On October 15, 2009, the parents of six-year-old boy Falcon Heene claimed that their son was onboard a helium balloon that had floated away in Fort Collins, Colorado. At the time, it was reported by the mass media that Falcon Heene was apparently traveling at altitudes reaching 7,000 feet (2,100 m) in a homemade balloon colored and shaped to resemble a silver flying saucer-type of UFO. The event attracted worldwide attention. Falcon was nicknamed "Balloon Boy" by some in the media.
After an hours-long flight that covered more than 50 miles (80 km) across three counties, the balloon landed about 12 miles (19 km) northeast of Denver International Airport. Authorities closed down the Denver airport and sent several National Guard helicopters and local police in pursuit. After the balloon landed and the boy was found not to be inside, authorities began a manhunt of the entire area, raising fears that he had fallen from the balloon; it was reported that an object had detached from the balloon and fallen to the ground. Later that afternoon the boy was reported to have been hiding at his house the entire time.
Suspicions soon arose that the incident was a hoax and publicity stunt engineered by the boy's parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, particularly following the Heenes' interview with Wolf Blitzer on Larry King Live that evening. In response to a question about why he was hiding, Falcon said to his father, "You guys said that, um, we did this for the show." On October 18, Larimer County sheriff Jim Alderden announced his conclusion that the incident was a hoax and that the parents would likely face several felony charges. Richard Heene pleaded guilty on November 13, 2009, to the charge of attempting to influence a public servant. On December 23, 2009, Richard Heene was sentenced to 90 days jail and Mayumi Heene to 20 days weekend jail; the former was also ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution.