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FAA investigating 'balloon boy' incident

By Ed O'Keefe

Richard Heene, wife Mayumi and sons Bradford, Falcon and Ryo are pictured here with a home-made helium balloon in the background in this undated publicity photograph from the ABC reality series "Wife Swap." (Photo by ABC via Reuters)

The Federal Aviation Administration has opened an investigation into last week's "balloon boy" incident to determine if the experimental balloon's launch violated agency regulations.

Richard and Mayumi Heene of Fort Collins, Colo., already face the possibility of criminal charges for the release of an experimental balloon from their backyard. The launch and subsequent fear that their son was inside the balloon sparked international intrigue.

The FAA will investigate how it was informed of the balloon launch, how it responded to the incident and whether the launch violated FAA regulations that prohibit the release of large unmanned balloons that could interfere with other aircraft near airports, spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

FAA regulations (pdf) prohibit the release of large unmanned balloons, kites and unmanned rockets at certain altitudes and within five miles of an airport without prior notice to the nearest air traffic control facility. The agency investigates only civil allegations and could decide to issue financial penalties or an "enforcement letter" warning the balloon operators of their improper actions, Brown said.

The Heene's silver balloon drifted roughly 50 miles southeast of Fort Collins before landing near Denver International Airport.

Larimer County, Colo., investigators have reviewed e-mails, phone records and other documents as part of their investigation. A former associate of Richard Heene told investigators and the news media that Heene was "obsessed" with starring in a reality television show.

By Ed O'Keefe  | October 20, 2009; 3:25 PM ET
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FOX News: 'Balloon Boy' Hid to Escape Speeches by Obama By R J Shulman 17 Oct 2009 Fox News seems to have asked and answered their own question: Did six-year-old Falcon Heene, better known as the 'balloon boy,' hide in his attic to escape being forced to watch a Barack Obama speech? Yes, indeed, Fox says. Fox host Neil Cavuto reported that "ever since Obama was allowed to brainwash school children with his talk to them, little Falcon became terrified he would be forced to watch a presidential speech." (Satire)

Posted by: lorifromclg | October 20, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

As sad as this is and the fact it may have been done in order to get on TV is one thing but for the FAA to make them self's look like clowns over the matter is something else. The balloon was launched approx. 60 miles from the closet airport so there for did not violate any FAA regulations. The balloon did land a few miles from the airport but was not a danger to any planes. Balloons are launched in this area every weekend. It’s the norm. This is nothing more than FACE TIME for the FAA. Get back to work keeping people safe. Let the local police sort this mess out and do what they need to do.

Posted by: askgees | October 20, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

This is a very sad story mainly because it involves children.

Posted by: truth1 | October 20, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry askgees, but the nearest commercial airport is Loveland, Colorado, probably less than 5-7 miles from the launch point. The balloon passed very near, if not directly over this airport if it floated Southeast from Ft Collins. It was a thoughtless act at best.

Posted by: glmcolo | October 21, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

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