC's reality television show "Wife Swap" where he was described as the patriarch of a "storm-chasing, science-obsessed family."
The Denver Post reported that the Heene family often went hunting storms togther. Mayumi Heene said her children "really had fun" on the excursions.
"They get so much more that they can't get from any other entertainment," she told the paper. Richard Heene, meanwhile, told the paper that his children reveled in the thrill of stalking tornados.
"I think I have odd kids. They start screaming with excitement," Richard Heene was quoted by the paper as saying.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe