By: Emma Austin………
Most UFO sightings can be explained away.
Unidentified flying objects usually turn out to be airplanes, drones, satellites, stars or even balloons.
But what about the ones that don’t have an explanation?
A highly anticipated federal report on UFOs commissioned by Congress has brought speculation on UFOs back into the limelight. It’s expected to be released this month and reportedly says the government did not find evidence UFOs are alien spacecraft, but the report also does not definitively say they aren’t, according to the The New York Times and CNN.
Barry Gaunt, director of Kentucky’s chapter of the Mutual UFO Network — the “world’s oldest and largest civilian UFO investigation and research organization” — has spent more than half his life working in what he considers the “paranormal field,” which includes investigating UFO sightings and abduction cases.
“I think it’s very important that we get all the cases into a database because what that does is it allows us to be able to really do deeper research,” Gaunt told The Courier Journal. “The more people that report these incidents, the more we can deal with it.”
The Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, was created in response to the Air Force’s decision to shut down Project Blue Book, its study of unidentified flying objects from 1952 through 1969.
In 2020 alone, more than 80 Kentucky cases were reported to and investigated by MUFON, according to its online database.
“If you look up, you may see things,” Gaunt said. “Most people walk around the world careened from one spot to another and don’t take the time to look up.”
In anticipation of the government report’s release, The Courier Journal looked back at well-known UFO reports in Kentucky spanning decades. Here are five of those:
Fatal air chase: Fort Knox, 1948
One of the earliest UFO reports happened in Kentucky, and it was among the most publicized because it ended in the death of Capt. Thomas F. Mantell, a 25-year-old Kentucky National Guard pilot.
On Jan. 7, 1948, Fort Knox received a report from the Kentucky Highway Patrol of an unusual aerial object near Maysville, according to a case summary by the Mutual UFO Network. Maysville sits on the Ohio River and is 66 miles northeast of Lexington. But reports that day also came in from Irvington — roughly 180 miles from Maysville — and Owensboro — more than 240 miles away — of a westbound circular object in the sky, according to the network.
The gleaming object was easily visible from Fort Knox, and officers at the post radioed to three planes flying overhead to see if they could catch the object, which they thought might be a flying disk, according to a Courier Journal report the following day.
“About 20 minutes later they radioed back they were 20,000 feet high and the saucer was still above them,” a colonel told the newspaper. “The pilots said the saucer was too high and going too fast for them to catch.” The pilots said the saucer was traveling west at about 180 mph, though from the observation tower it appeared motionless.
University of Louisville astronomer Walter Lee Moore told The Courier Journal at the time the planet Venus had been near the sun during the reported sightings, and “very exceptional atmospheric conditions” could have made it visible to the naked eye during the day.
“If they chased Venus in airplanes, they certainly had a long way to go,” Moore said.
A report of Mantell’s death was printed on the front page of the Louisville newspaper alongside the article detailing the chase toward the object, but neither stories mentioned Mantell’s involvement in the chase. Airport officials said he was on his way back from a training flight to Atlanta when his plane exploded five miles south of Franklin, Kentucky.
Likewise, the report on pilots chasing the disk did not mention Mantell or any related fatality.
Contrary to what officials said at the time, Fort Knox commanders actually ordered four planes to follow the object, including Mantell’s. One of the four planes was low on fuel, and its pilot quickly abandoned the chase, according to the Mutual UFO Network.
Two of the remaining pilots called off their pursuit at 22,500 feet, but Mantell continued to climb. Once he passed 25,000 feet, he blacked out from lack of oxygen, and his plane began spiraling toward the ground. His plane crashed at a farm south of Franklin.
The next day, a follow-up story linked Mantell’s death to the chase. One of the other pilots said he was convinced they had been chasing “a star or some other type of celestial body.”
Shootout with space aliens: Hopkinsville, 1955
Thousands of people flocked to Hopkinsville on Aug. 21, 2017, to witness in totality the much-anticipated solar eclipse, but that wasn’t the first time the small Kentucky town made national headlines for an outer space event.
Exactly 62 years earlier on Aug. 21, 1955, a group of eight adults and four children reported seeing a lit object glide onto a field outside one of their homes in Kelly, a small, unincorporated community a few miles north of Hopkinsville. They said it looked like an egg-shaped washtub and they didn’t pay much attention to it.
But about 40 minutes later, they noticed “shiny little men” walking toward their house, and soon 15 of them were “all over the place.”
The report of the “flying tubmen” made it into local newspapers the very next day after the family went to police.
