Balloon Boy

Balloon Boy

Updated Oct 09, 2014 at 02:04PM EDT by James.

Added Oct 15, 2009 at 05:42PM EDT by pl0x.

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Ballon Boy is the nickname given to Falcon Heene, a six year old boy who reportedly climbed into a helium-filled balloon that was meant to hover only 20 feet above the ground and took off into the sky. Before a captivated world, local news stations tracked the flight of the balloon over 8000 feet above the ground and provided minute-to-minute coverage in real-time. However, the boy was nowhere to be found once the balloon landed after two hours of flight. Falcon was eventually found hiding in a box in the attic of his house and the incident was soon revealed as a hoax devised by Falcon’s father Richard Heene for a publicity stunt.


According to the police report, the balloon reportedly took off at approximately 11:01 a.m. (Mountain Time) from the backyard of the Heenes’ residence near Fort Collins, Colorado. According to the news, Falcon’s father Richard Heene first suspected that their son was missing after Falcon’s brother told him that he had seen the six year old climb into the basket of the balloon shortly before its launch. The family’s home movie footage of the balloon’s takeoff was uploaded via YouTube on the following day, which shows the Heenes counting down in unison before releasing the tethered cord, followed by a frantic scene of screaming in panic as they realize Falcon may be onboard.

In the following hour, the Heenes called the Federal Aviation Administration to report the missing balloon, as well as local news stations and the 911 emergency service to ask for help in tracking its flight and rescuing the boy.

View Balloon path in a larger map

Upon receiving the call, an ABC-affiliate local news station[1] dispatched a helicopter to track the path of the drifting balloon, the footage of which was broadcast live on national television and released via YouTube (shown below). In the video, the balloon can be seen landing on the ground at the 5:40 mark:

Notable Developments

Online Reactions

Even before the balloon landed safely on the ground, the breaking news spread virally across Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets and a single serving site was created at[6] to provide real-time updates on the whereabouts of Falcon. In addition, merchandise[9] sites selling commemorative t-shirts became available within hours. On Twitter, novelty accounts like @BoyInTheBalloon[7] and @BalloonBoy[8] and various commentaries began making their rounds, including some humorous references to Kanye’s interruption of Taylor Swift’s 2009 VMA speech that occurred a month prior.

In a true testament to the fast cycle of trending topics surrounding the event, Twitter’s trending topic “Anne Frank” quickly surpassed the mentions of “#balloonboy” by the time the boy was found hiding in the attic at 9:00 p.m. (ET).

Meanwhile on 4chan, members of Anonymous reacted to the news of Falcon’s whereabout by placing pizza delivery orders to the family’s residence, which was subsequently verified through a screen capture of a local news field report showing a Papa Johns pizza truck parked in the background:

News Media Coverage

According to CNN[10], Balloon Boy received international coverage by “web sites as diverse as Al-Jazeera and Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald carried news of the wayward aircraft.” The news story was closely tracked by the blogosphere as well, including Urlesque[11], Huffington Post[12] and Cagle News[13]. Throughout the week, Google Search Trend data became completely inundated with chatter surrounding the Balloon Boy:


CNN Interview with The Heenes

Later on the same night, the Heenes appeared for an interview on Larry King Live[2] where Falcon revealed what is considered to be the defacto truth behind the families antics. When asked why he didn’t come out from the attic when the parents called his name, Falcon clearly stated:

“You guys said that, um, we did this for the show.”

Accusations of Hoax

On the following day, the family reappeared on morning time news programs to face questions about the episode being a hoax. The father Richard Heene denied the claims which occurred at exactly the same time the young boy Falcon literally threwup. Later that day during another live TV interview, Falcon vomited again. Mr. Heene claimed that his son’s remark was made in regard to an earlier incident when the news organizations came into the house:

After the local sheriff’s department said they would be questioning the family further, having now seen the Larry King Live interview, a student came forward claiming to have proof that the event was pre-planned for a reality TV show[3]. Later that evening, Gawker[4] paid for the exclusive details to be published on its site. Thereafter, people were quick to make the connection that the storm-chasing, mad scientist Heene family had previously appeared on the ABC reality show Wife-Swap twice and had shown interest in becoming the subject of their own reality TV show.

Criminal Charges

Apparently two military helicopters were involved, Denver International Airport diverted flights, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracked the balloon, and many more people in the air and on the ground contributed to the escapade. Direct costs were estimated to be over $2 million dollars[5]. After speaking with the Mother and Father team separately on Saturday evening, the local Sheriff announced that charges would be filed against the family, a search warrant was granted and authorities seized Richard Henne’s computer. On Sunday, October 18th, the Sheriff released an official statement regarding the incident: “It has been determined that this is a hoax, that it was a publicity stunt and we believe we have evidence at this point to indicate that this was a publicity stunt in hopes to better market themselves for a reality show.”

Admission & Apology

On December 23rd, 2009, with just a few days left before the end of a decade, Richard Henne formally apologized to all of the rescue workers who tracked the balloon as he and his wife received a $45,000 fine in damages as well as jail sentences amounting to work release and public service. Also included in the package deal was the inability for the Henne’s to profit off of the escape for the next four years during probation.

As a result of the debunkery, Falcon Heene’s parents topped many a year-end lists of FAIL, including the third placement on FAILBlog’s Top Ten FAIL Lists for 2009[14].

The Balloon Auction

On May 26th, 2011, Richard Heene registered the domain[15] and posted an online auction for the silver 3-D LAV (Low Altitude Vehicle) saucer in order to help relief efforts in Japan. According to the website, the saucer is available for purchase with a donation of $1 million or visitors can submit a bid with asking prices. The news media and blogs quickly picked up on the auction story; it was further explained the Heene family will not receive anything from the sale, due to the terms of probation which forbids them from profiting off their fame until 2013.

The site also contains a link to a YouTube video of Heene and his wife, standing outside in front of a deflated silver balloon while they explain their motives and the craft’s functionality:

As added incentives, Mr. Heene plans to award any winning bidder paying $10,000 or more, the original plans for the saucer; Any winning bidder paying $50,000.00 or more will also receive original photographs of the Heenes building the saucer; Finally, any winning bidder paying $100,000.00 or more will receive a DVD of the Heenes building the saucer. This is your chance to own a piece of documented media history while benefiting those in need.

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