Grounded! Falcon descends into furore over balloon 'rescue'

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While Pixar's balloon animation, Up, captivated British cinema audiences last week, US television networks were screening a real-life helium odyssey that may yet turn out to be a lot of hot air.

The plight of six-year-old Falcon Heene, from Colorado, had the nation on the edge of its collective seat on Thursday after he was reported to be aboard a runaway home-made balloon that had slipped its tether.

When the balloon landed, empty, after a 50-mile chase, the nation feared the worst, only to find that Falcon never left his house and had been hiding in a storage space above the family's garage.

Now the Heenes face a visit by social workers, new questions from detectives and, possibly, a bill for a "rescue" that included military helicopters and the closure of Denver International Airport.

Falcon said he had hidden after his father, Richard, a storm chaser and reality TV star, had told him off for playing inside the balloon.

Jim Alderden, the Sheriff of Larimer County, said there was no reason to disbelieve Falcon's parents, Richard and Mayumi. But it has since emerged that Mr Heene had telephoned a news network before even calling police. And the boy was later recorded on CNN saying, "You said we did this for a show", after his father asked him why he had not come down from the rafters earlier. The youngster also appeared to vomit twice while his father answered questions on ABC and NBC.

Before the balloon went up, the family had appeared on the US version of Wife Swap and had a deal with its producer for another show. Mr Heene said suggestions of a hoax were "extremely pathetic", but the story, unlike the balloon, is gathering pace.