UFO-Forschung - Die Kecksburg UFO-Absturz Story - Teil 2


UFO crashology 


The Kecksburg case stands as one of those UFO cases that never should have been one. If it weren’t for the highly exaggerated claims of a few dubious individuals and the efforts of several UFO promoters, the case would have remained in the dust bin of “old solved mysteries”. However, when it comes to making something out of nothing, UFOlogistsare experts.
While reading the materials and eyewitness testimonies, I found it most interesting that all sorts of people claim to have been present but there is little evidence to confirm they were there. Some of these witnesses came from tens of miles away and had no idea where to go to find the crash site. They then managed to get past all the local crowds and sneak into areas that were supposedly well guarded. Others were able to see underneath the tarp covering the “object” and, despite the flatbed driving rapidly by, were
able to see distinctive writing. I wish my eyesight was this good in the dark. A lot of these stories just don’t sound realistic to me but, to a UFO crashologist, they are golden nuggets to be presented as factual.
I want to thank Robert Young for all of his help in compiling the information for this issue. He did most of the legwork and I am just putting this together in a form so people can readily reference the material. I also want to thank Roger Paquay and Oliver Hallen for their contributions this issue. Such contributions are always welcome.
Per my request, Psychoclown provided SUNlite with this humourous bit of artwork.

December 9, 1965: The historical record


Most of what is known about the Kecksburg event comes from testimonies made decades after the actual event. Any critical examination of the case must start by examining the documentation from newspapers, magazines, and the Blue Book files. One can then see how the event was recorded in 1965.
“A tremendous flash of light”
Around 4:43 PM EST on December 9, 1965, witnesses in the states surrounding Lake Erie saw a brilliant meteor that cast shadows onto the ground and left a debris trail in the sky that was visible for between twenty and sixty minutes. It was a truly incredible sight for those who saw it and it generated a great deal of excitement in the media and at project Blue Book.
Most of the reports came from the cities/towns lining the western half of Lake Erie. In Detroit and its suburbs, there were reports that a plane had crashed into Lake St. Claire, which prompted the Coast Guard to investigate. They could not locate any evidence of an airplane crash, which demonstrates how inaccurate and confusing these initial reports were. Statements made by witnesses in the area described the brightness of the meteor, a sonic boom, and that the debris trail lasted in the sky for some time:
The light was so intense it created shadows.
“As I stepped out of the door of my house, there was a tremendous flash of light, brighter than day,” said Grosse Pointe policeman Edmund Denthuys.”I saw my shadow on the ground from it,” he added.1
In Toledo, where the fireball was first reported, residents saw a blinding flash of blue-white light in the sky northeast of the city. Switchboards lighted up almost instantly, most of the callers believing a plane had exploded.2
Jack Kuechtges, Indian Hollow road, Grafton reported seeing a “flash in the sky” at about 4:45 pm. “It exploded over the lake near Lorain. There was a white puff of smoke in the sky for about 20 minutes after the explosion,” he said.3

...Mrs. Margaret Lankin, who with her daughter had been hanging clothes when the fireball appeared. About 30 seconds after it disappeared, they heard loud detonations...H. Needham at the London, Ontario airport...described the lingering train as seen most of the time against a clear western sky.

A majority of the observations of the fireball came from the states bordering Lake Erie. The further away the witnesses, the less likely they were to report it as it was low on the horizon and not as bright.

Meanwhile, at Blue Book

In his book, UFOs: An insider’s view of the official quest for evidence, Dr. Roy Craig made the following observation:

What I found at Project Blue Book was little concern by Major Quintanilla, who was in charge of the project at that time, or by anyone else there, about the fact that public reports of UFO sightings were not investigated seriously by a great number of the “UFO Officers,” one officer being so designated at each air base. Their interest was intense, however, in details of any report which might have been triggered by a satellite in decaying orbit and burning as it reentered the atmosphere. Blue Book personnel actively searched for pieces of reentered satellite, for the obvious and practical reason of learning what materials of construction the Russians were then using in their satellite program.

This became very evident on December 9, 1965. The Blue Book file on the event includes what appears to be the duty officer’s log, which accounts for all that transpired that night.

