It’s one thing for skeptics to dismiss a sighting of a UFO by a single individual, who might possibly be mistaken, delusional or simply a teller of tall tales. It’s more difficult, however, to disregard sightings in public places and a large number of witnesses. Here are 10 of the most prominent documented mass UFO sightings in U.S. history.
1. June 1, 1853: Luminous Objects Hover Over Tennessee College Campus. As the sun rose over the campus of Burritt College, numerous students—who apparently were early risers in those days, too—were startled to see two luminous objects in the sky. According to professor A.C. Carnes, who reported the incident in a letter to Scientific American, the first had the appearance of a small new moon, while the other resembled a large star. The small object then vanished, while the bigger one changed shape, first into a globe and then into an elongated shape parallel with the horizon. The smaller light then became visible again, and increased rapidly in size, while the other object shrank. The two objects continued fluctuating in a similar fashion for the next 30 minutes. “The students have asked for an explanation, but neither the President nor Professors are satisfied as to the character of the lights,” wrote Carnes. While he himself speculated that the occurrence might have been caused somehow by atmospheric moisture, the incident remains a mystery.
2. April 17, 1897: Purported UFO crash in Texas. At about 6 a.m. that morning, according to contemporaneous Dallas Morning News account, citizens of the small town of Aurora were awakened by the appearance of what the writer referred to as an “airship.” The craft reportedly malfunctioned and stalled, and crashed into a windmill on the property of a local judge, scattering debris over several acres. “The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one aboard and, while his remains were badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world,” according to the Morning News account. Skeptics long have dismissed the account as a hoax. But in 1973, a United Press International reporter located a 91-year-old resident, Mary Evans, who recalled her parents visiting the crash site, and telling her that the body of the UFO pilot had been buried in the town cemetery.
3. February 25, 1942: The Battle of Los Angeles. In the early morning hours, radar operators spotted an unidentified object 120 miles west of Los Angeles and watched anxiously as it zoomed to within a few miles of the southern California coast and then inexplicably vanished from their screens. Sometime after that, an artillery officer along the coast reported what he described as 25 aircraft flying at 25,000 feet, and a few minutes later, other observers saw a balloon-like object carrying what appeared to be flares over nearby Santa Monica. Then, anti-aircraft batteries spotted what witnesses later described as swarms of objects flying at various altitudes, at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. Fearing that the city was under attack by the Japanese, they fired 1,400 rounds of ammunition at the bogeys. But apparently, none of them hit anything, because no wreckage subsequently was found. Officials initially ascribed the incident to a combination of a false alarm and mass hysteria. But UFOlogists have speculated over the years that the gunners might have been shooting at extraterrestrial spacecraft.
4. January 7, 1948: Saucer Appears Over Kentucky. Early in the afternoon, dozens of residents of the Madisonville, KY area telephoned police to report that they had seen what a news account later described as “a circular object hovering overhead and giving off a brilliant glow.” State police then alerted Air Force officials at Goodman Field, an air base at Fort Knox. 15 minutes later, the airfield’s tower crew spotted the UFO as well, and used the radio to ask a squadron of P-51 fighters already aloft to investigate. Squadron leader Capt. Thomas Mantell, Jr. an expert pilot who had won the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery during World War II, responded that he had spotted the UFO and was in pursuit. “I’m closing in now to take a good look,” Mantell reported in his last radio transmission at 3:15 p.m. “The thing looks metallic, and is tremendous in size.” Three minutes later, Mantell crashed and was killed. The official conclusion was that he had run out of oxygen, but UFOlogists have long doubted that explanation.
5. November 2, 1957: Fiery Object Seen Over Texas. At about 11 p.m. that evening in the town of Levelland, TX, police received 15 frantic phone calls from local residents about a mysterious object in the sky. In an Associated Press account, one of the witnesses, a 30-year-old farm worker and Korean War veteran, described the object as a “flash of light” flying overhead with a rush of wind, and said that it had apparently caused the lights and engine of his truck to go dead. Other witnesses described the craft as blue-green and egg-shaped, and said that it abruptly morphed into a fireball before rising straight up and disappearing.
