Balloon not culprit after all in US boy's disappearance

October 22nd, 2009

Falcon Heene, a six-year-old boy from Fort Collins in the U.S. state of Colorado, has been found safe and unharmed after earlier reports said he boarded an experimental balloon the family was building and then floated away. The Larimer County sheriff announced during a press conference at 6:11 p.m. that Heene was found hiding inside a box in the family’s attic above the garage.

Earlier reports had said that Heene might have been inside a box attached to the bottom of the balloon, something authorities were focusing part of their search on. However, there were conflicting reports as to whether or not there was anything else attached to the balloon. The New York Times reports that the small compartment present on the bottom of the balloon when it landed, was the alleged box.

“It [the box] was damaged. Basically, it was folded over and damaged,” said Larimer County sheriff spokeswoman Kathy Messick.

The balloon landed south of Prospect Springs. Police stated that they were searching for Heene based on what his two other brothers told authorities. A witness had earlier said that he might have seen something fall off the balloon on Weld County Roads 28, 41 or 43. Authorities were also looking into the possibility that Heene was never inside the balloon at all, and that he was hiding somewhere in his neighborhood to avoid punishment. This ultimately turned out to be true.

Initial reports were that Heene allegedly climbed into the balloon in his backyard in Fort Collins at about 11 a.m. local time. He then detached the anchor and began to float away. Police later said in a press conference that the story came from Falcon’s two brothers. Local residents were able to snap pictures of the balloon. Shortly after, a news helicopter was able to locate the balloon, which was initially flying at an altitude of 7,000 feet.

The balloon was never meant to carry a human, according to Fort Collins police. “This balloon was never meant to actually carry anybody. It was just a family project they were working on. The little compartment where their son is in is very small and it’s not attached very well.”

The Heene family lives in Fort Collins. The boy’s father, Richard, is a storm chaser and scientist. One report said they were building the experimental balloon in an effort to help commuters get to work easier. Officials say it has the ability to fly at an altitude of 10,000 feet. It is reported to be about 20 feet long, covered in tinfoil and resembles a flying saucer. Richard and his wife Naomi previously appeared on an episode of the U.S. television show Wife Swap and Richard has appeared in several videos chasing storms and dust devils. One of those chases was previously featured on an ABC News report.

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