UPDATE 3:17 p.m., PDT–Several Denver news organizations report that Falcon Heene has been found home, alive and well, and hiding in a box.
The Denver Post reported that the boy, 6, was in the attic above the garage at the family’s home in Fort Collins, according to sheriff’s deputies.
The earlier story follows.
A bizarre drama unfolded across northern Colorado Thursday, as authorities tracked the flight of a runaway homemade airship, believed to be containing a six-year-old boy. When the balloon finally landed, the boy was not inside.
The boy, Falcon Heene, reportedly was seen getting into the gondola of the mushroom-shaped helium balloon built by his father, at the family home in Fort Collins, Colo. The tethering somehow was undone and the craft ascended skyward, reaching altitudes of more than 8,000 feet.
The Larimer County Sheriff’s Department stated the balloon was owned by the boy’s parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, and that the flying saucer-shaped device was some sort of weather balloon that was not designed to carry passengers. Falcon, their youngest of three sons, was playing with a brother outside, and the older boy came inside to tell his parents that Falcon had floated away.
Television station KUSA reported that a sheriff’s deputy thought he saw something fall from the balloon in the Ft. Collins area, near the family home. Sheriff’s are concentrating their search efforts in that vicinity.
The Associated Press reported that the Colorado Army National Guard was preparing to send a Black Hawk UH-60 to try to rescue the boy, either by lowering a person to the craft mid-flight, or by setting weights atop the balloon to slowly force it to Earth. Meanwhile, northbound traffic at Denver International Airport was suspended to prevent any possible collision between planes and the balloon.
As aviation, military and law enforcement officials followed the flight of the balloon, played out on television screens nationwide, the silver-colored airship floated with wind currents to an area north of Denver, where in gently touched down in an empty field some 50 miles from where it took off.
However, there was no sign of the boy in the aircraft, which set off a frantic ground search of the scores of square miles of terrain under the balloon’s path of flight. A sheriff’s spokesperson said that they received a report that Falcon had climbed into a basket attacked to the bottom of the balloon, but that basket was not attached when the craft landed.
It is not clear if the boy possibly fell from the balloon, or if he was ever in it at all. Assuming he was indeed inside, the balloon was feverishly tracked as it swirled above the Colorado landscape, at times weaving and darting with the atmospheric currents.
Authorities fanned out in the boy’s neighborhood and areas though to be under the path the balloon took, but there was no sign of him by mid-afternoon Thursday.
Richard Heene is said to be an aspiring storm chaser, but it is unclear whether the balloon he built at home was meant for that sort of purpose. He and Mayumi were featured contestants an the ABC reality show “Wife Swap” last March. According to reports on live television, the family became too distraught to watch the coverage as the balloon sailed through the sky, opting to gather and pray for Falcon’s safe return home.
The Heene family, who are said to have relocated to Colorado from Burbank, had been known for storm chasing and conducting unorthodox science experiments.
The “Wife Swap” Web reported, “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.”