On July 8, 1947, an Unidentified Flying Object crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. The official Air Force explanation was that a weather balloon had come down. One hundred eighty-three days later, another weather balloon would result in a crash…this time of an Air Force pilot in hot pursuit. Weather balloons in the 1940s were very dangerous it seems.
The Thomas Mantell Incident: Telling Indeed
The Thomas Mantell Incident is important in UFO history. At the time, arguments related to UFO sightings tended to lean in the direction of a fad. Some believed that the sighting of UFOs were delayed traumatic reactions following World War II. Others believed the sightings to be the effect of mass hysteria related to the Cold War and McCarthyism.
Still others believe that the increase of UFO sightings are the result of human advances in aerospace. This belief holds that two things are happening:
1. The rapid acceleration of human achievement has gotten the attention of superior lifeforms, which are scouting the planet more often than in times past.
2. Technology has allowed humans to better record alien encounters.
Whatever the case, the Thomas Mantell Incident was important in many ways.
Captain Thomas F. Mantell was a seasoned pilot, having entered the Air Force during WWII. He had clocked more than 2,000 hours flight time and had participated in the Battle of Normandy. Most important, the UFO was not one which Captain Mantell just happened upon, but rather, had been spotted independently by people on the ground.
Mantell was one of four Kentucky Air National Guard pilots initially responding to a radio communication to investigate a large, circular object about 300 feet in diameter. Although ground witnesses had been watching the object for nearly half an hour, once the F-51D Mustangs arrived, it suddenly shot upwards at an incredible speed.
One pilot had just left off the pursuit because he was low on fuel. The remaining three pilots took their aircraft into a steep climb in pursuit of the object. Mantell’s Wingman Lt. Albert Clements left off the chase because his oxygen supply was low and Lt. Hammond left off at 22,500 feet. Mantell continued the chase and ultimately fell from the sky, crashing near Franklin, KY.
This case was especially powerful because it was the first confirmed instance wherein a pilot giving pursuit of an unidentified flying object crashed during the event. Nationwide, people became fixated on the fact that Mantell crashed while chasing a UFO. Some believed he was shot down by advanced technology.
No one suspected pilot error.
Thomas Mantell: Pilot Error
Although the Air Force initially stated that the pilots were giving chase to Venus, they eventually provided a better story: Captain Thomas Mantell flew too high. He ran out of oxygen and passed out at the controls. This caused his aircraft to spiral out of control and crash. The object he and the other pilots were chasing was a Navy Skyhook High-altitude Balloon. This had to be the explanation because Venus was too small in the sky to fit the story. Official story complete.
Yet, this explanation fails to explain why a seasoned combat pilot would have mistaken a weather balloon for something worth chasing to high altitude. It fails to explain the object circumference provided by eye-witnesses on the ground, from Owensboro to Irvington, KY.Nor does it explain the descriptions of witnesses at the Army Air Field in Clinton County, Ohio who were among those calling for a closer look when the aircraft were assigned to task.
The Most Important Contribution of the Thomas Mantell Incident
Perhaps the single most important contribution to alien research resulting from the Thomas Mantell Incident is public support. UFO sightings are on the rise. Just a few months earlier, one crash-landed in the New Mexico desert. Now, a UFO appeared to have shot down a U.S. Air Force pilot. That is unacceptable.
The public became interested in UFOs to a much stronger degree than they had before. Instead of the idea that alien visitors would be friendly, the possibility that they could have less-than-friendly motives for visiting planet earth arose. Suddenly, UFOs were no longer the fancy of a few, but the concern of many.
Today, interest and belief in life outside the Solar System continues to grow. Some still believe Thomas Mantell was shot out of the sky and that extraterrestrial visitors are not planning a friendly visit. Others believe that alien races with an interest in earth are many and that some are friendly, some less so. Whatever the case, the 1948 Thomas Mantell Incident got the attention of many.