FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A Colorado official said Friday there’s no indication a family was carrying out a hoax when they reported their 6-year-old son was in a helium balloon that floated away from their home, causing a massive rescue effort before the child was found hiding in the garage.
“We believe at this time that it was a real event. Certainly people are free to speculate,” Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said. He added that if the episode “turns out to be a hoax, we will seek restitution by whatever means we have available.”
Falcon Heene vanished Thursday around the time his family’s homemade helium balloon floated away from their home, setting off a frantic search as authorities scoured the plains of northern Colorado for the youngster.
Questions were raised about the incident after the boy said “we did this for a show” in a live interview with CNN. The boys’ parents are storm chasers who appeared in the ABC reality show “Wife Swap.”
The boy’s father, Richard Heene, called accusations that the ordeal was a publicity stunt “extremely pathetic.”
“I went through such a roller coaster of emotions yesterday, to have people say that, I think, is extremely pathetic,” he told ABC.
The sheriff acknowledged that Falcon’s comments had clearly “raised everybody’s level of skepticism, but that investigators had no reason to believe the balloon odyssey was a hoax.
The sheriff said they’ll interview the family again on Saturday to ask about the boy’s comments.
If it was determined the ordeal was a hoax, the parents could be charged with making a false report to authorities, a low-level misdemeanor, Alderden said.
While the balloon floated 50 miles over two counties, the boy was hiding in an attic space above the garage, though not in a cardboard box as officials originally said, Alderden said.
Deputies who searched the home “just didn’t think it was possible that 6-year-old boy would be able to get up to that space so they didn’t look there.”
Alderden said that while the balloon was in the air, the sheriff’s department reached out to a university professor who determined that a balloon of that size would support a child the size of Falcon. He said the balloon would handle a payload of about 80 pounds; the child weighed about 37 pounds.
Richard Heene and his family made the rounds on all three television networks on Friday, and the boy at the center of the saga got sick twice when he and his father were asked during separate interviews what he meant when he said that “we did this for a show.”
During an ABC interview on Friday Falcon was asked why he said he was hiding “for a show,” at which point he said: “Mom, I feel like I’m going to vomit.” He then left the room with his mother and could be heard gagging.
During a live interview on NBC’s “Today” that aired simultaneously, Falcon threw up into a container when his father was answering the same question.