- The Washington Times - Friday, October 16, 2009

DENVER — As it turned out, the Falcon had only flown up to the attic.

A 6-year-old Colorado boy who was thought to have flown off in a homemade helium balloon was found safe Thursday in his family’s attic shortly before authorities were slated to launch a massive missing-person search. The family later that night, then Friday morning went on TV to tell their story and dismiss speculation about the incident being a hoax.

The tense, four-hour incident that unfolded on cable TV ended Thursday evening when Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden gave a double “thumbs-up” signal after learning during a news conference that the boy, Falcon Heene, had been hiding in a cardboard box in his attic, afraid that his father would be mad at him for releasing the balloon.

It was the happiest possible ending to the potentially tragic episode that riveted the nation, and even the world. At one point Thursday, the balloon search also occupied six of the 10 top “trending topics” on Twitter.

The boy’s father, Richard Heene, who built the makeshift weather balloon, held the smiling Falcon as he made a statement after his son was found safe.

“He said he was hiding in the attic because I yelled at him. I’m really sorry I yelled at him,” an emotional Mr. Heene said. “He scared the heck out of us.”

On Friday, the family appeared on the three major TV networks’ morning talk shows, following an appearance Thursday night on CNN.

In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Falcon got sick when Diane Sawyer asked him and his father what he meant when he said on CNN that “we did this for a show.”

The Heenes had appeared last year on the ABC TV series “Wife Swap,” in which the adventurous Mrs. Heene traded places with a Connecticut woman whose family was described as “risk-averse.”

“Mom, I feel like I’m going to vomit,” Falcon said in response to Ms. Sawyer’s question.

During a live NBC’s “Today” show interview, which ran simultaneously with the ABC show, Falcon vomited into a container when his father was asked the same question.

“Let’s clarify that he’s 6 and I’m not really sure he understood the question he was being asked,” Mr. Heene said in response to the question.

Mr. Heene said dismissed the notion that the ordeal was a hoax.

“I went through such a roller coaster of emotions yesterday, to have people say that, I think, is extremely pathetic,” he said on ABC.

Sheriff Alderden said Friday his investigators believe there was no hoax, but investigators will seek a new interview with the family after the CNN broadcast to clarify the statement.

Authorities have scheduled a news conference for 2 p.m. EDT to discuss latest developments in the case.

On Thursday, police said Falcon had been playing in the yard when his brother saw him crawl into a compartment attached underneath the silver, saucer-shaped balloon. About 11 a.m. Mountain Time, the craft came unsecured and floated into the air.

The 20-foot balloon traveled about 50 miles at an altitude as high as 10,000 feet for nearly three hours. At one point, the craft began to leak helium and landed softly northeast of Denver International Airport (DIA). Authorities rushed to the aircraft to rescue the boy, but found that he wasn’t there.

A Weld County sheriff’s deputy said he thought he saw something fall from the balloon near the Platte Valley Airport, prompting fears that the box or the boy may have fallen from the craft during its flight.

The boy’s parents apparently built the balloon for use in their experiments involving magnetism and weather. Mr. Heene, an amateur scientist, was known as an avid “storm chaser” who would bring his wife, Mayumi, and three young sons along in search of tornadoes and other weather-related phenomena.

The family, described as quirky and scientifically minded, is no stranger to publicity.

The “Wife Swap” Web site said the Heenes “live life on the edge,” pulling the children out of school to go on storm-chasing adventures and sleeping in their clothes so they can jump out of bed at a moment’s notice. Mrs. Heene sometimes wakes up the family by yelling, “Storm Approaching!” into a bullhorn.

The Heenes had also been profiled by Colorado media on several occasions for their storm-chasing adventures. Last year, the local ABC affiliate did a story on the family after they traveled to Texas and drove through the eye of Hurricane Gustav.

Before Falcon was found safe, questions emerged about whether the family had acted recklessly by keeping the makeshift weather balloon in their yard with three children. Falcon has two older brothers, 9-year-old Bradford and 8-year-old Ryo.

A video the family posted on YouTube.com in March shows Falcon and his two brothers ranting against a vulgar term for “wimpishness,” and starts by defining that vulgar term as “the modern day teachings of human beings living a superficial lifestyle of consumerism, obesity and overprotectiveness for themselves and their children (put them in a corner for ‘Time Out’).”

Authorities began searching the craft’s flight path after the balloon landed without the boy inside. The Federal Aviation Administration was involved in tracking the flight path, and DIA rerouted its northbound flights as a precaution to avoid the aircraft.

The box attached to the bottom of the balloon was intended to carry equipment, not people, and wasn’t tied on very securely, authorities said. At the same time, said experts, the craft was sturdy enough and contained sufficient helium to lift Falcon, who weighs 61 pounds.

The boy’s father, Richard Heene, who built the makeshift weather balloon, held the smiling Falcon as he made a statement after his son was found safe.

“He said he was hiding in the attic because I yelled at him. I’m really sorry I yelled at him,” an emotional Mr. Heene said. “He scared the heck out of us.”

Police said Falcon had been playing in the yard when his brother saw him crawl into a compartment attached underneath the silver, saucer-shaped balloon. About 11 a.m. Mountain Time, the craft came unsecured and floated into the air.

The 20-foot balloon traveled about 50 miles at an altitude as high as 10,000 feet for nearly three hours. At one point, the craft began to leak helium and landed softly northeast of Denver International Airport (DIA). Authorities rushed to the aircraft to rescue the boy, but found that he wasn’t there.

A Weld County sheriff’s deputy said he thought he saw something fall from the balloon near the Platte Valley Airport, prompting fears that the box or the boy may have fallen from the craft during its flight.

The boy’s parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, apparently built the balloon for use in their experiments involving magnetism and weather. Mr. Heene, an amateur scientist, was known as an avid “storm chaser” who would bring his wife and three young sons along in search of tornadoes and other weather-related phenomena.

The family, described as quirky and scientifically minded, is no stranger to publicity. The Heenes appeared last year on the ABC TV series “Wife Swap,” in which the adventurous Mrs. Heene traded places with a Connecticut woman whose family was described as “risk-averse.”

The show’s Web site said the Heene family “live life on the edge,” pulling the children out of school to go on storm-chasing adventures and sleeping in their clothes so they can jump out of bed at a moment’s notice. Mrs. Heene sometimes wakes up the family by yelling, “Storm Approaching!” into a bullhorn.

The Heenes had also been profiled by Colorado media on several occasions for their storm-chasing adventures. Last year, the local ABC affiliate did a story on the family after they traveled to Texas and drove through the eye of Hurricane Gustav.

Before Falcon was found safe, questions emerged about whether the family had acted recklessly by keeping the makeshift weather balloon in their yard with three children. Falcon has two older brothers, 9-year-old Bradford and 8-year-old Ryo.

A video the family posted on YouTube.com in March shows Falcon and his two brothers ranting against a vulgar term for “wimpishness,” and starts by defining that vulgar term as “the modern day teachings of human beings living a superficial lifestyle of consumerism, obesity and overprotectiveness for themselves and their children (put them in a corner for ‘Time Out’).”

Authorities began searching the craft’s flight path after the balloon landed without the boy inside. The Federal Aviation Administration was involved in tracking the flight path, and DIA rerouted its northbound flights as a precaution to avoid the aircraft.

The box attached to the bottom of the balloon was intended to carry equipment, not people, and wasn’t tied on very securely, authorities said. At the same time, said experts, the craft was sturdy enough and contained sufficient helium to lift Falcon, who weighs 61 pounds.

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