Upset that anyone would think he would stage a stunt involving his own son and a homemade flying-saucerlike balloon, and struggling with still-raw emotions, Richard Heene called Thursday’s riveting drama played out in the skies over northern Colorado a “horrible moment.”
“I really don’t want to relive that again. It was a really horrible, horrible moment for me and my wife as well,” Heene told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Friday from his Fort Collins, Colo., home.
Heene was trying to describe the emotions he felt when he received a call from the Larimer County Sheriff telling him that after a two-hour flight, the balloon thought to be carrying his 6-year-old son, Falcon, had landed in a field — and the boy wasn’t in it.
The contractor and amateur storm chaser and alien investigator struggled to talk and seemed on the verge of tears. “The first thing I was thinking was perhaps he had fallen out,” Heene said.
‘We did this for a show’
The discovery that a compartment below the mushroom-shaped balloon was empty touched off a three-hour hunt for Falcon during which searchers retraced the route the silvery craft had taken. The drama, which had been watched by millions on cable TV, finally ended when the boy came down from the attic of the family’s garage — where he had been hiding the entire time.
During an interview Thursday night on CNN, Falcon touched off a controversy when he said, “We did this for a show.” The comment raised questions about whether the entire drama had been a stunt designed to bring attention to the Heene family.
Video: New video shows balloon liftoff A home video of the balloon launch released Friday by the Heenes shows Richard Heene violently kicking the craft’s launchpad when he realizes someone wasn’t holding a tether line and the balloon was floating away.
The family had appeared twice on the ABC reality series “Wife Swap.” In a review of the show in the Los Angeles Times, Heene was described as a volatile personality “whose anger arrives in sudden bolts.”
Viewers chose the Heenes for the show’s 100th episode, in which they were paired with the family of Sheree Silver, described on the show’s Web site as “a psychic mom who speaks to the dead and can control the weather, her husband and her children — who believe they are destined to be stars.” Contacted after Falcon was found, Silver told NBC News: “My first initial feeling was, ‘Oh, my God, is Richard trying to get himself back in the news?’ ”
But Heene reacted with anger to those who think the drama was an elaborate hoax. “First of all, let’s clarify: He’s 6,” he pointed out. When Falcon said “We did this for a show” on CNN, the dad added, “I don’t know that he really understood the question he was being asked.”
The father explained that when the press descended on the Heene home to interview the family, reporters took Falcon into the garage and asked him to show them where he was hiding. He climbed back into the rafters to show off his hiding place.
‘I’m getting ticked off’
Falcon initially joined his father for the interview along with his mother and two brothers, but he was visibly ill and threw up before Vieira could ask him about his experience. TODAY broke off the interview and returned after a break to talk to Richard Heene alone.
“I’m starting to get a little ticked off,” Heene told Vieira regarding allegations of a staged stunt. “I’m repetitively getting asked this. What do I have to gain out of this? I’m not selling anything. I’m not advertising anything. My family and I, we do this all the time.”
According to local and national reports, the Heene family, which includes three sons, sleep in their clothes so they can leap out of bed to chase storms. They are said to be active experimenters who chase storms and investigate reports of aliens.
“We’re always doing some kind of scientific research,” Heene said. “We’re always building something together. I teach my kids how to shoot cameras. It’s highly educational for my boys ... This is not some kind of hoax.”
The balloon, said to be a crude prototype of a craft that might be used to lift loads, was just another science project. Heene and his sons had taken the balloon out and were preparing it for a tethered flight to an altitude of about 20 feet when it broke free.
Video: Dad: ‘He scared the heck out of us’ It was then that Falcon’s older brother said that the boy had climbed into a compartment suspended from the balloon. After searching the house and surrounding area, Heene called authorities for help, touching off the televised drama.
Heene scoffed at suggestions the family made up the whole story to get publicity for their balloon.
“This is very much a minimalistic experiment, something the kids and I can actually put together and do as a family. This is something that can’t be marketed. It’s not even patentable,” Heene said.
Video: Kids do the darndest things “After we constructed it, the kids and I started to fill it up with the helium. It was tethered down. We went to hit the release pin that was supposed to let it hover 20 feet off the ground ... it just kept going.”
Heene said he was unaware of the national interest in the drama. “I don’t have cable. I had no idea what was going on,” he said, adding that his only concern was his son.
Falcon had told reporters he hid in the attic of the garage because his father yelled at him when he climbed in the balloon’s compartment.
Vieira asked Heene if he blames himself for what followed.
“Yeah,” he said, battling his emotions. “I probably yell at him a bit too much. He’s a little guy, 6 years old. I think he takes things a little bit too serious.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.
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