Kecksburg UFO incident occurred on December 9,
1965 at Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, USA.
brilliant fireball was seen by thousands in at least six U.S.
states and Ontario,
Canada. It streaked over the Detroit,
Ontario area, reportedly dropped hot metal debris over
Michigan and northern Ohio, starting some grass fires, and caused
sonic booms in western Pennsylvania.
It was generally assumed and reported by
the press to be a meteor
eyewitnesses in the small village of Kecksburg, about 30 miles
southeast of Pittsburgh, claimed something crashed in the woods.
boy said he saw the object land; his mother saw a wisp of blue
smoke arising from the woods and alerted authorities. Others from
Kecksburg, including local volunteer fire department members,
reported finding an object in the shape of an acorn
and about as large as a Volkswagen Beetle
. Writing resembling
also said to be in a band around the base of the object. Witnesses
further reported that intense military presence, most notably the
United States Army, secured the area, ordered civilians out, and
then removed the object on a flatbed truck. At the time, however,
the military claimed they searched the woods and found "absolutely
Tribune-Review from nearby Greensburg had a reporter at the scene; the headline in the
newspaper the next day was "Unidentified Flying Object Falls near
Kecksburg — Army Ropes off Area".
The official explanation of the widely-seen fireball was that it
was a mid-sized meteor. However speculation as to the identity of the
Kecksburg object (if there was one — reports vary) also range from
it being an alien craft to debris from Cosmos 96, a Soviet satellite.
Similarities have been drawn between the Kecksburg incident and the
Roswell UFO incident
to the former being referred to as "Pennsylvania's Roswell".
Several articles were written about the fireball in science
journals. The February 1966 issue of Sky & Telescope
the fireball was seen over the Detroit-Windsor area at about 4:44
p.m. EST. The Federal
had received 23 reports from aircraft
pilots, the first starting at 4:44 p.m. A seismograph 25 miles
southwest of Detroit had recorded the shock waves created by the
fireball as it passed through the atmosphere.
A 1967 article by two astronomers in the Journal of the Royal
Astronomical Society of Canada
(JRASC) used the seismographic
record to pinpoint the time of passage over the Detroit area to
4:43 p.m. In addition, they used photographs of the trail taken
north of Detroit at two different locations to triangulate
of the object. They concluded that
the fireball was descending at a steep angle, moving from the
southwest to the northeast, and likely impacted on the northwestern
shore of Lake
Erie near Windsor, Ontario.
The JRASC trajectory was at nearly right angles to a trajectory
that would have taken the fireball in the direction of western
Pennsylvania and Kecksburg. Thus, if the calculation was correct,
this would rule out the fireball being involved in any way with
what may or may not have happened in Kecksburg. The JRASC article
is often cited by skeptics to debunk the notion of a UFO crash at
However, a recent re-examination of the JRASC article points out
that it contained no error analysis. The triangulation base used by
the astronomers in their calculations was very narrow. As a result,
even very small errors in determination of directions could result
in a very different triangulated trajectory. It was found that
measurement errors of slightly more than one-half degree would make
possible a straight-line trajectory towards the Kecksburg area and
a much shallower angle of descent than reported in the JRASC
article. It was also pointed out that the photos used actually show
the fireball trail becoming progressively thinner, indicating
motion away from the cameras or in the direction of Pennsylvania.
Had the trajectory been sideways to the cameras, as contended in
the JRASC article, the trail would have remained constant in
thickness. Thus, the contention that the JRASC article conclusively
ruled out any connection between the fireball and the Kecksburg
events is now open to question.
John Murphy's Object in the Woods
A reporter and news director for the local radio station WHJB, John
Murphy, arrived on the scene of the event before authorities had
arrived, in response to several calls to the station from alarmed
citizens. He took several photographs and conducted interviews with
witnesses. His former wife Bonnie Milslagle later reported that all
but one roll of the film were confiscated by military personnel.
WHJB office manager Mabel Mazza described one of the pictures: "It
was very dark and it was with a lot of trees around and everything.
And I don't know how far away from the site he was. But I did see a
picture of a sort of a cone-like thing. It's the only time I ever
In the following weeks, Murphy became enveloped with the incident
and wrote a radio documentary called Object in the Woods
featuring his experiences and interviews he had conducted that
night. Shortly before the documentary would have aired, he received
an unexpected visit at the station from two men in black
suits identifying themselves as
government officials. They requested to speak with him in a back
room behind closed doors. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes. A
WHJB employee, Linda Foschia, recalled the men confiscated some of
Murphy's audio tapes from that night, and that no one knows what
happened to the remaining photographs. A week after the visit, an
agitated Murphy aired a censored version of the documentary, which
he claimed in its introduction had to be edited due to some
interviewees requesting their statements be removed from the
broadcast in fear of getting in trouble with the police and Army.
The new version contained nothing revealing, and did not mention an
object at all. Mazza remembers the aired documentary was entirely
different from what Murphy had originally written. (See
pp. 4-5 of CFI
's report in
for details of the
After the airing, Murphy became uncharacteristically despondent and
completely stopped all investigation on the case and refused to
talk to anyone about it again, and never gave clear reasons why. In
1969, Murphy was struck and killed by an unidentified car in an
crossing a road. The hit-and-run occurred in California, while
Murphy was on vacation.
There had been some speculation (e.g. NASA's James Oberg) that the object in the Kecksburg
Incident may have been debris from Cosmos 96, a Soviet satellite.
