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You're grounded! Boy found hiding in box after balloon drama grips nation

Family believed six-year-old son was trapped in home-made craft which broke free of tether and flew 50 miles

A six-year-old boy who was feared to have plunged to his death from a homemade research balloon was found last night hiding in a box in an attic.

A huge search had been launched by the emergency services in Colorado in the United States to find Falcon Heene amid fears he was in a balloon that broke free of its tether.

Millions of people across the world watched live television news footage as the balloon, shaped like a flying saucer, careered 50 miles across the landscape, forcing flights out of Denver International Airport to be halted.

The authorities were convinced the boy had taken off with the balloon because one of his older brothers reported seeing him climb on board before it flew off from the family home in Fort Collins.

As it blew across Colorado at heights of up to 7,000ft the authorities tried despearately to think of a way to rescue the boy they'd been told was on board. The Colorado Army National Guard considered lowering someone to the balloon from a Black Hawk helicopter or flying ultralight aircraft close enough place weights on it to force it down.

But when the craft came down in a field more than two hours after the alarm was raised both the box and the boy were missing and a huge search to scour the entire 150 square miles of ground that his body might have lain was intensified

Hundreds of police from several forces were involved and a specialist search helicopter with heat seeking equipment was being prepared but all the while the six-year-old was hiding in a box in a garage attic at the family's home.

The happy ending to the search was announced by Sheriff Jim Alderden, of Fort Collins police, who observed that it wouldn't be the first time a child had taken fright after realising they are the focus of a huge hunt by the authorities.

"He was alive and he was OK in the attic of the garage," he said. "This isn't the first time we've been involved in searching for a child who's hiding. Once a child realises people are searching for them they hide thinking they will be in trouble."

He said the boy's nine-year-old brother, Bradley, had been absolutely "adamant" that Fraser had climbed into the box shortly before the balloon broke free of the ropes holding it down. "That clearly wasn't the case," he added. Bardley later said Falcon had told him: "I'm going to sneak in."

When the balloon flew off the older brother ran to tell his father and the alarm was raised. Television news cameras were directed to record the balloon's flight after being called by several residents who claimed to have seen a flying saucer.

A neighbour, Bob Licko, 65, said he had seen saw two boys on a roof with a camera, commenting about their brother. "One of the boys yelled to me that his brother was way up in the air," he said.

The mother and father, Richard and Mayumi, were utterly distraught and could hardly bear refused to watch the television coverage.

Afterwards, Mr Heene said of Falcon: "He was the first to climb up ladders, and jump off. He's crazy."

The three brothers would usually have been at the Poudre School District but were at home because yesterday was a teacher work day.

The balloon is thought to have been designed by the boy's parents to fly into the eye of storms to gather data. The couple are amateur storm chasers and the family was feautured in the US version of the reality TV show Wife Swap.

In a 2007 interview with The Denver Post, Mr Heene described becoming a storm chaser after a tornado ripped off a roof where he was working as a contractor. The whole family took part in storm chasing expeditions as the father attempted to prove his theory that rotating storms create their own magnetic fields.