The father accused of masterminding a hoax in which emergency services chased an out-of-control balloon in which his son was feared to be trapped may turn himself in over the alleged plot, his lawyer has said.
Richard Heene’s suspected stunt took in the world media on Thursday with cameras tracking the flying saucer-shaped vessel as it zipped across the Colorado skies.
Speaking on NBC's Today show, his lawyer David Lane said he expects authorities to bring charges against his client within the next day, adding that he hoped police would not stage a public arrest. “These folks are willing to turn themselves in, so I don't want to see a perp walk done for media consumption,” the lawyer said.
Mr Heene and his wife Mayumi face possible felony charges including conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and making a false report to police. The most serious counts carry a maximum sentence of six years' imprisonment and a $500,000 fine (£305,000).
In a further development it has emerged that Mr Heene had discussed the possibility of a publicity stunt involving the balloon months before it went up on Thursday.
In an email exchange obtained by gossip website Gawker.com, Mr Heene discusses with associate Robert Thomas using the UFO inflatable to generate media interest in a reality TV show based on the Heene family.
“This will be the most significant UFO-related news event to take place since the Roswell crash of 1947, and the result will be a dramatic increase in local and national awareness about The Heene Family, our reality series, as well as the UFO phenomenon in general,” Mr Heene's show proposal — posted to Gawker.com — states.
Thomas, 25, said Heene wanted to drum up publicity to land a reality show by using a UFO-shaped balloon.
Thomas said Heene had written to him saying: "We will modify a weather balloon so that it resembles a UFO. We will capture the footage and utilise the media."
He said: "Richard wanted nothing more than to get a series. He told me he'd do whatever it took."
Falcon: We did it for the show
Millions of viewers followed last week's drama unfold on live TV.
Over the course of two hours, police rescue teams and the US National Guard tracked the balloon under the belief that six-year-old Falcon Heene had crawled inside a compartment just before it took to the skies.
Father: I'm appalled
It travelled around 50 miles before floating to the ground at which point it was discovered that the youngster was not on board.
Fears that he may have fallen out shortly after take-off were allayed when he turned up a few hours later, apparently after hiding out because he thought his dad would be angry.
The balloon was supposed to be tethered to the ground when it lifted off, and no one was supposed to be aboard. A video of the launch shows the family counting down in unison, "3, 2, 1", before Richard Heene pulls a cord, setting the balloon into the air.
"Whoa!" one of the boys exclaims. Then his father says in disbelief: "Oh, my God!" He then says to someone: "You didn't put the (expletive) tether down!" and he kicks the wood frame that had held the balloon.
Authorities said they are also concerned about the safety of the three children. Authorities spoke with Mayumi Heene "at length about domestic violence" and the children's safety, Alderden said. "But we didn't have enough that would allow us or Child Protection Services to physically take the kids from that environment."
A 911 call was made from the home earlier this year that led authorities to a "suspicious circumstance" that Alderden said may have involved "domestic violence, perhaps against the wife."
Over the years, Richard Heene has worked as a storm chaser, a handyman and contractor, and an aspiring reality TV star.
He and his family appeared on the US version of Wife Swap and the show's producer said it had a show in development with the Heenes but the deal was now off.
TLC also said Mr Heene had pitched a reality show to the network months ago, but it passed on the offer.
Mr Heene is the host of a show called The Psyience Detectives which invesigates paranormal activity.
Mr and Mrs Heene also starred in Box Time Playhouse and are briefly mentioned in the book 'Acting is Everything' by Judy Kerr.