Category 11 Case Directory
Rating: 5  


AVCAT is a special project being conducted by NICAP, with the help and cooperation of the original compiler of AIRCAT, Dr. Richard Haines, and other sources, to create a comprehensive listing of sightings from aircraft with detailed documentation from these sources, including Projects SIGN, GRUDGE & BLUE BOOK.

Lee Merkel Crash
January 31, 1956
Central to southern Indiana

Bt. 3:24 & 3:35 pm CST
Duration: ?
Central/S.  Indiana
Radar contact

Barry Greenwood:
Jan. 31, 1956;
Bt. 3:24 to 3:35 pm CST.  At 2:50 pm CST. Lt. Col. Lee Merkel took off from Standford Field, Louisville, Kentucky on a local TPR clearance to perform a maintenance test flight for a carburetor and propellor change. The flight was proposed for one hour duration with two hours and thirty minutes fuel aboard. Climb to 20,000 feet was made and contact was established with the Oak Hill Air Defense Command Radar Station. A course was set for Terre Haute, Indiana, and the pilot informed "Oak Hill" he was at 20,000 feet at 1501 CST. The flight was continued and several minutes later "Oak Hill" informed the pilot his "blip" was fading on the scope. The pilot replied he had Terre Haute in sight. "Alley Cat," a nearby Direction Center was busy and could not take control. This was 1509 CST. At 1524 "Oak Hill" received another call from ANG 75091 (this error, i.e., ANG 75091 instead of ANG 73091 is believed to be an error of the pilot or of the radar operator at "Oak Hill"), and the pilot stated he was returning to Louisville, heading 135 degrees at 34,000 feet climbing to 35,000. The pilot was informed of an aircraft approaching from the right. The pilot stated he did not have the aircraft in sight and the "blip" faded from the radar scope. Communication between "Oak Hill" and ANG 73091 was lost at 1535 CST. The pilot's last communication was given in a normal voice. The next information was a telephone call by an unidentified civilian to an Air Defense Command Aircraft Control and Warning Station north of Terre Haute, Indiana, stating that an Air Force aircraft had crashed and the approximate location. The Control and Warning Station immediately notified the Bakalar Air Force Base Provost Marshal at approximately 1625 CST. It was determined that the aircraft ANG 73091M crashed at approximately 1535 CST. Again, not enough information was released to draw any conclusions except that some sort of unknown aircraft was seen. By pure chance, the son of Lt. Col. Merkel was located in Worcester, Massachusetts. As a writer for a Worcester newspaper, Lee Merkel, Jr., wrote a story on UFOs for the Sunday Worcester Telegram on February 6, 1977. A member of the Massachusetts chapter of the Mutual UFO Network advised the authors that he knew Mr. Merkel and would contact him. Merkel kindly provided what he knew about his father's fateful flight, though he was only seven years old at the time. Initially, Lt. Col. Merkel's wife was told by the Air Force that the crash was caused by a failure of Merkel's oxygen equipment. Years later, Lee saw a reference to his father's death in a publication of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). He asked NICAP for a copy of the material they had, which was later sent. The file principally concerned an interview with an Indiana reporter who did a story on the crash. The reporter said he learned that a UFO was detected on radar and interceptors were scrambled after it. The object went much too high for the interceptors, and they broke off the chase. The radar controllers then contacted Lt. Col. Merkel who was oxygen-equipped in his P-51. They vectored Merkel to the UFO, and he climbed after it. Shortly after, the P-51 came down and Merkel was killed.

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