FORT COLLINS, Colo. – A 6-year-old boy was found hiding in a cardboard box in his family's garage attic Thursday after being feared aboard a homemade helium balloon that hurtled 50 miles through the sky on live television.
The discovery marked a bizarre end to a saga that started when the giant silvery balloon floated away from the family's yard Thursday morning, sparking a frantic rescue operation that involved military helicopters and briefly shut down Denver International Airport.
But Sheriff Jim Alderden turned to reporters during a news conference and gave a thumbs up and said 6-year-old Falcon Heene is "at the house." "Apparently he's been there the whole time," he said.
The boy's father, Richard Heene, said the family was tinkering with the balloon Thursday and that he scolded Falcon for getting inside a compartment on the craft. He said Falcon's brother had seen him inside the compartment before it took off and that's why they thought he was in there when it launched.
But the boy fled to the attic at some point after the scolding and was never in the balloon during its two-hour, 50-mile journey through two counties. "I yelled at him. I'm really sorry I yelled at him," Heene said as he hugged his son during a news conference.
"I was in the attic and he scared me because he yelled at me," Falcon said. "That's why I went in the attic."
Richard Heene adamantly denied the notion that the whole thing was a big publicity stunt. "That's horrible after the crap we just went through. No."
The flying saucer-like craft tipped precariously at times before gliding to the ground in a field. With the child nowhere in sight, investigators searched the balloon's path. Several people reported seeing something fall from the craft while it was in the air, and yellow crime-scene tape was placed around the home.
But in the end, the boy apparently was in the garage the whole time, even as investigators scoured the house and neighborhood for any sign of him.
Neighbor Bob Licko, 65, said he was leaving home when he heard commotion in the backyard of the family. He said he saw two boys on the roof with a camera, commenting about their brother.
"One of the boys yelled to me that his brother was way up in the air," Licko said.
Licko said the boy's mother seemed distraught and that the boy's father was running around the house. The Poudre School District in Fort Collins, where the boys attend, did not have classes for elementary schools Thursday because of a teacher work day.
That was close!