6. Dec. 9, 1965: The Kecksburg Incident. Numerous residents of the small Pennsylvania village about 40 miles from Pittsburgh saw an object that some witnesses described as streaking green fire across the sky before it crashed in a local field, just before 6 p.m. that evening. Local resident Bill Bulebush, who was working on his car when he saw the object, described it as acorn-shaped and about twice the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. He said that it glided slowing before making a U-turn and going down. A local fireman, James Romansky, later described the downed craft as having hieroglyphic-like writing around its bottom ring. He only got to examine the craft for about 15 minutes, before government and military officials arrived and ordered everyone from the scene, and posted armed guards around the perimeter. Subsequently, there was speculation that the object may have been a Soviet satellite, but UFO researcher Clifford Stone, who spoke years later to former Soviet officials, said they insisted that the object had not been one of theirs. After investigative journalist Leslie Keen filed a Freedom of Information Act suit, NASA revealed in 2009 that documentation on the case was missing.
7. March 24, 1983: V-Shaped Lights in the Hudson Valley. The suburban area, about an hour’s drive north of New York City, was the scene of more than 5,000 UFO sightings from 1982 through 1986, perhaps one of the biggest clusters of incidents in history. One night, March 24, stands out because of the sheer volume—more than 300 residents called a local UFO organization’s hotline that night, reporting that they had seen large v-shaped array of lights that moved slowly and almost silently through the sky. Some witnesses got close enough to say that the craft was big enough to be a “flying city.” Hunt Middleton, a local resident who had just stepped off a bus from New York City at 7:30 p.m., described a row of six or seven extremely bright lights. “They were all blinking on and off, and were red, blue, green and white. I knew it was not any type of conventional aircraft because the lights were stationary. It was just hovering there in the sky.” Middleton said that he watched the object for five minutes, before going inside his house to get his family to come out and see it. By then, it was gone.
8. March 13, 1997: The Phoenix Lights. On that evening, thousands of people in Nevada and Arizona reportedly saw what many described as an immense, V-shaped object outlined by seven lights. Others, however, reported seeing orbs and triangles in the sky as well. Police departments in Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale and other Arizona cities were jammed with calls from residents. One witness, a man in his thirties named Dana Valentine, said that he and his father both watched as the lights passed 500 feet directly above them. "We could see the outline of a mass behind the lights, but you
couldn't actually see the mass," Valentine says. "It was more like a gray distortion of the night sky, wavy. I don't know exactly what it was, but I know it's not a technology the public has heard of before." The military later claimed that National Guard pilots had released diversionary flares while on a training run, but not everyone accepted that explanation.
9. July 14, 2001: UFO on the New Jersey Turnpike. Multiple witnesses, including a local off-duty police officer, watched in wonder as an array of yellow lights flew in formation in suburban New Jersey near New York City late in the evening of July 14, 2001 into the early morning of the following day. A short time later, at around 12:30 a.m., another witness, Carteret police Lt. Dan Tarrant, reportedly received a call at home from his 19-year-old daughter, who was out with friends and had seen strange lights in the sky. Tarrant told the Record and ABC News that he then stepped outside to take a look. As Tarrant subsequently told ABC News, what he saw was astounding: “16 golden-orange colored lights, several in a V-type formation. Others were scattered around the V." Tarrant told the Record, a local newspaper, that the mysterious lights flashed across the sky for about 10 minutes, then faded one-by-one into darkness.
10. January 8, 2008: The Stephensville Lights. In the evening, about out 40 local residents, including a local amateur civilian pilot and a police officer, witnessed a UFO that hovered over the farming community for about five minutes before streaking away into the night sky. Police officer Lee Roy Gaitan told National Public Radio that he was walking to his car when he saw a luminous object that reminded him of pictures of erupting volcanos, suspended 3,000 feet in the air. Another witness estimated that the UFO was a half-mile wide, a mile long, and” bigger than a Wal-Mart.”