Kentucky Flier Killed Chasing ‘Saucer’


Source: Nashville (TN) Banner January 8, 1948  (page 1 and 2)


Louisville, Ky., Jan 8 – (UP)


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            The Kentucky Air National Guard reported today that Capt. Thomas F. Mantell, Louisville, who died yesterday when his P-51 crashed at Franklin, Ky., was one of three pilots searching for a strange object seen in the sky.

            The guard said Captain Mantell and three other pilots left Atlanta, Ga., yesterday at 1:45 p.m. (CST) on a routine flight to Louisville. Their planes were checked prior to flight, and all were in perfect condition. All were flying P-51’s.

            When they got near Fort Knox, they were messaged by radio that Col. Guy F. Hix, commanding officer at Godman Field, had seen a strange “thing” in the sky. One pilot landed at Louisville as scheduled, but the other three gave chase.

            The guard said two of the pilots went to about 15,000 feet and were unable to get near the object, so they returned and landed. Nothing was heard from Captain Mantell and there were no radio messages before he crashed, the guards said.

            The guard said it was “anybody’s guess” what happened after the other two landed.

            Mrs. Joe Phillips, on whose farm the plane crashed, said she heard it roar low over her house and went to a window in time to see it fall apart in the air, at about tree-top height. It struck the ground about 300 yards from the house.

            Barbara Mayes, 14, who was waiting for a bus at Spring Lake School, near the scene, said she heard the plane explode in the air.

            The two pilots who landed said the “thing” was still above them and moving too fast for them when they were at 15,000 feet. Colonel Hix watched it through powerful binoculars until clouds obscured it.

            Colonel Hix, who said he was not aware Captain Mantell was one of the pilots searching for the “thing” described it as being about one-half the size of a full moon. “It was absolutely white, except for a streamer of red that appeared to be revolving.

            The colonel said the streamer of red appeared first at the top and then at the bottom of the object, which did not seem to be moving.

            Colonel Hix and personnel at Godman Field sighted the object at 2:30 p.m., and watched it until it disappeared behind clouds at 4 p.m. (CST).

            A University of Kentucky physics professor was to come to Godman Field this afternoon and use high powered equipment to trace the chart of the object, if it reappears, Colonel Hix said.

            Colonel Hix said it was his guess that the object either was a celestial object, although it did not appear to be moving, or a large balloon.

            Numerous telephone calls were received by Army and State Highway Patrol officials, although descriptions varied widely.

            Captain Mantell, 25, flew many missions over Europe in World War II and held the Distinguished Flying Cross.

            Glenn Mayes, who witnessed the plane crash said he was in his front yard, about 300 yards from the spot where the plane plunged to the ground, said he first heard the plane and then “saw a vapor trail” before he spotted the aircraft.

            Mayes estimated that the plane was up 20,000 feet when it suddenly went into a dive, plunging about half-way to the earth before it began disintegrating.

            He said smoke rose from the engine after the crash, but that the wreckage did not burn.

            Captain Mantell’s body was at Booker Funeral Home at Franklin this morning, and was expected to be removed to Louisville this afternoon.

            Among his survivors are his wife Mrs. Margaret Mantell and two children.

            An airborne object at a high altitude which yesterday afternoon caused speculation about comets and “flying saucers” throughout Middle Tennessee and Central Kentucky was definitely a balloon, according to consensus of observers.

             There remained a difference of opinion, however, as to the type of balloon and a mystery as to its origin.

            The object, which was described as “pear shaped” and like a “suspended light bulb,” was sighted over a wide area on a line extending from Columbia, Tenn., to Louisville, Ky. Its altitude, checked twice by pursuing airplanes, was reported at 11,000 feet at Hopkinsville, Ky., and above 20,000 at Louisville.

            Two Hopkinsville aviators, Jimmy Garnett and Bill Crenshaw, investigated the object by plane and identified it as a “free weather balloon” (no instruments attached to it). Telescope observers here and at Franklin, Columbia and Clarksville also identified the object as a balloon.

            At Madisonville, Ky., where Hugh Clark and Thomas Gant observed what they believed was the same balloon from a plane, the Weather Bureau surmised that it might have been one of 21 weather observation balloons sent up by Northwestern University at Evanston, Ill.

            Latimer J. Wilson, local astronomer, agreed that the object was a balloon but stated that it was unlike any weather balloon he had ever seen and that it appeared to be “made of glass.”

            Meanwhile the local Weather Bureau reported no balloons missing.

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