"Check out CNN; a boy is floating around in a giant bubble," read my cell phone display last Thursday afternoon.
Immediately, I had the feeling this was going to be something absolutely absurd, and I was right on the money. At first it was amusing - then I realized the kid was probably in a lot of trouble.
I don't know of any past successful balloon-to-aircraft rescue operations, just plane-to-plane, and you need Harrison Ford to be involved for those to work properly. Once the kid was known to be safe, all of us following the story breathed a collective sigh of relief and went about our day. Unbeknownst to us at the time though, this was not the last we'd be hearing from the Boy in the Bubble (or Balloon).
After some investigation, it seems that the boy's father, Richard Heene, staged the scene as some kind of publicity stunt. The would-be amateur balloonist's dad seems to be an odd one, to say the least. He's agreed to have his family participate in "Wife Swap," and he's pitched a number of reality TV show ideas to various networks.
During interviews with TV news shows after the event, Falcon Heene, a.k.a. "Balloon Boy," threw up when asked questions, while nobody seemed to acknowledge that poor kid was losing his lunch on a national broadcast. Oddness apparent, indeed.
RDF USA, the interested company that Heene was pitching his show ideas to, has rescinded its offer, and rightfully so: reality TV is exploitative enough as it is. When you toy with the sympathy and concern of the entire nation, you've gone too far.
If it turns out the father staged the event, he should absolutely face a range of charges. His stunt caused a gross misallocation of local and state law enforcement and military resources and, had a real emergency occurred during the Great Balloon Chase of '09, lives could have been at stake.
While I personally feel disgust at the way the father seems to be using his small children to get his 15 minutes of fame, I don't believe there are any grounds for Child Services to get involved at this point, although further investigation may discover otherwise.
Heene deserves to suffer the legal ramifications of his actions, both for taking up the time and money of law enforcement and federal aviation officials and for using his family as a means to achieve television fame.
Mr. Heene - it just isn't not worth it. Here's hoping your jail cell has a decent cable package.
Alex Berberich is a junior International Relations major who is secretly building his own UFO seeking hot-air balloon. Any questions can be directed to his publicist, Richard Heene.