The Kecksburg UFO incident of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, USA occurred on December 9, 1965. A large, brilliant fireball was seen by thousands in at least six states and Ontario, Canada. It streaked over the Detroit, Michigan/Windsor, Ontario area, dropped reported metal debris over Michigan and northern Ohio, and caused sonic booms in western Pennsylvania. It was generally assumed and reported by the press to be a meteor.
However, eyewitnesses in the small village of Kecksburg, about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, claimed something crashed in the woods. A boy said he saw the object land; his mother saw a wisp of blue smoke arising from the woods and alerted authorities. Others from Kecksburg, including local volunteer fire department members, reported finding an object in the shape of an acorn and about as large as a Volkswagen Beetle. Writing resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics was also said to be in a band around the base of the object. Witnesses further reported that intense military presence, most notably Army, secured the area, ordered civilians out, and then removed the object on a flatbed truck. At the time, however, the military claimed they searched the woods and found ''absolutely nothing.''
The nearby Greensburg Tribune-Review had a reporter at the scene; the headline in the newspaper the next day was ''Unidentified Flying Object Falls near Kecksburg — Army Ropes off Area.''
The official explanation of the widely-seen fireball was a mid-sized meteor, however, speculation as to what the Kecksburg object had been (if there was one — reports vary) also range from it being an alien craft to the remains of an unmanned Soviet Venera 4 atmospheric probe, also known as Kosmos-96, originally destined for Venus. (However, see below where this was recently ruled out by NASA's chief in charge of tracking orbital debris.)
Similarities have been drawn between Kecksburg and the Roswell UFO incident, and as such, is known as ''Pennsylvania's Roswell''.
Several articles were written about the fireball in science journals. The February 1966 issue of Sky & Telescope reported that the fireball was seen over the Detroit-Windsor area at about 4:44 p.m. EST. The Federal Aviation Administration had received 23 reports from aircraft pilots, first starting at 4:44 p.m. A seismograph 25 miles southwest of Detroit had recorded the shock waves created by the fireball as it passed through the atmosphere.
A 1967 article by two astronomers in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (JRASC) used the seismographic record to pinpoint the time of passage over the Detroit area to 4:43 p.m. In addition, they used photographs of the trail taken north of Detroit at two different locations to triangulate the trajectory of the object. They concluded that the fireball was descending at a steep angle, moving from the southwest to the northeast, and likely impacted on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie near Windsor, Canada.
The JRASC trajectory was at nearly right angles to a trajectory that would have taken the fireball in the direction of western Pennsylvania and Kecksburg. Thus, if the calculation was correct, this would rule out the fireball being involved in any way with what may or may not have happened in Kecksburg. The JRASC article negative result is often cited by skeptics to debunk the notion of a Kecksburg UFO crash.
However, a recent reexamination of the JRASC article points out that it contained no error analysis. The triangulation base used by the astronomers in their calculations was very narrow. As a result, even very small errors in determination of directions could result in a very different triangulated trajectory. It was found that measurement errors of slightly more than one-half degree would make possible a straight-line trajectory towards the Kecksburg area and a much shallower angle of descent than reported in the JRASC article. It was also pointed out that the photos used actually show the fireball trail becoming progressively thinner, indicating motion away from the cameras or in the direction of Pennsylvania. Had the trajectory been sideways to the cameras, as contended in the JRASC article, the trail would have remained constant in thickness. Thus, the contention that the JRASC article conclusively ruled out any connection between the fireball and the Kecksburg events is now open to question.
John Murphy's Object in the Woods
A reporter and news director for the local radio station WHJB, John Murphy, arrived on the scene of the event before authorities had arrived, in response to several calls to the station from alarmed citizens, and took several photographs and conducted interviews with witnesses. His former wife Bonnie Milslagle later reported that all but one roll of the film were confiscated by military personnel. WHJB office manager Mabel Mazza described one of the pictures: ''It was very dark and it was with a lot of trees around and everything. And I don't know how far away from the site he was. But I did see a picture of a sort of a cone-like thing. It's the only time I ever saw it.''
