Andy wrote it off as an unknown but it still bothered him; that balloon in the area was mighty suspicious. He talked to the two pilots a half dozen times and spent a day at the radar site at Bellefontaine before he reversed his "Unknown" decision and came up with the answer.
The unidentified target that the radar had tracked across Ohio was a low flying jet. The jet was unidentified because there was a mix-up and the radar station didn't get its flight plan. Andy checked and found that a jet out of Cleveland had landed at Memphis at about eleven forty. At ten forty five this jet would have been north of Dayton on a southwesterly heading. When the ground controller blended the targets of the two F-86's into the unidentified target, they were at 30,000 feet and were looking for the target at their altitude or higher so they missed the low flying jet - but they did see the balloon. Since the radar went out just as the pilots saw the balloon, the ground controller couldn't see that the
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unidentified target he'd been watching was continuing on to the south- west. The pilots didn't bother to look around any more once they'd spotted the balloon because they thought they had the target in sight.
The only part of the sighting that still wasn't explained was the radar pickup on the F-86's gun sight. Lieutenant Flues checked around, did a little experimenting, and found out that the small transmitter box on a radiosonde balloon will give an indication on the radar used in F-86 gun sights.
To get a final bit of proof, Lieutenant Flues took the gun camera photos to the photo lab. The two F-86's had been at about 40,000 feet when the photos were taken and the 20 foot balloon was at about 70,000 feet. Andy's question to the photo lab was, "How big should a Biot balloon appear on a frame of 16 mm. movie film when the balloon is 30,000 feet away?"
The people in the photo lab made a few calculations and measurements and came up with the answer, "A 20 foot balloon photographed from 30,000 feet away would be the same size as the UFO in the gun camera photos."
By the middle of August, Project Blue Book was back to normal. Lieutenant Flues's Coca-Cola consumption had dropped from twenty bottles a day in mid July to his normal five. We were all getting a good night's sleep and it was now a rare occasion when my home telephone would ring in the middle of the night to report a new UFO.
But then on the morning of August 20 I was happily taking a shower, getting ready to go to work, when one of these rare occasions occurred and the phone rang - it was the ATIC OD. An operational immediate wire had just come in for Blue Book. He had gone over to the message center and gotten it. He thought that it was important and wanted me to come right out. For some reason he didn't want to read it over the phone, although it was not classified. I decided that if he said so I should come out, so I left in a hurry.
The wire was from the intelligence officer at an air base in Florida. The previous night a scoutmaster and three boy scouts had seen a UFO. The scoutmaster had been burned when he approached too close to the UFO. The wire went on to give a few sketchy details and state that the scoutmaster was a "solid citizen."
I immediately put in a long distance call to the intelligence officer. He confirmed the data in the wire. He had talked briefly to the scoutmaster on the phone and from all he could gather it was no hoax. The local police had been contacted and they verified the story and the fact of the burns. I asked the intelligence officer to contact the scoutmaster and ask
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if he would submit to a physical examination immediately. I could imagine the rumors that could start about the scoutmaster's condition, and I wanted proof. The report sounded good, so I told the intelligence officer I'd get down to see him as soon as possible.
I immediately called Colonel Dunn, then chief at ATIC, and gave him a brief rundown. He agreed that I should go down to Florida as soon as possible and offered to try to get an Air Force B-25, which would save time over the airlines.
I told Bob Olsson to borrow a Geiger counter at Wright Field, then check out a camera. I called my wife and asked her to pack a few clothes and bring them out to me. Bob got the equipment, ran home and packed a bag, and in two hours he and I and our two pilots, Captain Bill Hoey and Captain David Douglas, were on our way to Florida to investigate one of the weirdest UFO reports that I came up against.
When we arrived, the intelligence officer arranged for the scoutmaster to come out to the air base. The latter knew we were coming, so he arrived at the base in a few minutes. He was a very pleasant chap, in his early thirties, not at all talkative but apparently willing to co-operate.
While he was giving us a brief personal history, I had the immediate impression that he was telling the truth. He'd lived in Florida all of his life. He'd gone to a private military prep school, had some college, and then had joined the Marines. He told us that he had been in the Pacific most of the war and repeated some rather hairy stories of what he'd been through. After the war he'd worked as an auto mechanic, then gone to Georgia for a while to work in a turpentine plant. After returning to Florida, he opened a gas station, but some hard luck had forced him to sell out. He was now working as a clerk in a hardware store. Some months back a local church had decided to organize a boy scout troop and he had offered to be the scoutmaster.
