Image: Heene family
MSNBC TV
Richard Heene with his wife, Mayumi, and their sons, Bradford, Ryo and Falcon (middle).
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/16/2009 9:03:05 AM ET 2009-10-16T13:03:05

The family who built an experimental balloon involved in a runaway flight has a heavy interest in science, with members sleeping in their clothes so they can chase after storms, media reports say.

Details emerged about Falcon Heene's family as authorities searched for the 6-year-old boy, who was believed to have floated away in the balloon from his yard in Fort Collins, Colo. The balloon came down hours later after a flight covered nationwide on television, but the boy was not inside it, and authorities at first feared that he had fallen from the craft. Falcon was later found alive at home.

The Heene family took part in the ABC reality show “Wife Swap" last year and earlier this year. The network described the family as alien buffs obsessed with science and UFOs. They were favorites of the audience who had voted to have them featured again on the show's 100th episode.

"When the Heene family aren't chasing storms, they devote their time to scientific experiments that include looking for extraterrestrials and building a research-gathering flying saucer to send into the eye of the storm," according to ABC's description of the episode profiling the family. "The family sleeps in their clothes so they can leap out of bed and into the storm-mobile."

Producers set up the episode as a family that lives "life on the edge" meets a safety-conscious Connecticut family. According to the show's Web site, Jay Martel was so committed to safety that he ran a child-proofing business. His wife, Karen, swapped places with Mayumi Heene for a week.

"[Karen Martel] is shocked as the Heene kids jump off banisters and run wild," explained an episode guide. The episode aired in October 2008.

Science experiments
The boy's family had been building the experimental balloon at their home. The helium balloon, which resembled a flying saucer, was approximately 20 feet by 5 feet and had a silvery foil surface.

The balloon lifted away after the boy was reportedly seen climbing inside, setting off a frantic scramble by the military and law enforcement agencies before the balloon slowly touched down in a field.

Authorities feverishly searched for signs of the child on the ground, including in the neighborhood where he lives. But several hours later, Falcon turned up at home.

The Denver Post profiled the boy’s father, Richard Heene, in a 2007 story on weather chasers. Heene, an amateur scientist and contractor, called himself a science detective. He and his partner, Scott Stevens, have a Web site — ThePsyiencedetectives.com — dedicated to investigating the "mysteries of science and physic phenomenon."

Video: Discovery of missing boy raises questions Heene described becoming a storm chaser after a tornado ripped off a roof where he was working as a contractor in Texas and said he once flew a plane around Hurricane Wilma's perimeter in 2005.

Pursuing bad weather was a family activity with the children coming along as the father sought evidence to prove his theory that rotating storms create their own magnetic fields.

Although Richard Heene said he had no specialized training, they had a computer tracking system in their car and a special motorcycle. Mayumi Heene, often called "ninja" by the family, was in charge of equipment and drove the storm-mobile. She also filmed storms while her husband rode his motorcycle into the storm to launch rockets to measure magnetic forces.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Video: Dad: 'He scared the heck out of us'

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