Brad Belk: A case of UFO Ping-Pong
January 11, 2009 12:00 am
Over a period of four days in January 1967, area residents kept gazing skyward. A few of them witnessed something, but what? Versions differed, but there was agreement on one issue — they were unidentified flying objects.
According to the front pages of area newspapers, they were truly UFOs. Six local papers gravitated to the curious stories featuring the various UFO sightings in Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas.
The Monett Times, The Joplin Globe, the Carthage Press, Neosho Daily News, Springfield Leader and Press and Pittsburg Headlight-Sun reported stories of eye-witnesses seeing bluish-green objects hovering overhead.
Most compelling of all, reliable witnesses were willing to speak of their encounters. Sightings and serious testimony came from civil servants such as Joplin Police Lt. Charles Hickman; Joplin dispatcher Sgt. Norman Finley; Pittsburg patrolman James Cronister; Neosho police Sgt. Ronel Brown; patrolman Mike Hafle; Parsons (Kan.) police night dispatcher Laura Miller; Parsons patrolman H.D. Caywood; and Monett officers Melvin Peck and Robert Autry.
Then, there were area citizens’ statements from William Winchester and Carolyn Woods of Neosho and Edgar Lampe of Monett. Three Monett High School seniors, John Caine, Jerry Prier and Sharal Henson, told of observing “cigar-like saucers.”
For those among us who are superstitious, Friday the 13th can be an ominous day. This was no different.
On Friday, Jan. 13, 1967, during the early morning hours, Sgt. Finley of the Pittsburg Police Department alerted fellow officers about an unexplained overhead object. Pittsburg police dispatcher James Cunningham notified the Joplin Police Department that an unidentified flying object had been viewed over Pittsburg. He described it as an object with bright colors of “vivid blue-green with flashing lights.” Cunningham alerted the Joplin station because the object seemed to be leaving Kansas and heading for Missouri.
After receiving that call, Joplin’s Lt. Hickman drove to Stone’s Corner. He was the officer in charge of the midnight shift and he waited for nearly an hour before spotting an unidentified object in the sky. He stated in The Joplin Globe that he witnessed this odd occurrence for over an hour.
He reported that he really “didn’t expect to see anything but there it was. It was about 1,000 feet high and looked about as big as two houses. It made turns and maneuvered as if it were being controlled.”
Three days later there were additional sightings, again in the early hours, this time in Northeast Oklahoma, Springfield and Newton County.
On Jan. 16 — and apparently feeling left out — The Neosho Daily News proudly proclaimed “UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) have finally reached Newton County, according to reports received today by the Neosho Daily News.”
Neosho police Sgt. Brown was quoted saying, “It was blue-green with a blue tail. It was oblong and was stationary. It definitely was not moving. (Patrolman Hafle) and I watched it for 45 minutes until the sun started coming up. We saw what appeared to be a satellite passing by the object.”
During this crazy “look-up-in-the-sky” week, a highly regarded scientific team came to the area to investigate and explain this rash of sightings. The group was led by professor Robert Low, the deputy director of UFO Project at the University of Colorado.
The University of Colorado became a data center for UFOs in 1966. Following a March 1966 report to the United States Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, an ad hoc committee recommended that the Air Force contract with a university to conduct a comprehensive program to investigate UFO sightings.
Accompanying Professor Low were William Powers, a consultant for the U.S. Air Force from Northwestern University, Loren Crow, and a man named Wadsworth. Their assignment was to explore the recent sightings, gather data and interview the parties who had witnessed the sightings.
Their final analysis was titled “An Abstract Titled Case 14, South-Central, Winter 1967.” The report concluded: “Of the six, three were promptly identified, two as astronomical objects and one as a chemical release-rocket. The other three remain unidentified ...”
For the record, the FAA employees at the airport and officials at the air traffic control center at the United States Naval Air Base at Olathe, Kan., said they had reports of sightings, but nothing “official” was spotted on radar. One explanation was that the objects were clouds of chemicals formed from tests conducted at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida.
Dr. Ross Anderson of the physics department at Kansas State College of Pittsburg and an astronomy instructor told the Pittsburg Headlight-Sun, “Thursday was relatively warm ... it is possible refraction could have caused the lights to appear as the warm air moved up over the cold air,” a situation he referred to as “looming.”
So who was right? It’s like a well-played Ping-Pong volley. There is the side of “ping” that swears to various logical explanations, and on the other side of the court lies “pong,” representing those mice and men ready to feast on big chunks of green cheese.
Ping — Was there one substantial, tangible item left from this encounter? No.
Pong — So what did these 11 area police officers and six area residents see during that five-day period?
Ping — A downed U.S. Weather Bureau radiosonde was discovered on Jan. 18 in a field about a mile northwest of Stone’s Corner. The radiosonde was an instrument used to obtain readings on humidity, temperature and atmospheric pressure. The bright orange balloon that powered the weather gadget had been punctured, causing it to fall to the ground.
Pong — Recently I shared parts of this story with my fellow Noonday Rotary Club. After I concluded, a gentleman whom I have known for many years stated, in front of the entire club, that he remembered seeing something unfamiliar in the sky on that morning of Friday, Jan. 13, 1967.
Still clueless, I guess my only advice is ... don’t look down, look up.
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