One of the men, Billy Ray Taylor, told police and reporters he stepped out the front door upon seeing the chrome-like creatures converge on the house, and one of them grabbed at him from the roof.
Elmer “Lucky” Sutton said he grabbed his shotgun, stepped outside and shot one of the silver creatures, but the bullets didn’t seem to have an effect. His brother, John Sutton, said he fired four boxes of .22 cartridges from his pistol, but they ricocheted off. After investigating the scene, police said they only found two empty .22 cartridges.
The group said the creatures, who they described as having faces that looked like “skin stretched over a skull,” returned to the house five times in the course of about three hours, with the men running them off with their firearms each time. After the sixth visit, all 12 of them loaded into two cars and sped toward Hopkinsville to tell police shortly before 11 p.m.
Police reportedly found “no physical evidence to back up the story,” though officers said they noticed “two objects — presumably meteorites — flashing across the sky” while investigating at the scene.
Sutton told his family to keep quiet about what had happened — saying no good could come from it — but word began spreading the next day as newspapers and wire services picked up the story. Today, the Kelly community commemorates the event on the third weekend of every August with the Kelly Little Green Men Days Festival. Sutton’s daughter, Glenda Sutton Morris, dresses up as an alien for the festival every year.
Casey County abduction: Stanford, 1976
One of the most widely accredited and best-documented UFO sightings in history happened in central Kentucky more than 45 years ago.
Three women from Casey County not only reported seeing a UFO in January 1976 — they also said they were taken aboard and examined by aliens.
Elaine Thomas, Louise Smith and Mona Stafford said they were driving home together from a dinner at a Stanford restaurant, where they went to celebrate Stafford’s 36th birthday.
While on the road, they saw a bright object in the sky about half an hour before midnight. The women said they watched it come hurtling toward the ground, believing it was a plane about to crash.
But before it hit the ground, it stopped, hovering above their car, they said. They described it as an oval-shaped aircraft with revolving yellow lights.
The women said a blue light filled the car, which began to shake back and forth, and then they felt the car being pulled backward before all three lost consciousness.
They woke up in Hustonville, about eight miles from where they said they saw the UFO — an hour and a half later. All three women had headaches and what appeared to be burn marks on the backs of their necks.
UFO researchers investigated, and the women underwent hypnosis to recall what happened in the time they couldn’t account for. In separate sessions, they all told versions of the same story: They were taken aboard the spacecraft and closely examined by scaly, blue-eyed, telepathic creatures.
They also were given lie detector tests, which they passed.
About a year after the incident, when the women’s story was featured on NBC’s “Tomorrow” show with Tom Snyder, a cafe owner who knew Stafford told a Courier Journal reporter she believed their story.
“You ought to hear her tell it,” she said about Stafford’s experience. “She cries and gets scared, just like they were going to come in here and get her again. Do you think she’d be like that if she was making it up?”
The Lexington Leader reported in 1977 the three women became outcasts in Casey County, where they were ridiculed after sharing their story. Smith moved to Las Vegas, a city she said was much more tolerant of people who shared memories of UFO sightings, and Stafford moved to Stanford, Kentucky, while Thomas remained in Casey County.
“It keeps me torn up,” Stafford said in an interview with the Leader. “I tried to talk about it to people. They wouldn’t listen. We never got anything out of it. It was just impossible; I couldn’t take it any longer. I say if you don’t want to face the truth, that’s like living in fairyland.”
Close encounter with ‘sentient’ beings: Prospect, 1977
Almost a year after the Stanford abduction, another Kentuckian reported a close encounter with extraterrestrials — but they looked much different than the creatures described in Casey County.
A report written by UFO researcher Carla L. Rueckert and published in the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization Bulletin described an investigation into the incident by Rueckert and her colleague, Don Elkins.
About 1 a.m. on Jan. 27, 1977, 19-year-old Lee Parrish was driving home in Prospect from his girlfriend’s house, where the couple had been watching television, the report states.
As he was driving west on Highway 329 in his 1970 Jeepster, Parrish saw an object hovering just above the treeline about 100 to 220 feet from the road. The object was a perfect rectangle and appeared to be about 10 feet tall and 40 feet long.
“The craft was the colour of the setting sun, but much brighter,” the report says. “Lee felt a compulsion to look at it and was unable to remove his gaze from it, but at the same time it was too bright to look at.”
Parrish told the researchers he became frightened and wanted to leave the area but was unable; “he doesn’t even remember how the car managed to stay on the road — he wasn’t driving it.”