1835-2100 - This appears to be a summary of the events that transpired during this time period. The duty log describes receiving a phone call from Major Horkamf of USAF defense command. The Major passed on information about receiving reports coming from the Detroit air defense command sector and to be prepared for UFO sightings. The log also mentions an AP report. Major Quintanilla was called and he came to the base. The reports from Kecksburg in the media apparently convinced them to send some AF personnel from the nearest location. The entry mentions a call to the Oakdale radar station and the dispatching of a three man team to pick up an object that supposedly started a fire. Additionally, somebody from Flint, Michigan called, stating they had picked up something that had fallen out of the sky. Calls from the news media were directed towards the USAF information officer. Finally, the entry mentions Quintanilla calling SPADATS asking if they had any reentering space debris. They replied in the negative, which had Quintanilla draw the conclusion that it may be a meteorite.

2250 - Detroit radio called requesting an exchange of information. They had reports of three objects but were not sure if anything hit. The response by the officer was that they knew as much as the radio station.

2300 - NORAD called wondering if the Oakdale team reported anything. They had yet to receive information. Major Quintanilla stated he would call them during the duty day if any word comes out of Oakdale.
2323 - A call from Mr. J.L. Borassa, Chief Special operations division OEP, describing the retrieval of three strips of aluminum from Lapeer, Michigan.
2340 - Officer called Lapeer, Michigan. The aluminum strips were going to be brought to him in the morning and he wanted to keep one for analysis. He agreed to send two strips to Blue Book.
The important thing to draw from this whole document is that Blue Book and others were interested in Kecksburg because the press had reported some sort of object had fallen from the sky. As Dr. Craig pointed out, they were looking for reentering Russian hardware. This is probably why Quintanilla asked SPADATS if any space debris was due to come down. It is also why the closest AF location was contacted (Oakdale radar station was only 40-50 miles from Kecksburg) and a team of personnel sent to investigate.
The sky is falling
As one can see from the log, Kecksburg was not the only place that reported debris falling from the sky that witnesses claimed were from the fireball.
Near Lapeer, Mich., 40 miles north of Detroit, police will again search a swamp where a sheriff’s deputy, Lenny Tolly, found shredded foil Thursday. “It looks like it may have come from the deal (the fireball),” said Tolly. He said the foil was made of lead and shredded in strips one sixteenth of an inch wide.6
In Michigan, several children found strange metallic-particles which may have been thrown off by the disintegrating fireball as it plunged through the air Thursday night. Brian Parent and Larry Jones, Mich., both 11,of Livonia, Mich said they picked up a piece of lightweight grayish fused metal about the size of a baseball which fell into a field. Smaller chunks of similar material,’ were found by children in Warren, Mich.7
Near Jackson,13 -year -old Roy Root found a 15 -pound metallic object in a field near his farm home at Concord. He told newsmen the object was in a hole two feet deep and was still hot when it was discovered.8
A boy reported seeing a flaming object fell from the sky into the woods near his home on the outskirts of Cleveland, but sheriff’s officers dispatched to the ‘area near the village of North Eaton found nothing. And the highway patrol in Ashtabula, east of Cleveland, reported the fireball had been seen from that area.9
In Elyria, Mrs. Ralph Richards, 2301 West River Rd. North, reported seeing a fireball “ the size of a volleyball” plunge into the woods across from her home. It was apparently
the fragment which caused the fires.10
Lt. Jack Trumbull of Elyria said the concentrated pattern of the fires led him to believe they could have been touched off by a fireball or meteor which shattered as it hit the ground.11
A group of children playing near a school in Lorain reported another chunk dropped into a schoolyard.12
The threesome with a sudden awakened interest in Astronomy and meteorites are twins Joe and Mike Kovacs, 11, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kovacs, 629 Hilliard Rd and Bryan Schue, 10,son of Mr and Mrs Charles Schue, 618 Hilliard Rd... The three boys, all students at Spring Valley School, found the 10 pieces in their yards. The fragments
weighed approximately six ounces a peice In color they are metallic blue, at first glance resembling ‘clinkers” from a coal furnace Closer examination reveals unusual gaseous-formed bubbles on the surface and extending into the heart of the material. The pieces were still warm when picked up the boys reports and had “a smokey smell” about them. Joe Kovacs found the first piece in the backyard at his home before going to school yesterday morning. He launched his search after hearing radio reports about the fireball he explained.13
All of these bits of debris that were reported never panned out and did not receive the heavy attention from the press like the Kecksburg reports. The materials from Lapeer was mentioned in the press but that very evening, Blue Book was in contact with the person who found it. There was no need to send anyone to the location. It turned out to be radar chaff. The other less publicized bits of debris were what meteorite hunters call, “meteor-wrongs”. All were just earthly rocks and metallic debris.