Cosmos 96 had a bell- or
acorn-like shape similar to the object reported by eyewitnesses
(though much smaller than what witnesses reported).
in a 1991 report, US Space Command
concluded that Cosmos 96 crashed in Canada at 3.18am on
December 9, 1965, about 13 hours before the fireball thought to be
the Kecksburg object undergoing re-entry was recorded at
addition, in a 2003 interview Chief Scientist for Orbital Debris at
the NASA Johnson
Space Center Nicholas L.
- I can tell you categorically, that there is no way that any
debris from Cosmos 96 could have landed in Pennsylvania anywhere
around 4:45 p.m.[...] That’s an absolute. Orbital mechanics is very
2003: Sci Fi Channel reinvestigates case
In 2003, the Sci Fi
sponsored a scientific study of the area and related
records by the Coalition for Freedom of
. The most significant finding of the scientific
team was tree damage dating to around 1965 at the site where some
eyewitnesses said they saw the object. This provided physical
evidence that something had possibly landed in the woods there at
the time, which would contradict the military's official story.
(However, one of the scientists instead suggested ice damage to the
trees.) Further, no significant soil disturbance was found. This
might support a controlled soft landing and rule out other proposed
crashed objects such as a meteorite
other large object passively striking the ground, which would have
created a large crater and extensive damage. The segment also aired
claims of an eyewitness who heard a loud, horrific scream as armed
soldiers approached the object.
also a push for NASA to release
pertinent documents on the subject.
Some 40 pages of these
documents were released on November 1, 2003, but were unrevealing.
However, there are Air Force Project
documents indicating that a three-man team was sent
from an Air Force radar-installation near Pittsburgh to investigate
the Kecksburg crash. They reported back to Blue Book that nothing
2005: NASA changes story to "Russian satellite"
In December 2005, just before the 40th anniversary of the Kecksburg
crash, NASA released a statement to the effect that they had
examined metallic fragments from the object and now claimed it was
from a re-entering "Russian satellite". The spokesman further
claimed that the related records had been misplaced. According to
an Associated Press
- The object appeared to be a Russian satellite that re-entered
the atmosphere and broke up. NASA experts studied fragments from
the object, but records of what they found were lost in the
This new explanation from NASA contradicts the official Air Force
explanation in 1965 of the fireball being from a meteor and of
nothing being found.
Furthermore, the claim contradicts what journalist Leslie Kean was
told in 2003 by Nicholas L. Johnson, NASA's chief scientist for
orbital debris. As part of the new Sci Fi investigation, Kean had
Johnson recheck orbital paths of all known satellites and other
records from the period in 1965. Johnson told Kean that orbital
mechanics made it absolutely impossible for any part of the Cosmos
96 Venus probe to account for either the fireball or any object at
Kecksburg. Johnson also stated there were no other man-made
satellites or other objects that re-entered the atmosphere on that
Thus, this raises the question as to what "Russian satellite" could
account for the debris that NASA now admits they examined.
Furthermore, Kean and others deem it highly questionable that NASA
could actually lose such records. In December 2005, a lawsuit was
filed to get NASA to search more diligently for the alleged lost
On October 26, 2007, NASA agreed to search for those records after
being ordered by the court. The judge, who had tried to move NASA
along for more than 3 years, angrily referred to NASA's previous
search efforts as a "ball of yarn" that never fully answered the
request, adding, "I can sense the plaintiff's frustration because
During the hearing, Steve McConnell, NASA's public liaison officer,
admitted two boxes of papers from the time of the Kecksburg
incident were missing. Stan Gordon, principal investigator of the
Kecksburg incident for several decades, stated "I have no doubt the
government knows a lot more about this than it has revealed to the
In November 2009, Leslie Kean filed a report on the results of the
NASA search. Documents were still missing or reported destroyed and
little of interest was turned up relevant to the Kecksburg case. Of
particular interest was a missing box of "fragology" files,
reported destroyed, related to recovery and examination of space
debris. Kean said the missing files could be due to a number of
reasons, including a poor filing system, misplaced records or
records filed outside of the parameters of the search, deliberately
concealed records, perhaps still classified, files removed by NASA
employees but never returned (one such individual was named), files
that were indeed destroyed as reported, and archivists unfamiliar
with what was being searched for. In addition, the plaintiffs had
to trust that NASA carried out the search as they reported to the
court, since the plaintiffs were not allowed to examine the search
materials for themselves. Despite reservations about the
thoroughness or accuracy of the search, Kean said they felt they
had exhausted their legal remedies and ended the lawsuit against
Kean noted that some items of interest did turn up, such as NASA's
general involvement in collecting space debris and analyzing it,
including interest in sightings of lesser meteor fireball seen at
about the same time. In addition, NASA sent out press releases to
news agencies about these other fireballs. But NASA had nothing on
the very widely reported and seen fireball associated with the
Kecksburg case and issued no stories on it.
Kean also wrote that she tried to get more information from David
Steitz, the NASA spokesperson who issued the surprising statement
in 2005 that NASA had indeed examined debris related to Kecksburg,
supposedly from a Russian space probe. But Steitz never responded.
Kean was particularly interested in Steitz's source of information
to make such a statement, since he also indicated there were no
surviving records and the court-ordered search also turned up no
2009: History Channel Reinvestigates Kecksburg
February 2009, The History Channel's
program, UFO Hunters, revisited this incident, along with a similar
one that happened in Needles, California.
They interviewed witnesses, used scientific
equipment not available in 2003 (Sci-Fi Channel's investigation),
and still found nothing. The main theme of the program was of a
major military presence
- Kecksburg triangulation error
- NASA to search files on '65 UFO incident - Space -
- Detroit Free Press, Dec. 18, 2007
- Nasa told to solve 'UFO crash' X-File | World | The
- Leslie Kean's report