Boy thought inside drifting balloon found alive

DENVER (Reuters Life!) - A 6-year-old boy who set off a massive search and rescue operation and media frenzy after it was reported he was inside a homemade helium balloon that broke loose and drifted for hours thousands of feet above Colorado has been found safe in his attic, police said on Thursday.

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Falcon Heene was discovered hiding in a box in his family’s attic, hours after the circular silver contraption had deflated and landed softly in a dirt field, Larimer County Sheriff James Alderden said.

“Apparently, he’s been there the whole time, hiding in a box, a cardboard box, in an attic above the garage,” Alderden told reporters.

The boy’s 9-year-old brother had reported seeing him climb inside the balloon, which was built by his amateur scientist father and resembled a “flying saucer” spacecraft, before it floated away from the family’s home in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The story was quickly picked up by U.S. cable networks, which broadcast live footage of the odd airship for two hours as it soared some 50 miles east across Colorado, trailed by U.S. National Guard helicopters.

Authorities had reportedly considered desperate measures to somehow bring down the balloon safely and, after discovering that Falcon was not inside, had begun scouring the countryside for any sign of him.

It was not immediately clear why Falcon’s brother believed he was inside the apparatus or how he was ultimately discovered in the attic

Falcon’s father, Richard Heene, was described as a storm chaser and amateur scientist who had involved his entire family in his activities.

The family also participated in the ABC-TV reality show “Wife Swap,” in which families switch mothers to deal with family problems.

On its website, ABC described the Heene family as devoting 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.”

Aviation experts said the boy could have survived the flight, but questioned whether such a small craft could have supported the weight of the boy and compartment for long.

Writing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Todd Eastham