While world worried, ‘balloon boy’ was safe in attic

Falcon Heene, 6, said he hid in the family attic after his father yelled at him.
After scouring northern Colorado by foot and air, frantically chasing a now-infamous Mylar balloon for dozens of miles and interviewing his big brother over and over, local and federal authorities ended their search for 6-year-old Falcon Heene where it began — at his house.

He was in a box. In the attic. The whole time. “I played with my toys and took a nap,” Falcon told a group of reporters outside his home Thursday afternoon. “He says he was hiding in the attic,” said Falcon’s father, meteorologist Richard Heene, clutching his son. “He says it’s because I yelled at him. I’m sorry I yelled at him.” But in a later interview with CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Falcon said he heard his parents call for him from the garage. When asked by his father on-air why he didn’t respond, the boy replied, “You guys said we did this for the show.” When Heene was pressed by Wolf Blitzer, who was filling in for King, to explain what his son meant, he became uncomfortable, finally saying he was “appalled” by the questions. He added that Falcon was likely referring to all the media coverage. Watch Richard Heene respond to question Authorities say they believe the case, which launched search efforts by the Colorado Air National Guard and Federal Aviation Administration, was genuine. Heene told reporters earlier that the family was working on the balloon, what he called a “3D low-altitude vehicle,” and they were in the “early stages of the invention” when the balloon and the boy went missing. The situation grabbed the world’s attention early Thursday afternoon, after authorities reported that the experimental helium balloon was set adrift and the 6-year-old apparently was riding in it. His brother had said he watched Falcon get into the balloon before he untied the tethers, setting it free. Heene later said Falcon was videotaped getting into the vessel by his brother, but “obviously he got out.” Watch father explain balloon mishap Rescuers from several counties followed the saucer-like vessel, and the FAA tried to track it until the balloon made a soft landing some 50 miles away in a field. Officials rushed to the scene, smacking the metallic balloon until it deflated. They looked inside — no Falcon.

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At that point, there were two possibilities: Either Falcon never got in the balloon, or he fell out. After reports that a box possibly carrying Falcon might have fallen off the balloon, authorities feared the worst. But a little while later, he turned up at home. Larimer County Sheriff James Alderden said it’s not uncommon for children to seek cover when they realize they’re the subject of a massive search. “They hide because they think they are in trouble.” “What was confusing was the eyewitness who said (Falcon) climbed into the apparatus, which was not the case,” Alderden said, referring to the boy’s brother. Watch as balloon lands The sheriff said the brother was interviewed several times by investigators and that he was “consistent” with his story. Earlier, the falling-box scenario prompted a widening search. A Weld County sheriff’s deputy had said he saw an object fall from the balloon somewhere over Platteville, Colorado, which is in the search area. There was no box attached when the balloon made a soft landing at 1:35 p.m. (3:35 p.m. ET). The widespread worries prompted the Colorado Air National Guard to deploy a UH 60 Black Hawk helicopter, with plans to launch a second one, equipped with night vision, if necessary. The search, which initially focused on Weld County, covered “the entire flight plan, from the Fort Collins area down to the Denver International Airport area,” Col. Mark Riccardi said. Falcon’s parents, science enthusiasts Richard and Mayumi Heene, were featured on the 100th episode of ABC’s prime-time program “Wife Swap” in March 2009, ABC said. According to the network’s Web site, the Heene family “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.” See different types of balloons Richard Heene is a meteorologist and former television weatherman who has submitted to CNN iReports accounts of his sons helping him chase Hurricane Gustav, among other contributions. Marc Friedland, the family’s next-door neighbor, said he left his house about 11 a.m. Thursday for a walk and found Richard Heene working on the giant balloon in the backyard. “Basically, the whole family was out there, and they were working with it,” he said. “When I came back is when I found out that the event happened.” He said the aircraft was intended to hover about 20 feet in the air and was not intended to carry people. “Obviously, something went wrong with that.” Friedland described his neighbors for the past year as “a great family.” “They’re unusual, yes, of course. He’s sort of a scientist slash inventor. They’re storm chasers — they go after tornadoes, hurricanes, things like that.” The family had been working on the aircraft for only a couple of weeks, he said. About Falcon, Friedland said, “He’s a great kid. We see him a lot, and they come over and they’re always friendly.” The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said the balloon had been tethered to the family’s home in Fort Collins.

Once untethered, the saucer-like craft flew eastward from the Heenes’ neighborhood, though officials couldn’t immediately confirm how fast it was going. See where balloon floated Authorities said the silver balloon, 20-feet long and 5-feet high, at times reached 7,000 feet above the ground while adrift.