After a massive search of northern Colorado, a 6-year-old boy who was believed to be in an experimental aircraft when it took off from his Fort Collins home was found hiding in the attic of his home.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden announced live on 9NEWS just after 4 p.m. that the boy, Falcon Heene, was found hiding inside a box in the home’s attic above the garage.
The news came after a massive rescue and search operation that began around 11 a.m. when police were told his brother saw the 6-year-old get in the homemade balloon and watched it lift off. The balloon travelled about 50 miles, reaching 15,000 feet in the air, before it made a soft landing northeast of Denver International Airport and five miles east of Prospect Reservoir.
The family had believed that Falcon Heene was in the battery box of the balloon when it lifted off. He was not found when the balloon landed and there were fears the box had separated from the main apparatus during its flight. Later, the sheriff’s office says it was still part of the balloon when it landed.
After the balloon landed, crews searched a park southeast of the boy’s home and an area around County Road 41 and County Road 28 after a Weld County Sheriff’s deputy thought he saw something fall from the bottom of the aircraft.
The experimental aircraft, which is a type of balloon filled with helium, was up for nearly three hours and appeared to start to rapidly deflate shortly after 1 p.m.
According to the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department, the 6-year-old boy’s parents had been building an experimental aircraft which had a large helium balloon attached to it at their home on Fossil Ridge Road in Fort Collins.
On Thursday morning, according to the family and officials, the boy got onto the aircraft and detached the rope holding it in place.
The aircraft was a dome-shaped, 20 foot, 5 foot aircraft covered with foil. As it was flying, it was going about 20-25 mph.
A spokesperson with Fort Collins Police said, “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.”
Police say the family’s two boys were playing outside with the rest of the family inside the house. One son said he watched his little brother go inside the compartment and watched the balloon take off.
The Federal Aviation Administration worked to track the aircraft on its radar tower and notified DIA. At one point, a helicopter with the Colorado National Guard was launched to help in the rescue.
Shortly after noon, the Weld County Sheriff’s Office said the balloon was seen two miles south of Evans, near County Road 46 and Highway 85.
Closer to 1 p.m., the aircraft was listed as near Hudson.
DIA rerouted northbound flights as a precaution because of the aircraft. There were no delays or cancellations and the airport is back to normal operations.
Sky9 worked with Weld County officials to track the aircraft from the air beginning around noon.
Viewer Lisa Eklund sent photos of an aircraft in the air near her home on Saturn Drive, also in Fort Collins.
The boy’s father Richard Heene is a known storm chaser. During an appearance on the television program WifeSwap, Heene and his wife, Mayumi, focused on their love of science.
Last year, the 9NEWS Morning Show interviewed Richard and Mayumi Heene about their passion for storm chasing. Click here to read the story and watch the video.