It was the story that gripped the world – but who is going to foot the bill for the bizarre homemade flying saucer incident in Colorado?
As millions of people watched around the world fearing that 6-year-old Falcon Heene was inside the balloon as it zipped around the sky for four hours reaching heights of 7,000 feet, hundreds of emergency staff and authorities were scrambled to help.
And RadarOnline.com has learned that the final bill could easily hit six-figures as local police chiefs decide if the entire incident was a prank and if they should pursue charges against reality parents Richard Heene and Mayumi Heene.
Here is a breakdown of the costs:
$40,000 in additional costs for ambulances, fire and police, personnel in three separate counties during the four hour balloon chase and subsequent hunt for Falcon Heene.
$20,000 in helicopter costs for Colorado Army National Guard scrambling two helicopters to help.
$20,000 in media costs to cover the event with helicopters and crews scrambling across state to cover the event.
$5,000 in damaged wheat crops and insurance claims after the balloon landed on the Abbot Family’s farm.
$15,000 in miscellaneous costs with people taking time off work around world to watch the event or those who volunteered time to help search for Falcon Heene.
A spokesman for Larimer County Sheriff’s Department said: “We had at least 100 people working on the incident on the ground and both the Colorado Army National Guard and Federal Aviation Authority got involved too.
“The balloon drifted into neighboring Weld County and Adams County, so, additional officers from those areas were called into action as well.
“Sheriff James Alderden will meet with various agencies and command staff to determine what course of action will be taken following this incident.
“While the balloon was up in the air it became a very large operation as we tried to determine if the child was inside and after it landed he needed to be traced too.”
Fortunately, little Falcon Heene was found safe and alive inside a cardboard box in the attic of the family’s garage in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Within hours of his discovery, skeptics were claiming the whole episode was a publicity stunt engineered by the family, who has appeared on the reality show Wife Swap.
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RadarOnline.com has learned that the cost of the helicopters and crew used in the operation could hit $20,000.
Michael Rodgers from the Colorado Army National Guard told RadarOnline.com: “We scrambled our Black Hawk UH 60 helicopter and the UH-58 Kiowa helicopter to help when the balloon was in flight.
“Both these helicopters were in the air for a total of four hours with the Black Hawk having a change of crew and going back-up once again to help in the search for the boy once the balloon finally came down.
“For us this was a relevant exercise and we were providing support to the other agencies on the ground.
“It was entirely feasible that a small child could have taken off in that balloon and we definitely did not treat the incident as a hoax – that is something we couldn’t possibly know.”
A Black Hawk UH 60 helicopter can cost around $5000 an hour to fly while the smaller UH 58 Kiowa helicopter can run-up to $1000 an hour.
While the emergency unfolded the Federal Aviation Authority were called in to monitor the balloon’s flight path and at one stage they did have to close departures from Denver Airport.
The balloon drifted about 15 miles northwest of the busy airport and pilots were called to help track where it was heading.
FAA spokesman Mike Fergus told RadarOnline.com: “It is true that departures were suspended for around three minutes and that we were involved in a wide-spread operation to track its path but the airport was never shutdown at any point.”
Before the departure shutdown, controllers had been vectoring planes taking off in that direction away from the balloon.
When the balloon landed at The Abbot family farm in Adams County, Colorado, around 5 acres of wheat fields were damaged when the ambulances raced to the scene.
Owner Georgene Abbot told RadarOnline.com: “The ambulances ruined our wheat crops in that area and they will have to be re-harvested.
“At the moment we are assessing the damage with our insurance company but we are glad the boy was okay and was found safe.”