About 15 seconds after he saw the object, Parrish’s car radio failed. He continued watching the UFO until he was directly underneath it, at which point it sped away suddenly, according to the report.
It never made a sound.
Parrish arrived home about 45 minutes after he left his girlfriend’s, but the drive should have only taken seven minutes. His mother met him at the door and noticed the whites of his eyes were completely bloodshot, Rueckert noted in the report. His eyes felt painful.
Working with hypnotist Lawrence Allison, Rueckert and Elkins hypnotized Parrish to help him remember what happened in the missing 35 minutes.
Under hypnosis, he described a moment of not being able to see anything not long after he first spotted the UFO. When he could see again, his Jeep was gone, and he was in a circular, white room without knowing how he had gotten there. The walls of the room were “self-luminous.”
“Before him stood three objects which he instinctively felt or sensed were sentient beings, although they were definitely not human: a ‘black one,’ a ‘red one,’ and a ‘white one,'” the report says.
The black one stood to his left and was the tallest, according to the report. It was roughly the shape of an army silhouette target — “jug-shaped, with a relatively small ‘head.'” It had one single limb: a handless, one-jointed appendage.
To his right stood the red one, which was the smallest and about the same size as Parrish. It also had one arm, handless and unjointed.
According to the report, however, Parrish said the black one moved toward him slowly and used its arm to touch him on his left side and back, causing a painful feeling that was both cold and burning. He said he felt like he was vibrating.
Parrish said he felt like the red one was scared and reluctant to touch him, but it touched him on the shoulder and above his right ear.
“This felt like a needle and stung briefly, but did not terrify Lee and did not hurt long,” Rueckert wrote in the report. “During this time, Lee felt quite cold. The whole ship seems to be rocking like ‘a boat on the water,’ back and forth.”
The white one was about 6 feet tall and stood in front of Parrish and had two appendages, which it did not move, instead standing still and “watching” Parrish. It glowed brightly, and Parrish “knew that it was the ‘ruler’ of the other two,” according to Rueckert’s report.
After the red one touched Parrish, it backed up, and the white one began making a rhythmic scraping sound, he said. The black one also backed up slowly, and eventually the other two either merged with it or disappeared behind it.
“When asked what he thought their purpose was in taking him on board, he replied that he felt they were checking out his ‘chemical make-up’ and doing a physical check-up,” the report states.
Showdown between police and a UFO: Louisville, 1993
Just around midnight of Feb. 27, 1993, two Jefferson County air unit police officers reported having a two-minute “dogfight” with a UFO during a routine helicopter patrol.
The officers described the UFO as a glowing, pear-shaped object about the size of a basketball and said it flew in circles around their helicopter before shooting three baseball-size fireballs out its middle.
Another officer said he saw the object from his squad car below for about a minute and confirmed it shot three fireballs into the air before disappearing.
A Courier Journal story followed up on the incident with the headline: “The only thing clear is what the UFO wasn’t.”
Staff writer Leslie Scanlon spoke to multiple experts about what the flying object could have been. Scientists ruled out possibilities such as a plummeting meteorite, a lightning ball or fireball, or a known aircraft.
John Dressman, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Louisville’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering, shared at the time suspicions the pilots may have seen reflections created by a heavy blanket of snow and thick cloud cover.
“I certainly would not question the credibility of the officers — they seem to be very reliable officers,” he told The Courier Journal. But “there’s a certain suspicion in my mind that the atmospheric conditions might have led to misconstruing things.”
A follow-up story in The Courier Journal on March 6 reported a Buechel man claiming officers had seen his homemade hot-air balloon.
cott Heacock told the newspaper “he had been trying for some time to show his wife how far his homemade hot-air balloons can fly.” On the night of Feb. 26, weather conditions were perfect to get the device — made from balsa wood, birthday candles and a plastic bag — off the ground.
As the balloon cleared the trees that night, the county police helicopter flew into the area and began circling before shining a spotlight on the balloon, Heacock said.
Heacock contacted The Courier Journal after seeing the story about the incident, which was followed by a flurry of TV reports.
“I believe in UFOs,” Heacock told The Courier Journal at the time, “but I believe most of the phenomena people see is explainable.” His wife, a recent immigrant from Mexico, told the newspaper she was “the only alien around here.”
However, Officer Kenny Downs — one of the two in the helicopter that night — said “there’s no way” what they saw was the tiny hot-air balloon.
“I don’t think six candles and a plastic bag can fly at the speeds we flew.”