Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Hot Air: Another Famous Balloon Once Flew Over Colorado

Falcon Heene went on a wild (media) riude.
Falcon Heene went on a wild (media) riude. John Moore/Getty Images
The Chinese spy balloon that was just shot down raises many questions, including this: Where are the Heenes?

Back on October 15, 2009, as another balloon was spotted hovering over the American West, a 911 call reported that little Falcon Heene had accidentally gone aloft. People around the world held their breath when they heard that the six-year-old was trapped inside a silver flying saucer, a homemade helium balloon that had escaped into the skies from the boy's Fort Collins home. National Guard helicopters and police cars pursued the balloon, which flew for more than an hour and finally landed about a dozen miles from Denver International Airport. The boy was not aboard; he was later found hiding in the family's attic.

In an interview with Wolf Blitzer that night, after being asked whether he'd heard his parents calling for him, Falcon turned to his father and said, "You guys said that, um, we did this for the show." A few weeks later, parents Richard Heene and Mayumi were charged in connection with the hoax and, after guilty pleas, ordered to ninety and twenty days in jail, respectively. But not before Falcon puked in front of Meredith Vieira and the rest of America on Today and the saga collected hundreds of celebrity tweets and thousands of news reports (including dozens in Westword, most recently in a roundup of famous Colorado hoaxes).

And the story's had staying power, even after the family moved to Florida in 2010; the Heene sons formed a short-lived rock band, the Heene Boyz; and Governor Jared Polis pardoned Richard and Mayumi Heene in 2020. In fact, the event so imprinted itself on the American psyche that the saga of Balloon Boy was just resurrected two weeks ago in a Saturday Night Live riff on full-of-hot-air George Santos:

But wait: Isn't Bowen Yang, who played Santos, of Chinese descent? And didn't he grow up (at least partially) in Colorado, moving to Aurora right around the time the Balloon Boy story took off?

Just floating another trial balloon.

Conspiracy or coincidence update: On the February 4
Saturday Night Live, Yang played the actual Chinese balloon after it was shot down. Watch the segment here:
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

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