The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 16, 2013

Western Pa.’s close encounter

Bill Eggert

— A NASA study recently estimated that there are at least 40 billion inhabitable planets in our galaxy. The odds that Earth is not the only one with life on it are, well, astronomical. And yet many scoff at the concept of unidentified flying objects, despite the fact that many of these UFOs have been spotted by folks knowledgeable in aviation, such as airline pilots and even astronauts.

In addition, there have been stories of major significance in this concept of UFOs and alien beings. While many deride these stories as flights of imagination, many take them to be factual accounts of close encounters of a third kind, entangled with government and military cover-ups so as not to panic the public.

One anecdote is the 1961 abduction and medical examination of Barney and Betty Hill by extraterrestrials. Another is the so-called “Roswell incident,” in which the wreckage of a UFO – and alien bodies – were said to be found on a ranch in New Mexico in 1947. The third such incident is said to have occurred here in western Pennsylvania, in the village of Kecksburg, Westmoreland County, an hour away from Johnstown.

Stan Gordon, the most noted authority on the Kecksburg story, spoke last month in Johnstown on the incident. An articulate and pragmatic person, Gordon, who was a teen in the Greensburg area at the time, explained the chain of events that evening.

It was a compelling story from beginning to end. Gordon clearly laid out the timeline from the initial sighting to the military occupation that night. Also intriguing was the investigation by local radio news director/reporter John Murphy, who photographed the UFO and taped eyewitness interviews before authorities arrived. Government agents shortly confiscated his photos and tapes. Four years later, Murphy was killed in an apparent hit-and-run accident.

A UFO was said to have crashed in woods near Kecksburg around 5 p.m. in early December 1965. The UFO was tracked on radar and even seen as a “fireball” by eyewitnesses in part of Canada and in six states. Local witnesses saw the UFO overhead prior to its crash. Witnesses also said they saw the UFO after the crash and described their encounters with the military, who cordoned off the area from onlookers and curiosity seekers. Witnesses also reported seeing an Army flatbed truck leave the scene with a large object under a tarpaulin that fit the acorn shape believed to be the crashed UFO.

The UFO was said to have been delivered to a military base in Ohio and later moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force base, also in Ohio, where the alien bodies from the Roswell crash are said to have been stored.  (A friend of mine who was in the military police at Wright-Patterson said that despite his security clearance, there was one area on the base where even he was not allowed.)

Recently an old friend of mine, Fred, an Air Force veteran and UFO devotee, trekked over to Kecksburg. A life-size mockup of the UFO, constructed for the TV Series “Unsolved Mysteries,” is on permanent display near the Kecksburg Volunteer Fire Department. Inside the fire hall is a small gift shop where they sell Stan Gordon’s book and other Kecksburg and alien related items, including inflatable green aliens for the kids.

The shop was run by a helpful and friendly young woman named Stacey, who showed us around and invited us back to the Kecksburg festival in late July. The actual crash site is on private land, but you get a nice sense of this picturesque area by visiting it. The townsfolk are generally accepting of the interest in their town’s claim to fame. Stacey showed us the sign-in book, which reveals folks from all over the United States, even other countries, visit the area to learn more.

Obviously, the concept of UFOs and extraterrestrials is a controversial subject to many. I am not here to convince anyone of their existence. I have never seen a UFO or an alien, but I do feel that given the scientific evidence provided by NASA, along with documented accounts by astronauts, there is something to the whole issue.

If UFOs do exist, I feel they are only here for observation, not world domination, sci-fi movies to the contrary. As for government cover-ups, well, they are more easily believed, especially in this day and age. It is understandable the government would not want to acknowledge the existence of UFOs, especially given the panic it might cause. Ultimately, it is up to you folks to decide what to believe.

But remember, as they used to say on “The X-Files,” the truth is out there …

Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.