A 6-year-old Colorado boy who was thought to have floated away in an experimental balloon Thursday was found hiding inside his family's home — but only after hours of breathless television coverage of the balloon's flight north of Denver, and frantic searching on the ground. Now speculation has emerged that the incident may have been a publicity stunt.
As television viewers across the country watched the silvery balloon float through the sky, rescuers scrambled to figure out how to get at the boy everyone thought was inside. But 6-year-old Falcon Heene — surrounded by his family — told CNN Thursday night that all along he was safe and spent much of the time asleep.
"First I was playing in the attic, then I stopped and went to bed in the attic," he said.
Asked why he didn't come out of hiding when he heard people calling his name, Falcon said to his parents on camera, "You guys said that we did this for the show."
When the father, Richard Heene, was asked about that Thursday, he seemed uncomfortable and said he was appalled by the question. After Falcon and his father were again asked about the comment during national TV interviews Friday, Falcon got sick.
The family's history in the spotlight is fueling speculation that the incident was a hoax. They were on the ABC reality show Wife Swap last spring, and they have 55 videos posted on YouTube. Authorities say they're continuing to investigate the case.
Chasing The Balloon
The saga began Thursday when the homemade helium balloon slipped away from its tether in the yard. The father had scolded Falcon for playing inside the balloon while he was working on it in the yard, and an older brother saw Falcon go inside a compartment in the balloon but had not seen him come out.
The family panicked and called KUSA-TV, asking for help from the station's news helicopter.
"They were distraught and they were begging for the help of Sky 9," said anchor Kim Christiansen. "They gave us a few details about this aircraft that they had built at their home. And they said their 6-year-old son was in it, and it was tethered and somehow it had become untethered and it had lifted off."
Locating The Boy
The balloon traveled for about 2 1/2 hours. About 50 miles away, it alighted on a freshly plowed field. Cameras zeroed in as rescuers cut away at the material. But there was no boy inside.
Richard Heene later told CNN that he had pretty much lost it at that point.
"I thought maybe he'd fallen out," Heene said. "And I'm just so glad he's here, you know?"
Police had started searching a park near the family's home. A short time later, Larimer County Sheriff James Alderden was holding a news conference when he was interrupted with good news: The boy had been located.
The sheriff stepped away for a few seconds to get details, then came back to the microphones, saying, "He was in the attic, in the garage, in a box."