FAA investigating 'balloon boy' incident
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.
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