On the night before the weekly scout meeting had broken up early. He said that he had offered to give four of the boys a ride home. He had let one of the boys out when the conversation turned to a stock car race that was to take place soon. They talked about the condition of the track. It had been raining frequently, and they wondered if the track was flooded, so they drove out to look at it. Then they started south toward a nearby town to take another of the boys home. They took a blacktop road about 10 miles inland from the heavily traveled coastal highway that passes through sparsely settled areas of scrub pine and palmetto thickets.
They were riding along when the scoutmaster said that he noticed a light off to his left in the pines. He slowed down and asked the boys if
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they'd seen it; none of them had. He started to drive on, when he saw the lights again. This time all of the boys saw them too, so he stopped. He said that he wanted to go back into the woods to see what was going on, but that the boys were afraid to stay alone. Again he started to drive on, but in a few seconds decided he had to go back. So he turned the car around, went back, and parked beside the road at a point just opposite where he'd seen the lights.
I stopped him at this point to find out a little bit more about why he'd decided to go back. People normally didn't go running off into palmetto thickets infested with rattlesnakes at night. He had a logical answer. The lights looked like an airplane crashing into the woods some distance away. He didn't believe that was what he saw, but the thought that this could be a possibility bothered him. After all, he had said, he was a scoutmaster, and if somebody was in trouble, his conscience would have bothered him the rest of his life if he hadn't investigated and it had been somebody in need of help.
A fifteen minute radio program had just started, and he told the boys that he was going to go into the woods, and that if he wasn't back by the time the program ended they should run down the road to a farmhouse that they had passed and get help. He got out and started directly into the woods, wearing a faded denim billed cap and carrying machete and two flashlights. One of the lights was a spare he carried in his back pocket.
He had traveled about 50 yards off the road when he ran into a palmetto thicket, so he stopped and looked for a clear path. But finding none, he started pushing his way through the waist high tangle of brush.
When he stopped, he recalled later, he had first become aware of an odd odor. He couldn't exactly describe it to us, except to say that it was "sharp" or "pungent." It was very faint, actually more like a subconscious awareness at first. Another sensation he recalled after the incident was a very slight difference in temperature, hardly perceivable, like walking by a brick building in the evening after the sun has set. He hadn't thought anything about either the odor or the heat at the time but later, when they became important, he remembered them.
Paying no attention to these sensations then, he pushed on through the brush, looking up occasionally to check the north star, so that he could keep traveling straight east. After struggling through about 30 yards of palmetto undergrowth, he noticed a change in the shadows ahead of him and stopped to shine the flashlight farther ahead of him to find out if he was walking into a clearing or into one of the many ponds that dot that particular Florida area. It was a clearing.
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The boy scouts in the car had been watching the scoutmaster's progress since they could see his light bobbing around. Occasionally he would shine it up at a tree or across the landscape for an instant, so they knew where he was in relation to the trees and thickets. They saw him stop at the edge of the open, shadowed area and shine his light ahead of him.
The scoutmaster then told us that when he stopped this second time he first became consciously aware of the odor and the heat. Both became much more noticeable as he stepped into the clearing. In fact, the heat became almost unbearable or, as he put it, "oppressively moist, making it hard to breathe."
He walked a few more paces and suddenly got a horrible feeling that somebody was watching him. He took another step, stopped, and looked up to find the north star. But he couldn't see the north star, or any stars. Then he suddenly saw that almost the whole sky was blanked out by a large dark shape about 30 feet above him.
He said that he had stood in this position for several seconds, or minutes - he didn't know how long - because now the feeling of being watched had overcome any power of reasoning he had. He managed to step back a few paces, and apparently got out from under the object, because he could see the edge of it silhouetted against the sky.
As he backed up, he said, the air became much cooler and fresher, helping him to think more clearly. He shone his light up at the edge of the object and got a quick but good look. It was circular shaped and slightly concave on the bottom. The surface was smooth and a grayish color. He pointed to a gray linoleum topped desk in the intelligence officer's room. "Just like that," he said. The upper part had a dome in the middle, like a turret. The edge of the saucer shaped object was thick and had vanes spaced about every foot, like buckets on a turbine wheel. Between each vane was a small opening, like a nozzle.
The next reaction that the scoutmaster recalled was one of fury. He wanted to harm or destroy whatever it was that he saw. All he had was a machete, but he wanted to try to jump up and strike at whatever he was looking at. No sooner did he get this idea than he noticed the shadows on the turret change ever so slightly and heard a sound, "like the opening of a well oiled safe door." He froze where he stood and noticed a small ball of red fire begin to drift toward him. As it floated down it expanded into a cloud of red mist. He dropped his light and machete, and put his arms over his face. As the mist enveloped him, he passed out.
