Mantell crash

Date: January 7, 1948
Location: Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Appearance: Circular, metallic
Sources: Blue Book; NICAP
Summary: Captain Thomas Mantell died when chasing a UFO

On January 7, 1948, at around 1:20 p.m, a huge gleaming object had been seen in the sky, moving toward Godman Air Force Base.

Hundreds of startled people had seen it at Mannsville, ninety miles away. Kentucky State Police and Fort Knox Military Police radioed Godman Tower to report a circular object, 250 300 feet (8090 m) in diameter. The object had also been sighted over Irvington and Owensboro. Thirty minutes later, it zoomed over the base.

Colonel Guy Hix, the base commander of Godman AFB, reported an object he described as "very white," and "about one fourth the size of the full moon". Through binoculars it appeared to have a red border at the bottom. It remained stationary for one and a half hours. Colonel Hix would not have confused what he saw with the planet Venus.

A statement by Lt. Paul Orner confirmed that the weather station theodolite viewed and tracked the object until 4:45 p.m.

At 1:40 p.m., four Air National Guard Mustangs, one piloted by Captain Thomas Mantell, were told to approach the object and try to identify it. One of the planes was low on fuel and broke off. Mantell continued to climb. When he was at approximately 15,000 feet, he reported:

"I have an object in sight above and ahead of me, and it appears to be moving at about half my speed or approximately 180 miles an hour [...] It appears to be a metallic object or possibly reflection of sun from a metallic object, and it is of tremendous size."

Later, Mantell said:

"It's still above me making my speed or better. I am going to 20,000 feet. If I'm no closer then, I'll abandon the chase."

Next, Mantell said:

"Directly ahead of me and slightly above, and is now moving at about my speed or better. I am trying to close in for a better look."

It was Mantell's last report. At 3:18 p.m., his plane disintegrated with terrific force. The falling wreckage was scattered within a quarter of a mile of the point of impact.

The Army Air Force concluded that Captain Mantell passed out due to lack of oxygen at 25,000 to 30,000 feet. He was charged with violating AAF Regulation 60-16, paragraph 43, for flying higher than 14,000 ft without oxygen, but this was contradicted by the accident report's own statement, that Mantell's "Oxygen system ... was in working order."

Captain Richard Tyler, Operations Officer and investigator of the accident, wrote in his report:

"I think he seen something more than a star or balloon".

Alfred Loedding, a civilian investigator for the Air Force, arrived at Godman Field on January 9, 1948 and made a thorough investigation.

The Mantell crash was investigated by Project Sign, an Air Force research group assigned to investigate UFO reports. Project Sign concluded that Mantell had been chasing the planet Venus. Later, Dr. Hynek stated that Venus, even if visible, would have been only a "pinpoint of light", Venus wasn't bright enough to be seen by Mantell and the other witnesses.

A US Navy Skyhook balloon was proposed many years later. But the Skyhook balloons were made of transparent plastic, almost non reflective; they were not mirrors, not looking "metallic" as Mantell reported. Further on, they took their spherical shape only at a very high altitude (30,000 m against 6,000-7,000 m in the Mantell case). It's also doubtful that experienced military officers and pilots would have mistaken any form of balloon for an unknown craft. Moreover, Mantell declared that the object was moving at around 180 miles per hour, not acceptable for a balloon.

The Air Force secretly concluded the Mantell case was "unexplained", a fact that was not discovered until a renewed investigation by NICAP in 2006.