Mystery in the woods
Back in Kecksburg, the confusion began when eight-year old Nevin Kalp told his mother that he saw a star on fire. Kalp’s mother looked out in the direction her son had stated where he saw the object. There, low in the sky, she saw a “puff of smoke” hanging over the woods. According to the national observer,
Mrs. Kalp hesitated to tell anyone but, because the Pittsburgh radio station was broadcasting a program about UFOs (Frank Edwards states he was being interviewed
by Mike Levine at station KDKA), she decided to call the state police stating something had come down in the woods.
According to the article appearing in the Greenburg-Tribune review, Mrs. Kalp also called the radio station to tell them the reports of a plane coming down in the woods were incorrect and it was the fireball that had come down there. Her phone then began to ring off the hook. Mrs. Kalp described talking to the state police and even a “naval officer”. All wanted to know where the “object” had fallen.
As the word got out about the crash site location, curious people began to migrate into the area and cause huge traffic jams on the small roads. The state police, apparently concerned for safety of people trying to get into the woods and potential damage to private property, sealed off the road leading to the search area. The Miller farm became the site of most of the activity with the state police monitoring the search.
Reporter Robert Gatty interviewed several individuals. One of these was volunteer fireman Dale Howard. He reported hearing a “thump” nearby from his home. When he arrived, he was employed as being part of the road block. He told Gatty that the state police and army had directed him not to allow anyone into the area. This would end up creating the misleading headline “ Army ropes off area”. In truth, it was the state police’s operation. Gatty would also pick up on a story that the US Army engineers were to arrive later.
Meanwhile, radio reporter John Murphy went on a wild search for the crash site. According to Bob Young, he initially thought the crash site was a burning wood pile near the Norvelt golf course. He eventually found the area and began talking to the bystanders watching the volunteer firemen and state police search the woods. He talked to Carl Metz, the state police fire marshall. Metz gave him a non-response and referred him to the army. Murphy then talked to Captain Joseph Dussia, the state police troop commander. Dussia told him to go to the barracks where he and the Army’s 662nd radar squadron might be able to make a statement. When Murphy arrived at the barracks he saw at least one member of the USAF wearing Lieutenant bars as well as some personnel wearing army uniforms.
At this point in time, it appears that the initial search of the woods resulted in nothing being found. The members of the radar squadron seemed to have just arrived at the state police barracks and had not even gone down to the woods. Some local fireman reported seeing blue flashing lights in the woods. This initiated a second search, which seemed to involve the members of the military.
As it got later in the evening, people began to lose interest and left the area. No source of the blue flashing light was discovered and neither was any object. By 2 AM, the USAF officer in charge, satisfied that nothing of importance was present, went back to his base and reported nothing was found.
Still, the state police and local media were not satisfied. The next morning another search was conducted of the woods with the same results. There was absolutely no indication of anything ever crashing into the woods. Captain Dussia would release a statement of the negative results and then comment, “Someone made a mountain out of a molehill.”14
Notes and references
“Thousands in Michigan see intense 1. flash” Ironwood Daily Globe. Ironwood,
Michigan. 10 December 1965. p.1.
“Steaking ‘fireball ‘ stages aerial 2. show”. The Lima News. Lima, Ohio. 10 December, 1965. p. 17
“Fireball slams into county from Lake 3. Erie to Eaton: Sets grass fires; meteorite
blamed.” The Chonicle-Telegram. Elyria, Ohio. 10 December 1965, p. 3
“The Great Lakes fireball”. 4. Sky and Telescope. February 1966. P. 79
Craig, Roy. 5. UFOs: An Insider’s View of the Offfical Quest for Evidence. Denton:
University of North Texas Press, 1995. P. 177
burg; sighted in seven states, Canada”
The Daily courier. Connellsville, PA 10 December 1965, p.1
“That Fiery Object Enormous Me7.
teor” The Post-Standard. Syracuse, NY.11 December 1965, p1
“Thousands in Michigan see intense 8. flash” Ironwood Daily Globe. Ironwood,
Michigan. 10 December 1965. p.1.
“Mystery flash sparks fires” 9. The Post-Standard.Syracuse, NY. 10 December 1965, p1
“Fireball slams into county from Lake 10. Erie to Eaton: Sets grass fires; meteorite
blamed.” The Chonicle-Telegram. Elyria, Ohio. 10 December 1965, p. 3
“Bright light of fireball flashes across 11. U. S., Sparks rumors, calls” The Post-Crescent. Appleton, WI. 10 December
1965, p1
“Fireball slams into county from Lake 12. Erie to Eaton: Sets grass fires; meteorite
blamed.” The Chonicle-Telegram. Elyria, Ohio. 10 December 1965, p. 3
“Find may be meteor bits”13. The Chonicle-
Telegram. Elyria, Ohio. 11 December
1965, p1
“Searchers fail to find ‘object’”. 14. The Tribune-Review(city edition). Greensburg,
Pa. 10 December 1965. p.1.

