A couple who fabricated a story in which they told authorities that their 6-year-old son Falcon had floated off in a runaway, saucer-shaped helium balloon, were sentenced to prison on this day in 2009. The husband Richard Heene, is sentenced to 90 days in prison in Fort Collins, Colorado, while his wife Mayumi got 20 days jail time for her part in the event.
In the morning of October 15, Richard Heene, a mechanic, an amateur scientist and a father of three boys had called the Federal Aviation Administration to report that a big balloon in his family's Fort Collins lawn had set loose and had his child Falcon inside before it took off. Minutes after the incident happened, Heene called a local TV station asking for a helicopter to track the balloon. Afterwards, his wife Mayumi Heene called 911.
Immediately, rescue teams began searching for the runaway balloon, while reporters covered the whole scenario on the ground and in the air. The Colorado National Guard sent two helicopters to track the balloon, and the runway at Denver International Airport was quickly closed down as the balloon went into its flight path. At around 1:35 p.m. the balloon eventually touched down in a Colorado field after traveling a distance of nearly 50 miles. Rescue teams soon found that there was no sign of the baby inside the balloon causing panic that Falcon Heene had probably fallen from the balloon. Immediately, another rescue team was dispatched to search for the child. Later that evening it was announced that the boy had been discovered safe at home, where he was hiding.
However, the news that the whole incident had been a fabrication spread that night, after Falcon Heene told his parents during a live interview session on CNN: "But you said we did this for the show." Mayumi Heene later admitted that they deliberately staged the incident to help the family get a reality television show. (The Heenes had earlier appeared on the program "Spouse Swap.")
The following month, Richard Heene admitted he was guilty to a charge of attempting to influence a public official ("to start a search-and-rescue mission in order to gain media attention," as indicated by an affidavit filed by prosecutors), while Mayumi Heene admitted she did make a false report. Richard Heene later asserted that he pleaded guilty just to make sure that his wife was not deported back to her native country of Japan. Apart from the jail time, the couple was required to perform community service and Richard Heene was asked to pay $36,000 as compensation for the search.