On October 15, the nation’s media alerted the public to a terrible event: a young boy had flown away from his Colorado home in a homemade balloon. Falcon Heene (yes, the boy’s name was Falcon) was believed to have climbed into the basket of the family balloon (yes, the family had a family balloon) when the balloon was accidentally released. What would seemingly make for a charming Disney film was in fact a terrifying and desperate situation for the organizations that were looking for the boy, which included the military and many branches of law enforcement. It would also seem to be a frightening experience for the boy’s parents, Richard and Mayumi Henne. But that’s where an already strange story became even stranger.
Let’s review the story told by Falcon’s parents. According to them, they were doing something with the balloon but believed that it was tethered only a little bit off the ground. When they went to release the cord keeping the balloon on the ground, the balloon floated away by mistake. They then called the FAA, they claim, although no record of this call exists. There are records of them calling several news stations. Shortly after the call to the FAA, the Hennes say they realized that Falcon was nowhere to be found and thought that he was in the balloon. This kicked off a frantic effort to capture the balloon and find the boy.
Through the course of events, the balloon sailed over 60 miles, forced the redirection of commercial air traffic and shut down Denver’s airport for a brief time. Eventually, it landed several miles away from the airport, but no one was in it. A sheriff’s deputy claimed he saw something fall from the balloon while he was following it, raising the fear that the child had fallen out. However, a few hours later, his parents “found” him in a box above the garage.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that very evening, Blitzer asked Falcon why he didn’t come out when his parents were calling him. Falcon hesitated to reply, then looked at his parents and said quietly, “You guys said we did this for the show.” His father, Richard, struggled to some up with something else to say, but it was too late. Suspicion quickly grew after the show and other subsequent interviews. In investigation documents from October 17, Mayumi Henne admitted that the whole event was a hoax, designed to get the family media attention.
Even before the hoax, people who knew the Hennes knew they were an odd bunch. Richard was a believer in the 2012 doomsday phenomenon and was looking for ways to survive. The family had been featured on the show Wife Swap. On the show, Richard had commented on his belief that humans were decedents of aliens. He was also known as an avid and reckless storm chaser. Richard had been trying to get his family on TV as a way to get money for future projects. In fact, TLC says that the Hennes approached the company a few months before the balloon incident and requested a show, but the company declined. It appears that the balloon hoax was an effort by the Hennes to force their way onto TV since they could not get a reality show of their own.
So, in the end, the balloon boy incident has gotten the Hennes on TV, but probably not in the way they wanted. Instead of gathering interest in their work, the Hennes have made themselves objects of public ridicule. More importantly, Falcon’s parents are facing criminal charges including conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and attempting to influence a public servant. The FAA is also investigating the incident to see if the balloon broke any aviation laws. According to the couple’s lawyer, they are willing to surrender to authorities as soon as charges are filed.
The Associated Press Contributed to this Article