The boy scouts, in the car, estimated that their scoutmaster had been gone about five minutes when they saw him stop at the edge of the clear-
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ing, then walk on in. They saw him stop seconds later, hesitate a few more seconds, then shine the light up in the air. They thought he was just looking at the trees again. The next thing they said they saw was a big red ball of fire engulfing him. They saw him fall, so they spilled out of the car and took off down the road toward the farmhouse.
The farmer and his wife had a little difficulty getting the story out of the boys, they were so excited. All they could get was something about the boys' scoutmaster being in trouble down the road. The farmer called the Florida State Highway Patrol, who relayed the message to the county sheriff's office. In a few minutes a deputy sheriff and the local constable arrived. They picked up the scouts and drove to where their car was parked.
The scoutmaster had no idea of how long he had been unconscious. He vaguely remembered leaning against a tree, the feeling of wet, dew covered grass, and suddenly regaining his consciousness. His first reaction was to get out to the highway, so he started to run. About halfway through the palmetto thicket he saw a car stop on the highway. He ran toward it and found the deputy and constable with the boys.
He was so excited he could hardly get his story told coherently. Later the deputy said that in all his years as a law enforcement officer he had never seen anyone as scared as the scoutmaster was as he came up out of the ditch beside the road and walked into the glare of the headlights. As soon as he'd told his story, they all went back into the woods, picking their way around the palmetto thicket. The first thing they noticed was the flashlight, still burning, in a clump of grass. Next to it was a place where the grass was flattened down, as if a person had been lying there. They looked around for the extra light that the scoutmaster had been carrying, but it was gone. Later searches for this missing flashlight were equally fruitless. They marked the spot where the crushed grass was located and left. The constable took the boy scouts home and the scoutmaster followed the deputy to the sheriff's office. On the way to town the scoutmaster said he first noticed that his arms and face burned. When he arrived at the sheriff's office, he found that his arms, face, and cap were burned. The deputy called the Air Force.
There were six people listening to his story. Bob Olsson, the two pilots, the intelligence officer, his sergeant, and I. We each had previously agreed to pick one insignificant detail from the story and then requestioning the scoutmaster when he had finished. Our theory was that if he had made up the story be would either repeat the details perfectly or not remember what he'd said. I'd used this many times before, and it was a good indicator
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of a lie. He passed the test with flying colors. His story sounded good to all of us.
We talked for about another hour, discussing the event and his background. He kept asking, "What did I see?" - evidently thinking that I knew. He said that the newspapers were after him, since the sheriff's office had inadvertently leaked the story, but that he had been stalling them off pending our arrival. I told him it was Air Force policy to allow people to say anything they wanted to about a UFO sighting. We had never muzzled anyone; it was his choice. With that, we thanked him, arranged to pick up the cap and machete to take back to Dayton, and sent him home in. a staff car.
By this time it was getting late, but I wanted to talk to the flight surgeon who had examined the man that morning. The intelligence officer found him at the hospital and he said he would be right over. His report was very thorough. The only thing he could find out of the ordinary were minor burns on his arms and the back of his hands. There were also indications that the inside of his nostrils might be burned. The degree of burn could be compared to a light sunburn. The hair had also been singed, indicating a flash heat.
The flight surgeon had no idea how this specifically could have happened. It could have even been done with a cigarette lighter, and he took his lighter and singed a small area of his arm to demonstrate. He had been asked only to make a physical check, so that is what he'd done, but he did offer a suggestion. Check his Marine records; something didn't ring true. I didn't quite agree; the story sounded good to me.
The next morning my crew from ATIC, three people from the intelligence office, and the two law officers went out to where the incident had taken place. We found the spot where somebody had apparently been lying and the scoutmaster's path through the thicket. We checked the area with a Geiger counter, as a precautionary measure, not expecting to find anything; we didn't. We went over the area inch by inch, hoping to find a burned match with which a flare or fireworks could have been lighted, drippings from a flare, or anything that shouldn't have been in a deserted area of woods. We looked at the trees; they hadn't been hit by lightning. The blades of grass under which the UFO supposedly hovered were not burned. We found nothing to contradict the story. We took a few photos of the area and went back to town. On the way back we talked to the constable and the deputy. All they could do was to confirm what we'd heard.
We talked to the farmer and his wife - but they couldn't help. The few
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facts that the boy scouts had given them before they had a chance to talk to their scoutmaster correlated with his story. We talked to the scout master's employer and some of his friends; he was a fine person. We questioned people who might have been in a position to also observe something; they saw nothing. The local citizens had a dozen theories, and we thoroughly checked each one.
He hadn't been struck by lightning. He hadn't run across a still. There was no indication that he'd surprised a gang of illegal turtle butchers, smugglers, or bootleggers. There was no indication of marsh gas or swamp fire.
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