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Love it or hate it: Colorado's infamous 'balloon boy' hoax is 10 years old

The world watched as the balloon floated over Colorado, thinking a 6-year-old boy was inside. He never was.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Like a sequence out of a comic book, a silver floating disc swept across Colorado's dusty plains on a clear October afternoon.

"It looks like he's going 500 miles an hour," someone observed from a news helicopter circling the craft — a homemade helium-filled balloon that had been strung and taped together out of plastic tarps and papered with aluminum foil to look like a flying saucer.

After working on it for weeks, Richard Heene — the eccentric, storm-chasing dad of three boys — claimed he was testing the balloon in the backyard of his family's Fort Collins rental home on Oct. 15, 2009, when unexpectedly and untethered, it launched into the sky.

Heene called 9NEWS asking if they could get a helicopter up to track the balloon. Next, he called authorities. His 6-year-old son, Falcon, had been playing in the balloon all morning and unwittingly climbed into it before its unplanned take off, Heene claimed. 

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The Denver news station had a helicopter circling the balloon within an hour, broadcasting its journey live across Larimer, Weld and Adams counties, where the balloon eventually crashed into a desolate field of freshly-planted winter wheat.

"If you'd stay here, I'd like to see the kid get out," someone told the helicopter pilot as 9NEWS filmed first responders rushing to the scene.

They attacked the still-inflated balloon with pitchforks and pocket knives, clawing to get inside. 

But Falcon wasn't there. He never was, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden announced at a press conference three days later. 

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Millions had watched the balloon soar over Colorado as TV stations and newspapers picked up the coverage and spread it across the world. 

But just as soon as young Falcon became internationally known as "balloon boy," his parents' story started to fall apart.

The stunt had been staged to help the family get a reality TV show, Alderden explained as the world kept watching.

> Continue reading this story at The Coloradoan.

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