The helium of publicity

There's a remarkable story in the news at the moment.

American science enthusiast Richard Heene had a large helium balloon tethered in his garden. The balloon escaped, which was kind of sad, but suddenly this blossomed into a potential tragedy. According to one of Heene's children, his six-year-old son was 'in' the balloon.

What followed was a couple of hours of tense live TV until the balloon landed with no one inside, and the boy was found in the attic.

But was this a terrible accident that nearly happened, or a very successful publicity stunt? This might seem an insensitive question, but it's fuelled by two things. The family had already been on a reality TV show (Wife Swap), and the boy in the attic apparently said he heard his family searching for him, but kept quiet because his parents 'said that we did this for a show.'

We have to ask, was it realistic to imagine the boy was carried away 'in' the balloon? Or for that matter, would anyone undertake a stunt like this just to get publicity?

What certainly is true is that many participants in reality shows seem desperate for visibility at all costs. Somehow, they feel that being on TV, being recognized by the nation, is the only thing worth aiming for. Perhaps the saddest of the entries on X Factor are those who admit that what they want is to be a celebrity. They don't really care about singing, or music, it's being famous that counts.

Was the Heene balloon a publicity stunt? It's up to you to decide - but it certainly isn't an impossible deduction from the evidence.


  1. I'm concerned about the number of people in the media, the FAA, police and sheriffs who didn't take the time to determine if it was even possible for that balloon to carry the weight of a child. As soon as I saw the balloon I knew it couldn't.

    Certainly the father would likely have the helium cylinders, or know the business where they were purchased from, and/or have a receipt or know the size of the balloon.

    From there, simple math would have made the boys flight a non issue. I expect this sort of media coverage, namely tossing out speculation with no facts, and failing to ask the right questions... (like is it even possible, or is it even true) but I would have thought that someone at the FAA would know enough to do some simple math.


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