1965 issues explained


There were certain issues raised in 1965 that have reasonable explanations. Many of these were resolved by Bob Young’s research and are outlined here.
The puff of smoke
The first question has to do with what Mrs. Kalp saw that night. She reported seeing a “puff of smoke” over the woods. Bob Young plotted the sighting line from her location towards the point in the sky where the meteor dust trail would have been and discovered that it lined up correctly with the woods, where all the excitement occurred (see Figure1).
Explosive thump!
The report by Dale Howard, which appeared in the local papers, mentioned hearing an explosion or “thump” that evening around the same time the fireball was seen. The Tribune-Review would follow-up on this and state it probably came from a nearby quarry that had exploded some dynamite (see the article on page 34).
Army, Navy, or Air Force?
It seems there was a lot of confusion about what branches of the military were present that night. It is an established fact that the USAF sent members of the 662nd Radar Squadron from Oakdale to Kecksburg. However, where do all the stories about soldiers and sailors come from? There are several explanations.
The first report by Mrs. Kalp talking to a naval officer sounds like a miscommunication over the phone. If she physically met the officer, she may have confused the “sky blue” uniforms worn by the USAF officers with the Navy blue worn by Naval officers. For somebody who may have never seen a Naval or USAF officer before it seems like a plausible explanation.
The confusion between AF and army personnel has several factors to consider:
The types of uniforms being worn 1. by the personnel sent from the Radar station were probably different. The Officer probably was wearing a standard blue AF uniform but the enlisted could have been wearing the green working uniforms that looked a lot like the Army working fatigues. The two different uniforms would give the impression of two different services being involved.

Oakdale was part of the Nike air defense system of Pittsburgh (See image below), which had Army personnel manning the missile sites. This association with the Army would give the impression to outsiders that they were Army personnel.

