Note: In researching this, I used the statements made in the newspapers immediately after the event happened. To help clarify some of the conflicting information in the newspapers, I used some interviews with Dale Spaur, recorded by Marc Candusso from the Flying Saucer Investigations Committee of Akron, OH on April 19, 1966.
1966 was an interesting year when it came to UFO sightings. UFO reports flooded American newspapers and would continue to do so until early 1967. Sadly, many of those who reported their sightings would be ridiculed by the public and the men involved in the Great UFO Chase were not only mocked by the public, but also their peers.
That is not the purpose of this article. Using the earliest reports – before the newspapers decided to mock the police officers because of what they saw, we’re going to attempt to piece together what happened in the skies over Ohio and Pennsylvania on the morning of April 17, 1966.
The first part of the event can be found here: The Great UFO Chase: Part One.
With the object gone from sight, the four policemen – Dale Spaur, Wilbur Neff, H. Wayne Huston, and Frank Panzanella – headed home. They had no explanation what the object was they had witnessed in the early morning hours of April 17, 1966.
The initial reports printed in the newspapers supported the police officers. The approach of both the police officers and the newspaper reporters was: “we’re not sure what it was, we just want to know.” They even had the support of their fellow police officers.
To their surprise, the object was spotted by another police officer who took a picture of the object. Mantua Police Chief Gerald Buchert was among the first people to spot the object and he attempted to take a picture of it from a distance of twenty miles. The federal government immediately contacted Buchert upon learning of the picture and advised him not to release the picture to the public. Buchert did not listen and in the April 18, 1966 edition of The Akron Beacon, the picture was run. While details of the object cannot be seen in the picture, it does look like the “half a football” shaped object as described by Panzanella.
Almost immediately, the federal government began to question the officers involved in the chase. Major Hector Quintanilla was the head of an investigative team and in charge of Project Blue Book.
Project Blue Book was the code name for the study of unidentified flying objects by the United States Air Force. The study began in March 1952 continued until December 1969. Headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the study was initially headed by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, with the purpose of determining if UFOs were a threat to national security. The project collected over 12,000 UFO reports and dismissed the majority of them as 1) natural phenomena, such as clouds, 2) mistaken, known aircraft, 3) hoaxes and 4) creations of mass hysteria.
After interviewing the police officers, the government announced their findings, which came as a shock to everyone. They decided that the object spotted by the police officers was actually two objects: an Echo communications satellite and the planet Venus. The “official” explanation was this: The object first sighted by Spaur and Neff was an Echo satellite that – was not a couple hundred feet off the ground like the officers believed – but was a satellite high in the Earth’s atmosphere. When the object disappeared from sight in Rochester, they saw the planet Venus and mistook it for the object they had been chasing.
There is nothing in this explanation that makes sense. How could four police officers, who were trained to observe, make this error? How can something Spaur and Neff initially stated as only being a couple hundred feet off the ground be mistaken for a satellite in the Earth’s atmosphere? How could the object produce a bright, blinding light be mistaken for a planet? What was the object in the photograph taken by Buchert? The explanation given by the government investigators made a mockery out of the testimony presented by the trained officers who witnessed the object that morning.
One by one, the witnesses went silent. They faded from the headlines and left the object in the past. The October 9, 1966 edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer mentions what happened to the officers in the aftermath of the chase. Buchert stated it should just be forgotten about. Neff refused to talk about the events of that night after his friends and fellow officers made fun of what he had seen. Panzanella had his phone removed due to the constant calls about what he saw that morning. Huston changed his name and moved away after being ridiculed by the community he had faithfully served.
In the end, only Spaur continued to speak out, haunted by the memories of that morning and wanting answers for what they had witnessed. By October 1966, Spaur was in a downward spiral as the world seemed to be against his claims of what he witnessed that morning. His mental state changed as he became convinced the UFO was following him and, in less than six months, he lost his job and marriage – the UFO had destroyed his life.
I personally do not believe Spaur and Neff were chasing a satellite and the planet Venus, but I also do not believe in UFOs driven by little green men. The question arises: what did they see in the sky that morning? The most logical explanation: it was a weather balloon. This was a suggestion mentioned in the days immediately after the sighting and looking at pictures of weather balloons from the time period, the shape and details are very similar. Many weather balloons do have an ice-cream cone shape. At night, the gases within them cools and they could descend to a much lower level of the atmosphere. As the gases in the balloon warmed back up, the balloon again lifted and disappeared into the upper atmosphere.
The only problem with it being a weather balloon, is the speed it traveled and the light it emitted. Additionally, when the U.S. Air Force released their results of the investigation, they eliminated a weather balloon as a possibility of being the object the officers spotted. This is interesting due to weather balloons being the go-to object for many of the UFO sightings they investigated.
Whatever was spotted by residents of Ohio and Pennsylvania on the morning of April 17, 1966, would be something that changed the lives of the five police officers who had originally stepped forward with their claim. What was it? The truth is, we’ll never know.