Thursday, 31 December 2009

Balloon Boy Hoax ‘09

UPDATE: 8th Jan 2010:

$48,000 in restitution from Balloon Boy dad Richard Heene.

In a 13-page filing, prosecutors said Richard Heene should pay $47,809.04 to local law enforcement, the National Guard, firefighters and the U.S. Forest Service for the search and the subsequent investigation into the family. Some of the costs were for public information officers loaned from other agencies to help answer reporters' phone calls.

The filing also notes that the Federal Aviation Administration is pursuing a civil fine against the family. The FAA has proposed they pay $11,000 for temporarily disrupting air traffic around Denver International Airport, but the two sides are negotiating, Richard Heene's lawyer said.


The following was a story I normally wouldn't mention but seeing as I learned of it when the news was actually breaking (mid-pursuit) I Blogged about it (here), so consider this a follow-up of sorts. Well that and the paths that all hoaxes travel (via the internet) has always been of personal interest to me. In this case however within a matter of hours questions were raised and in a day or so accusations were levelled, as I'm sure you're aware the event led to a prosecution and ultimately sentencing, if you actually look back at how the events transpired on the 15th October it quickly becomes apparent that it was indeed little more than a self-promotional publicity seeking attempt (ultimately aimed at garnering interest prior to a foray into reality television).

Balloon parents plead guilty to hoax charges
Fri Nov 13 2009

A couple who pretended their son had floated away in a homemade balloon have pleaded guilty to hoax charges. Richard and Mayumi Heene's six-year-old boy Falcon hit the headlines when it was believed he had climbed into the UFO-shaped helium balloon and drifted away. But the incident was an elaborate publicity stunt the couple hoped would secure them fame on a reality TV show. Richard Heene pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of up to six years in prison, while Mayumi Heene admitted a less serious charge of making a false report to authorities.

The Heenes drew worldwide attention on October 15 when they reported that Falcon had sailed away in a silver airship. The inflatable drifted over Colorado for 50 miles, chased by National Guard helicopters, as authorities mounted a search operation that riveted TV viewers. The balloon later landed empty and it turned out the boy had been hiding safely in the family attic. Public sympathy turned to outrage when Falcon gave away the hoax in a live interview. An investigation was launched and the mother admitted the incident was a publicity stunt.

Source: ITN

I say it quickly became apparent it was a hoax of course as when the father (Richard Heene) originally reported it the news-media showed little to no interest so Heene promptly called the FAA to report that his balloon was airborne, not being controlled and that there was a *possibility* his six year old son was inside, all of this was within minutes of the balloons launch at 11am. Then at 11:15 when apparently the story was still flying under the radar of the media Heene decided to call local news-media and request for their helicopter to locate and follow the balloon, still not content Heene then gets his wife to contact police and describe the massive current/voltage that builds up in Mylar balloons every few minutes. It has since been claimed the police were rightly sceptical of the entire fiasco but obviously once the news-chopper was in pursuit and live coverage being streamed they had to at least appear to be taking the claims seriously.

Roll on the 16th October and several interviews later Falcon lets slip that he was hiding in the attic under his father's instruction and ‘for a TV show,' cue the parents disbelief & denial. Two days later the Colorado Sheriff announced that it was indeed a hoax and the parents were to be arrested, on November 13th the parents entered a guilty plea finally on the 23rd December the parents were sentenced. The following was posted to the BBC on December 23rd (2009):

A US man who triggered a major alert by falsely claiming his son was adrift in a helium balloon has been sentenced to 90 days in jail - and his wife to 20. Richard Heene, 48, and his 45-year-old wife Mayumi said in October their son had been carried off by the balloon. Six-year-old Falcon Heene was finally found hiding at home. In court in Colorado, Heene appeared to fight back tears as he apologised to rescue workers and the community, saying he was " very, very sorry ". The judge also ordered four years of supervised probation for the couple and banned them from receiving any form of financial benefit from the case. Heene and his wife Mayumi had pleaded guilty to charges that they carried out the balloon stunt to promote a reality TV show.

'Wasted money'

The prosecutor had argued the couple should face time in jail to act as a deterrent to others who may be considering mounting similar stunts for financial gain and publicity. Prosecutors had asked for a jail sentence to deter others , he said Heene had, " wasted a lot of man power and a lot of money in wanting to get himself some publicity ". He argued that the couple had acted not on the behest of any TV companies, but that " they came up with it all on their own, not necessarily just to get a TV show but at least to put their name out there again and maybe in hopes that somebody would pick them up ".

"For that, they do need to be punished".

Richard Heene will be allowed to serve 60 days of his 90-day sentence on release, allowing him to work as a construction contractor during the day, while spending the night in jail. He will start his sentence on 11 January 2010. Mayumi Heene will begin her sentence after her husband's to ensure their children are still cared for. She will be allowed to report to jail on two days a week, return home at night, and serve the sentence through jail-supervised community service. The judge also ruled that her husband must serve 100 hours of community service and write a letter of apology to the community and public service agencies which helped search for his son. The couple have already been ordered to pay $42,000 (£26,000) in restitution for the emergency services' rescue efforts.

Source: BBC

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