Oakdale, being part of the Nike sys3. tem might have had some Army personnel at the base. It is possible that the USAF officer in charge was able to acquire a few privates from the army unit for this kind of work. It was less than twenty years since 4. the USAF became an independent service. WWII veterans would have remembered that the AF was once part of the Army. This could create confusion in some minds, who mixed up the two services.
All of this confusion about the Army and Air Force would eventually lead to inaccurate headlines and generate stories of Army involvement in later retellings of the story.
The mystery light
Late in the evening, various individuals saw a blue light in the woods. This was not explained right away but Bob Young was able to track down a person, who admitted
it was a prank they were playing that night (see figure #2).
Where are the engineers?
The story about the Army engineers and other specialists was more rumor than fact. According to Bob Young, it was being circulated around between the troopers and fireman. The media then picked up on this and reported it. As one can see in the Blue Book files, there was no mention of sending anybody but the Radar Squadron personnel. So, who made the call for the engineers (for which there is no record)? The idea that a junior AF officer would make a decision of calling in additional units without permission is unheard of in the US military especially when it involves units from other services. Additionally, it appears that he lacked any sort of communication with anybody in the command structure. As it was, Blue Book seemed to have a difficult time contacting them!
A case study demonstrating how inaccurate or false information published by a well-known UFOlogist can remain unexamined while being cited for years, even decades, is that of the late Ivan Sanderson and his 1965 article, “The Abominable Space Thing”.1
Just about sunset on December 9, 1965 tens of thousands2 in ten states and Ontario witnessed a bright bolide meteor. Among the witnesses were a woman and her children near Kecksburg, Pennsylvania about 45 miles east of Pittsburgh. This incident has been called the Kecksburg UFO Crash.
One of the things UFO proponents have claimed about the fireball is that it maneuvered, or at least changed direction, something meteors don’t do. They have claimed that it made a sharp 25 degree turn to the east over Ohio, then travelled over Midland, Pa. and the City of Pittsburgh (where it seemed to go unnoticed) toward Kecksburg before maneuvering to a landing or crashing.
This change of direction by the object seems to have first been proposed only three days after the event by Sanderson, a UFO and cyptozoological writer, in his manuscript submitted to the North American Newspaper Alliance. It was published in many newspapers, then reprinted in Fate magazine. For decades UFO fans seeking to vicariously relive the thrills experienced by witnesses or just redredging up old reports have started at the beginning of many saucer stories, managing only to prolong old myths and long-solved mysteries.
Sanderson drew lines between witness locations where the object was first reported to have dropped material to the ground (Lapeer, Michigan; Lorain County, Ohio; Midland, PA, and Kecksburg), believing that this “automatically pinpointed] the passage”. Nothing actually seems to have been found at Midland and there is no reason to think that Lorain fragments, or aircraft foil picked up at Lapeer were associated with the meteor. Since many other reported “landing locations” were not included by Sanderson, this early
theory cannot be supported by what is now known. One example is a widely reported sighting from Erie, (9) where witnesses say the fireball disappear at the western horizon over the lake. Notes in the Blue Book files even report Air Force investigators going there. Why wasn’t this “location” used by Sanderson? We’ll never know. Playing “connect the dots” of witness locations on a map for an object visible for hundreds of miles does not prove maneuvering.
If Sanderson had drawn a line on a real map, as I did6, instead of using a hand-drawn sketch1 or if later UFO crash enthusiasts had made even the most elementary check of his claim instead of repeating his method(3,7,8) they would have noticed flaws in his story. They would have seen that a path from Lapeer, Michigan, to Elyria, Ohio, would be at an azimuth of 152 degrees, and from Elyria to Kecksburg would be at an azimuth of 120 degrees, a difference of 32 degrees, not 25 degrees as Sanderson claimed. An object using Sanderson’s path would pass no closer than 26 miles to the south of Kecksburg
His speeds were also grossly in error, referring to miles/hour when the calculations clearly referred to miles/minute. This represents a 60 times error in speed, allowing fantastic speculations about a maneuvering saucer to excite enthusiasts for years. Even with original witness reports and their scatted times, a rational analysis would have cast doubt on Sanderson’s claims.
