Reality television reached new heights in October of 2009, as viewers around the world were tethered to their sets by the saga of the “Balloon Boy.” It started shortly before noon when Richard Heene, a Fort Collins, Colorado, handyman, dabbling scientist and father of three boys, called the Federal Aviation Administration to report that a large balloon that had been tied in his family’s backyard had gotten loose and taken flight. Heene was certain his six-year-old son Falcon had crawled aboard the craft before its takeoff. Heene also phoned a local TV station, requesting a helicopter to track the balloon, and his wife Mayumi called 911.
The homemade dirigible was soon being pursued by two Colorado National Guard helicopters and by search-and-rescue personnel, as well as reporters, on the ground. A runway at Denver International Airport was shut down as the balloon traveled into its flight path. The runaway blimp finally touched down in a Colorado field after a joyride of some 50 miles. Rescue officials quickly discovered the balloon was empty, prompting fears that poor little Falcon Heene had plummeted from on high during the flight. A ground search was initiated. But later that afternoon, Richard Heene made an oops! statement that the boy had been found safe at home, where he supposedly had been hiding.
Conspiracy theorists came out of the woodwork all afternoon and into the evening, voicing their suspicions that the entire incident had hoax written all over it. Then dear little blabbermouth Falcon Heene told his parents during a live interview on CNN: “You guys said we did this for the show.”
In November, Richard Heene pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public official to initiate a search-and-rescue mission which in turn would attract media attention, frowned on in Colorado; Mayumi Heene pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of making a false report. Falcon Heene pleaded guilty to being a sniveling six-year-old dupe (permissible under Colorado law). They confessed that they staged the incident in an attempt to get their own reality TV show, having gotten the entertainment bug when previously appearing on a program, called “Wife Swap.”
On December 23, 2009, the Heenes were sentenced to perform community service not involving flying objects, and ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution for the search effort. Falcon, it is rumored, will have his own reality TV show, “Throw In Your Parents.”