Reporter: Drew Speier
New Media Producer: Rachel Chambliss
A Newswatch follow-up to a story we first brought you in May.
It was one of Kentucky's most famous and controversial UFO cases.
It involved Kentucky National Guard Pilot Thomas Mantell, who crashed
his plane and died in 1948 while chasing what he thought was a UFO.
After our story aired, UFO researchers re-opened the
investigation. Here's what they've discovered.
The military says it was a skyhook balloon. But now, more than 58
years after the tragedy, new information has researchers saying the
balloon theory is just not possible.
Francis Ridge says, "Something that had been written off for 58
years, all of a sudden became a hot topic."
What was Captain Thomas Mantell really chasing in January of 1948
when he flew his F-51 fighter to an altitude with no oxygen, forcing
him to crash to his death in Simpson County, Kentucky?
"The discussions were going wild on the Internet, and people were
digging up new information and were finding new evidence," he continues.
Was it a UFO or a skyhook balloon?
That new evidence has now become clear to UFO researchers, like
Mt. Vernon's Francis Ridge, who is with the National Investigations
Committee on Aerial Phenomenon.
"Where the skyhook was eventually found to be, Mantell could not
have seen it, and if he had, of course, it wouldn't have been anything
like what he reported," says Ridge.
In a tape recording, Thomas Mantell says, "Mantell to tower. It
appears to be a metallic object, and it's of tremendous size."
Ridge says the military's skyhook theory is impossible because
official bluebook records show that there was a balloon, but it was
hovering over Nashville, some 150 miles away. Those facts are
documented by an astronomer who reported seeing it that day.
New reports from the official bluebook archives indicate that
Mantell wasn't the only one who saw the UFO that day. So did Kentucky
Documents state, "Kentucky State Police had sighted an unusual
object or aircraft flying through the air, circular in appearance,
approximately 250-to-300 feet in diameter moving at a pretty good clip."
That information was relayed to Godman Air Force Base military
personnel, and then dispatched to Mantell and three other pilots to
Three planes turned back because of a lack of fuel and oxygen.
Mantell continued his pursuit.
Thomas Mantell, recorded audio, says, "Mantell to tower. I see it
above and ahead of me. I'm still climbing."
Shortly thereafter, Mantell went down in a field in Simpson
To this day, former Kentucky National Guard Commander Brigadier General Edward Tonini
living in Louisville, is sticking to the
skyhook balloon theory.
He says, "It was unexplained to him certainly what it was, and he
was chasing something and not just an illusion. And I believe that it
was just this balloon."
The commander of the Kentucky Air National Guard at the time of
the incident, retired Two-Star General
General Ardery states, "It doesn't seem to be much of a mystery to
me. We pretty much know what happened."
UFO researchers aren't surprised to hear the military's stance.
Ridge says, "It's natural for the military people to defend what
But Ridge says his new evidence should change the military's
position and dismiss the skyhook balloon theory once and for all.
"They didn't know then what we didn't know a few months ago, and
know now it was impossible for that to be," continues Ridge.
Finding the truth hasn't been easy for researchers, who are now
investigating the actual accident, but it's not complete.
"This is the accident report. It was supposed to be 450 pages;
then, it turned out to be 250 pages, and when we finally got it, it was
127 pages. What happened to the other pages, and what's on those
missing documents?" demands Ridge.
(Note: This is probably an error made by UFOlogists, rather than
actual missing documents. We caught it early but the interview was
filmed three weeks prior to the showing. The accident report in its 127
version was still full of surprises and we're not finished with our
analysis. - Ridge)
That's what researchers want to know, and what they will continue
Ridge says, "There's more to this case, and thanks to WFIE and
Drew Speier, we're getting more and more all the time. We're going to
stick with it; we're not done with it by any means."
The Mantell directory
has grown tremendously since our first report. The NICAP team
believes that while they admit there was a secret skyhook project, the
balloons were no secret. And they proved that the balloon they say
Mantell was chasing, could not have been possible.
What they don't know is what Thomas Mantell was chasing to the
point where he'd become the first person in history to die while
pursuing a UFO. That's something they'll continue to investigate.