Form: Media Transcript
Pilot Crashes While Pursuing UFO
Part 1, May 23, 2006, WFIE Interview
May 23, 2006 04:15 PM
Reporter: Drew Speier
New Media Producer: Rachel Chambliss
It's a mystery dating back to 1947. A UFO allegedly crashed in
Roswell, New Mexico. That story is well documented, but equally
puzzling was this mystery regarding a UFO in the skies above Kentucky
just a few months after the Roswell incident.
In 1956, a government film addressed this case, a case that'll
never be solved because Captain Thomas Mantell from Simpson County,
Kentucky, an experienced pilot and World WarII Ace, took the answer to
It made headlines across the country. January 7th, 1948,
1:30 pm, Kentucky State Police receive reports of a UFO near Godman Air
Force Base. The unidentified object is described as a big, bright,
shiny star. (Ridge: The second line is a soundbyte WFIE used that came
from the Edwards Encounter tape, and does not describe the Godman
Four F-51 Mustangs, on their way to Standiford Air Force Base in
Kentucky, are contacted by the tower. They're ordered to investigate a
white object, some 300 feet in diameter. One plane returns for fuel and
oxygen, the other three approached the object.
Pilot Thomas Mantell says he sees it ahead of him. The planes
climbed to 22,000 feet, too high for WWII fighters without oxygen. Two
returned to the base, leaving Captain Mantell in sole pursuit of the
Minutes later, Mantell with another transmission states, "Mantell
to tower: it appears to be a metallic object, and it's of tremendous
Captain Mantell kept climbing, most likely past 30,000 feet. Radio
contact was lost.
Minutes later, less than two hours from the initial sightings,
Mantell's F-51 crashed on a farm in Franklin, Kentucky. His watch
stopped at 3:16 p.m. His body, still strapped in his plane. By all
accounts, he passed out from a lack of oxygen, forcing his plane to
plunge to the ground.
Today, a historical marker sits near the site where Mantell's
plane went down in Franklin, Kentucky. In fact, it went down on a farm
nearby Joe Phillips farm. His son, a school child then, was one of the
first on the scene.
William Phillips Jr. recalls, "We heard this real loud boom, you
know. It actually shook the house. In fact, the best I remember it was
two of them, like an explosion."
Phillips Jr. was six years old and home sick with his younger
sister when the crash occurred.
He says, "We ran to the window, and just happened to pick the
right window, and see it hit the ground, as it hit the ground."
The news of the incident immediately made headlines. Newspapers
reported Mantell had been shot down by a magnetic ray from a flying
saucer. The story took on a life of its own.
Mantell was the first person ever to die while pursuing an
unidentified flying object.
The military's response - it was most likely a weather balloon.
Phillips Jr. argues, "I can't see that a balloon could move and
out run a P-51. The P-51 was the fastest thing the military virtually
had in '47."
It's a story that, almost 60 years later, is still talked about in
Franklin, Kentucky where Mantell was born and, oddly enough, died, just
a few miles from the Simpson County tourism building where he's honored.
Dan Ware, Simpson County Tourism, says, "There are many UFO buffs
who stop by to ask and see what we've got, and want to know as much as
they can about the story. It continues to fascinate people, even after
To this day, people still wonder what Captain Mantell was chasing.
Just over 58 years ago, a Kentucky National Guard pilot crashed his
plane and died while pursuing a UFO. It was a story that made headlines
and one that's still talked
about today. But the question remains, what was Captain Thomas Mantell
chasing that day?
A 1956 documentary on UFO's detailed the Mantell case, which
occurred in January of 1948. It happened just months after another
celebrated incident in Roswell, New Mexico, where a UFO had reportedly
crashed in the summer of 1947.
Newswatch spoke with the man who was the commander of the Kentucky
Air National Guard when the Mantell case occurred and a former Chief of
Staff with the Guard to get their takes on what happened. Newswatch
also talked with a UFO researcher. And as you might guess, we got two
Francis Ridge, UFO researcher, says, "It is a classic to this day."
Francis Ridge, who is with the National Investigations Committee
on Aerial Phenomenon, is talking about the case of Kentucky Air
National Guard pilot, Captain Thomas Mantell.
He explains, "He decided to go after this object which was,
according to his description, large and metallic, tremendous in size."
Mantell, a World War II Ace, was chasing a UFO on the afternoon of
January 7th, 1948, when he crashed his plane and died. The mystery died
with him on a farm in Franklin, Kentucky.
Ridge and others remain convinced Mantell was chasing an object
not of this world. (Ridge: Although a mystery in many ways, we do not
consider the Mantell case an "unknown". There are over 1500 incidents
we DO consider as "unknowns".)
Ridge says, "Several years later, when they restructured the
project because Project Sign was the first one, and they were serious,
and they came to the conclusion that they were dealing with something
from somewhere else."
Project Sign later became Project Blue Book. Because Mantell was a
well respected pilot, it gave the UFO story credibility. And the
military was concerned.
Ridge defends, "If you look in the Blue Book records, which is the
Air Force records, it shook a lot of military people up."
The man, who was the Commander of the Kentucky Air National Guard
at the time of the incident, is retired Major
General Phillip Ardery
now 93 and lives in Louisville. He remembers the Mantell case.
General Ardery recalls, "I'm fascinated with it, that's all I can
say about it. I find it a very, very interesting part of my experience."
Ardery believes Mantell was confused and didn't realize he had
reached an altitude with no oxygen. He also believes Mantell wasn't
chasing a UFO at all.
General Ardery argues, "There are times, we can imagine things
that really are not there."
Retired Brigadier General Edward
joined the Kentucky Air
National Guard in 1969. He eventually became Chief of Staff and
finished his career at the Pentagon.
General Tonini says, "It was universally accepted that this was
not a UFO but a balloon."
He says officers, like Mantell, did not know of a highly
classified secret program involving balloons, which is why Mantell
thought he was chasing a UFO and why it was difficult for the military
to explain the Skyhook Balloon Theory away. (Skyhook was not a highly
classified project but a highly publicized one. What they were USED for
might have been at times, but with over a hundred launches a year, they
apparently didn't attract much attention.)
General Tonini says, "As a result, even it if were a balloon, that
was part of a Navy secret project. Nobody was going to come out and say
that's what it was because it was classified." (Ridge: Records show,
actually FAIL to show, any launch responsible for this incident, which
was preceded by and followed by UFO sightings.)
The military's position remains firm. So does the position of
those who investigate UFO sightings, like Mantell's, for a living.
Ridge says, "It always impressed me that he was chasing something
other than a balloon, even though to this day, it would be very
difficult to prove it. One thing about it though, after searching all
the records and after the Air Force claimed that it was a Skyhook
Balloon, they have pretty good records on all the launches, but they
never could establish a launch date for that day."
One footnote, there were several reported sightings of UFO's on
the day of Mantell's death, including in Madisonville and Owensboro.
Newly found documents, left off of the official Blue Book records,
show that some of these objects were maneuvering and could not be
attributed to balloons of any kind.