Western Pennsylvania UFO researcher Stan Gordon claimed in the 1990 “Unsolved Mysteries” show which kicked off national interest in the incident, that the object seem by thousands over the Midwest about 4:45 PM changed direction, then travelled for ten minutes before maneuvering and “crashing” near Kecksburg.
This can be refuted by the fact that no local 1965 witnesses reported seeing two objects, the fireball in the western sky and then later the maneuvering UFO nearby.
However, I must tell you that a few months after I first presented this argument against a “slow” moving UFO, back in the early 1990’s, one of the newly surfaced witnesses central to the later crash and recovery story suddenly began claiming the UFO actually circled the town. To this day, he is the only person to have claimed to notice this spectacular maneuvering. I’ll let you, dear reader, draw your own conclusions.
The wide range of times for reports is probably due to the usual wide range of eyewitness “details” one gets from fireball reports. Clocks and watches are set at different
times and many just estimate the times of such events. The many reports from airplane pilots collected by the FAA, and a seismic recording in Michigan allowed
the actual time to be determined to within a few seconds.
Many of the original published times ranged from 4:40 to “about 5:15”. The key Kecksburg witness, Mrs. Kalp, reported the time as 4:45 P.M. in the local Greensburg paper10, only one minute later than a 4:44 P.M. report from Oberlin, Ohio, carried in the Pittsburgh Press11. This distance - 180 miles in one minute - would give a hypothetical
speed of about 10,800 miles per hour, well within the speeds of meteors in the lower atmosphere or reentering space debris, which would have been visible
throughout the sighting area. Why didn’t the UFO investigators cite this speed? Was it because it would support the official cause of a meteor?
Proponents of a maneuvering UFO must explain how every 1965 Pennsylvania witness missed seeing a fireball brighter than the full moon at 4:44 P.M. low in the west, but only saw the UFO “maneuvering” nearby at about this same time. This includes three independent witnesses (all facing west) in Beaver County, Pa., about 60 miles northwest of Kecksburg. They must also explain how the accounts of every 1965 witness for which a direction is known or can be inferred can be explained by assuming they were watching the fireball over Lake Erie low in the western sky. Without an explanation for these curious coincidences between witness reports at Kecksburg and everywhere else, any theory of maneuvered flight can’t satisfy the facts.
Mr. Gordon and fellow promoters of a crash as Kecksburg also must explain why three independent witnesses at Midland, Pa., (all facing west) also missed the fireball,
and why they and Mrs. Kalp mistakenly thought the UFO appeared at 4:45 P.M., when hundreds of others first saw it as a fireball visible from hundreds of miles away. Without an explanation for these occurrences, the maneuvering UFO theory falls flat.
How an unexpected event lasting a few seconds can transmogrify into a 10-minute maneuvering saucer circling a town is truly a wonder of Ufology. It is, however, nothing new to astronomers trying to filter through reports of bright fireball meteors.
Ivan Sanderson was the source of the erroneous notion that the object maneuvered, and therefore could not be a meteor. He seems to have spoken to no eyewitnesses, relying on wire service stories and phone calls to state police spokesmen. His hand-sketched map was inaccurate and his “speeds” were grossly in error. Any present day UFO enthusiast
who still cites his hastily written and inaccurate but widely reprinted article only demonstrates that old saucer tales seldom die.
Notes and references
National Investigations Committee 1. on Aerial Phenomenon (NICAP) files: Courtesy of Mark Rodeghier, J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies; personal communication, Feb. 23, 1991.
Hartmann, William K. Process of Per2.
ception, Conception and Reporting, Table 4 in Scientific Study of Unidentified
Flying Objects, Edward U. Condon,
et. al.: Bantam Books, New York, Jan. 1969: p 588
“Unsolved Mysteries”, NBC, Sept. 19, 3. 1990 and Feb. 27, 1991.
Gordon, Stan. The Kecksburg UFO 4. Crash: An Interim Report, MUFON UFO Journal, No. 274, Feb. 1991, p. 3-5. Copyright 1991 by the Mutual UFO Network, 103 Oldtowne Rd., Seguin, Texas 78155.
Sanderson, Ivan T. Something Land5.
ed in Pennsylvania, North American Newspaper Alliance, reprinted in Fate, March, 1966.
“Lake Erie”, International Map of the 6. World. Reston, Va.: USGS, 1974.
Gordon, Stan. The Military UFO Re7.
trieval at Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, Pursuit, No. 174, last quarter, 1987. Courtesy of George W. Earley.
Gordon, Stan, “The Kecksburg UFO 8. Crash”, MUFON Journal, Sept., 1989, Copyright 1989 Mutual UFO Network,
103 Oldtowne Rd., Seguin, Tx
The Erie (Pa.) Daily Times, Fireball 9. Over Erie Remains a Mystery, Dec. 10, 1965, p. 1.
The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, 10. Pa.), Searchers fail to find object, (late City Edition), Dec. 10, 1965, p. 1.
Pittsburgh Press, Fireball a Meteor, 11. Astronomer Explains, Dec. 10, 1965, p. 1.