In the following weeks, Murphy became enveloped with the incident and wrote a radio documentary called Object in the Woods, featuring his experiences and interviews he had conducted that night. Shortly before the documentary would've aired, he received an unexpected visit at the station from two men in black suits identifying themselves as government officials. They requested to speak with him in a back room behind closed doors. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes. A WHJB employee, Linda Foschia, recalled the men had confiscated some of Murphy's audio tapes from that night, and that no one knows what happened to the remaining photographs. A week after the visit, an agitated Murphy aired a censored version of the documentary, which he claimed in its introduction had to be edited due to some interviewees requesting their statements be removed from the broadcast in fear of getting in trouble with the police and Army. The new version contained nothing revealing, and didn't mention an object at all. Mazza remembers the aired documentary was entirely different from what Murphy had originally written. (See pp. 4-5 of CFI's report in External links for details of the aired documentary.)
After the airing, Murphy became uncharacteristically despondent and completely stopped all investigation on the case and refused to talk to anyone about it again, and never gave clear reasons why. In 1969, John Murphy was struck and killed by an unidentified car in an apparent hit-and-run while crossing a road. The hit-and-run occurred in California, while Murphy was on vacation.
2003: Sci Fi Channel reinvestigates case
In 2003, the Sci Fi Channel sponsored a scientific study of the area and related records done by the Coalition for Freedom of Information. The most significant finding of the scientific team was tree damage dating to around 1965 at the site where some eyewitnesses said they saw the object. This provided physical evidence that something had possibly landed in the woods there at the time, which would contradict the military's official story of finding nothing. (However, one of the scientists instead suggested ice damage to the trees.) Further, no significant soil disturbance was found. This might support a controlled soft landing and rule out other proposed crash objects such as a meteorite or other large object passively striking the ground, which would have created a large crater and extensive damage. The segment also aired claims of an eyewitness who heard a loud, horrific scream as armed soldiers approached the object.
There was also a push for NASA to release pertinent documents on the subject. Some 40 pages of these documents were released on November 1, 2003, but were unrevealing. (see External links) However, there are Air Force Project Blue Book documents indicating that a three-man team was being sent from an Air Force radar-installation near Pittsburgh to investigate the Kecksburg crash. They reported back to Blue Book that nothing was found.
2005: NASA changes story to ''Russian satellite''
In December 2005, just before the Kecksburg crash 40th anniversary, NASA released a statement to the effect that they had examined metallic fragments from the object and now claimed it was from a re-entering ''Russian satellite.'' The spokesman further claimed that the related records had been misplaced. According to an Associated Press story:
The object appeared to be a Russian satellite that re-entered the atmosphere and broke up. NASA experts studied fragments from the object, but records of what they found were lost in the 1990s.
As a rule, we don't track UFOs. What we could do, and what we apparently did as experts in spacecraft in the 1960s, was to take a look at whatever it was and give our expert opinion,'' Steitz said. ''We did that, we boxed (the case) up and that was the end of it. Unfortunately, the documents supporting those findings were misplaced.
This new explanation from NASA contradicts the official Air Force explanation in 1965 of the fireball being from a meteor and of nothing being found.
Furthermore, the claim contradicts what journalist Leslie Kean was told in 2003 by Nicholas L. Johnson, NASA's chief scientist for orbital debris. As part of the new Sci Fi investigation, Kean had Johnson recheck orbital paths of all known satellites and other records from the period in 1965. Johnson told Kean that orbital mechanics made it absolutely impossible for any part of the Cosmos 96 Venus probe to account for either the fireball or any object at Kecksburg. Johnson also stated there were no other manmade satellites or other objects that re-entered the atmosphere on that day.
Thus, this raises the question as to what ''Russian satellite'' could account for the debris that NASA now admits they examined. Furthermore, Kean and others deem it highly questionable that NASA could actually lose such records. In December 2005, a lawsuit was filed to get NASA to search more diligently for the alleged lost records.
On October 26, 2007, NASA agreed to search for those records after being ordered by the court. The judge, who had tried to move NASA along for more than 3 years, angrily referred to NASA's previous search efforts as a ''ball of yarn'' that never fully answered the request, adding, ''I can sense the plaintiff's frustration because I'm frustrated.''
During the hearing, Steve McConnell, NASA's public liaison officer, admitted two boxes of papers from the time of the Kecksburg incident were missing. Stan Gordon, principle investigator of the Kecksburg incident for several decades, stated ''I have no doubt the government knows a lot more about this than it has revealed to the public.''