Two investigations with two very different results


In December 1965, two types of investigations were made into the events that transpired the night of December 9th. Each wanted to determine where the remains of the object that was seen came down. Each employed different methodologies, which produced two completely different results.
Eureka in just 7 days!
In less than one week, Ivan T. Sanderson had made his conclusion. The event involved an “unidentified” object (or “thing” as he described it) that had moved at an average speed of 16.5 miles per minute (about 1000 mph). Not only did the object move at too slow a speed, Sanderson also noted that the object changed direction during its flight. Both of these factors, if correct, ruled out the meteor explanation.
Sanderson achieved his quick success by making phone calls to various police departments and reading the news accounts. While this was a good start to an investigation, it was essentially the limit to Sanderson’s research in his article. It resulted in serious flaws in his conclusions.
Bob Young’s article on the previous pages pokes all the holes in Sanderson’s effort and I see no need to repeat them. However, because of some very incorrect assumptions,
Sanderson’s calculations and trajectory were open to error. He rushed to publish his story and ignored a lot of data. As one will see, a far greater weight of the witness testimony would indicate a completed different trajectory that was consistent with the meteor explanation.
As the professor went further west, along the southern and western coast of Lake Erie, he determined that the meteor did not make it to the southern end of the lake and that a sonic boom had been heard on the western half of the lake. Based on his interviews and description, Sky and Telescope listed the trajectory as going from roughly NW to SE over the lake. This preliminary trajectory would later turn out to be slightly off in its direction but fairly accurate in determining the general location of the meteor’s path.
All the claims of fragments being found were discovered to be “meteor-wrongs” and not meteorites. Additionally, observations by witnesses regarding the meteors distance were often inaccurate:
These imagined happenings arose from the impossibility of estimating the distance to an object in the sky. Almost everyone who saw the fireball thought it was much closer than it really was. When it had disappeared behind a house or a tree, many people thought it had fallen only a few hundred yards beyond. 1
The most important thing that Dr. Wetherill noted was that the meteor disappeared over Lake Erie and did not make it to the south side of the lake. The witness reports had demolished that part of Sanderson’s trajectory. However, further investigation and hard data would establish once and for all, that the meteor did not head towards Kecksburg.
Initial scientific investigation While Sanderson was trying to create his trajectory for the “thing”, scientists employed a more methodical approach in trying to locate any debris from the bright fireball.
G.W. Wetherill, a geophysics and geology professor at UCLA, just happened to be in the area at the time. His effort was documented in the February 1966 edition of Sky and Telescope. It is important to note that this issue was published shortly after the event. In the 1960s, magazines such as Sky and Telescope usually were completed and ready for printing several weeks before the date they were published. So, the article was written no later than about a month after the event in mid-January. Like Sanderson’s article, it was incomplete and missing important information that would later be revealed.
Dr. Wetherill started his investigation on 12 December by renting a car from Cleveland and visiting all the areas mentioned by the local media. The local FAA office was very helpful and they had reports from 23 pilots. Many of them thought a plane had come down in Lake Erie. Wetherill plotted the sight lines and determined that the meteor was seen over Lake Erie between Toledo, Ohio and Pelee island.
Better data = Better results
It was fortunate that two photographers, Lowell Wright and Richard Champine, were able to photograph the debris trail in the evening sky after the event. This debris trail provided a source of data that was accurate enough to compute a good trajectory.
Dr. Von Del Chamberlain and Dr. David Krause would mention something that was very important:
The four Champine photographs cover a span of about 80 seconds, and reveal the total drift of the cloud was minimal. Although disintegration of the train is evident.2
Because of this, the scientists were able to select two distinct points on the debris trail (see above labeled A and B) and use them to compute a trajectory. Writing in the Meteorites of Michigan, Dr. Von Del Chamberlain (staff astronomer of the Abrams Planetarium in Lansing, Michigan) described what was done next:
The author and two associates, David Krause and Ralph Johnson, went to both these locations and made transit readings based upon the photographs. The trajectory and end-point of the fireball were then computed (fig. 4). Interviewing residents near the computed end-point revealed the fireball trail did, in fact, end directly overhead in extreme southwest Ontario, thus confirming its trajectory and likely region of fall. 3
Luckily both sets of photographs had landmarks, which allowed for pinpointing the location of the photographer and the trails position in the sky. The use of a transit allowed for precise measurements of azimuth and elevation. The resultant trajectory showed the meteor had appeared near the northern shore of Lake Erie and headed northeast.
This was consistent with most of the witness reports that were being collected. Dr. Wetherill had collected some reports but Von Del Chamberlain in conjunction with Dr. J.A.V. Douglas and Henry Lee of the Royal Astronomical Society of Windsor had collected close to one hundred reports from which to refine the data. Not only did they have the reports but they conducted many of their interviews with the witnesses “on the spot” in order to refine the observational data.
On-the-spot interviews of some seventy observers (now close to 100)were made by Mr. Henry Lee, President of the Windsor Centre of the RASC, and the writer during part of January. Reduction of this sighting data confirmed the general ground position of the end-point as was determined from the photographs by Mr. Chamberlain.4
More confirmation of the trajectory came from seismic data recorded by the University of Michigan Geophysics lab near Ypsilanti, Michigan. It was the only seismograph
in the area that recorded the sonic event indicating that the terminal burst point was in the vicinity of the seismograph.
Seismographs in Ohio and Pennsylvania recorded nothing. If Sanderson’s plot towards Kecksburg were correct, then the seismographs in those regions would have recorded the terminal burst and the University of Michigan seismograph would not have.
All the data indicates the fireball’s trajectory ended up on the northern shore of Lake Erie and did not end near Kecksburg.
Ivan Sanderson’s flawed analysis had been easily refuted by science....or was it?
Trying to resurrect Sanderson
Over the years, UFOlogists have trumpeted Sanderson’s trajectory as a definitive work of some kind. This changed when Robert Young produced the analysis by Von Del Chamberlain and Krause. Still there were some “UFOcrashologists” that decided that Sanderson must have been right in a desire to believe in a Kecksburg crash. David Rudiak took up the challenge and published a critique and counter-analysis on his web site and can be found at
On his web page, Rudiak spends a great deal of space explaining why the astronomers were probably wrong in their analysis.
His argument is essentially based on three major points:
That there is no error analysis and 1. that a potential error in computing the azimuth and elevation could shift the computed path towards Kecksburg.
That Chamberlain and Krause failed 2. to notice or, apparently, lied about the “drift” caused by the winds between the Wright and Champine photographs. This drift could be the source of errors in their computations that would lead to a faulty solution.
That the apparent angular size of the 3. dust train was not uniform across the length of the trail indicating the debris trail pointed away from the photographers and towards Kecksburg.
Rudiak’s error is interesting because what he apparently wants is there to be some error in favor of a Kecksburg trajectory. He suggests potential errors in aligning the photographs with the local terrain. Ignored or unknown by Rudiak is the fact that a transit was used at the scene of the photographs and photographs carefully examined. Considering the fact that the differences between points A and B are only 5-6 degrees in azimuth, any error beyond a fraction of a degree would have been significant and obvious. Despite proclaiming an error could shift the trajectory towards Kecksburg, Rudiak does not even demonstrate that such an error even exists! For it to fit the Kecksburg
scenario, he has to have conditions just right and ignore all the supporting eyewitness reports gathered by Von Del Chamberlain, Krause, and Davis.
In his second major point, Rudiak makes a big deal about being able to measure drift due to high altitude winds and questioning the statements by Chamberlain and Krause that minimal drift was visible in the photographs. Rudiak’s “major drift” has nothing to do with points A and B, which were used for the trajectory computation, but to the rest of the components of the trail. Chamberlain and Krause noted this disintegration in their paper but also mentioned that Champine took four photographs over a period of 80 seconds, which showed no significant displacement for the key points A and B. These two points were the only parts of the trail that were used for computing the trajectory so any disintegration/drift of those sections would have no bearing on the results.
Rudiak’s third argument about the angular size across the length of the trail is faulty because it apparently assumes a constant width of the debris trail. It does not take into account how the dust trail was formed. Unlike bright fireballs at night, which leave trails of ionized atmospheric molecules that glow, the only trails left by daylight fireballs are due to the debris left behind by the meteoroid’s passage. As the meteoroid travels into the atmosphere, it’s dimensions and shape vary and, as a result, the amount of debris left behind varies. One can just as reasonably argue that the any change in the dust trail’s dimensions has more to do with the meteoroid’s interaction with the atmosphere than with a change in perspective.
Chamberlain and Krause were much more thorough in their analysis of the event than Rudiak suggests in his argument.
Rudiak implies the astronomers were working in a vacuum and relied solely on the photographs, which is not the case. They interviewed tens of witnesses and performed on the spot interviews to refine the data. They were interested in computing where any fragments had fallen. They would have checked for errors in their calculations if the witness testimony indicated a different path. According to Dr. Douglas, this was not the case.
When I first read David Rudiak’s work, I contacted Dr. Von Del Chamberlain mentioning this critique. His observation of Rudiak’s analysis was that he ignored all the scientific data gathered by hard work and investigation that confirmed the triangulation from the photographs. Von Del Chamberlain also suggested that David Rudiak was just trying to “prove” what he wanted to believe and ignored the confirmation by eyewitness reports and seismographic data. The bottom line is that he saw no reason to change the conclusions of his paper based on Rudiak’s speculation/belief in a spaceship crash at Kecksburg.
To top it all off, while apparently rejecting the work published in a scientific journal, Mr. Rudiak seemed perfectly willing to accept the self-published conclusions of Sanderson and the decades old recollections by eyewitnesses dug up by Stan Gordon. Can this be considered a reasonable scientific approach? It sounds more like pseudoscience, which is no substitute for the real scientific work that was done in 1965-66.
Notes and references
“The Great Lakes fireball”. 1. Sky and Telescope. February 1966. P79,82
Chamberlain, Von Del and David J. 2. Krause. “The fireball of December 9, 1965 - Part I”. Royal Astronomical Society
of Canada Journal 61.p. 188
Chamberlain, Von Del. 3. Bulletin 5: Meteorites
of Michigan. Michigan Department
of Conservation. Speaker-Hines and Thomas, Inc. Lansing, MI 1968. p. 5
Douglas, J. A. V. . “The fireball of De4.
cember 9, 1965, Essex County, Ontario”.
Proceedings of the Tenth Meeting of the Associate Committee on Meteorites.
Appendix 1. Council Chambers
of the National Research Laboratories,
Ottawa. 18 April 1966.
Quelle: SUNlite 6/2011


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