Crash-Retrieval at Gatchellville

by Martin Kottmeyer

The historian’s warning that Newton was fortunate not to have started a fire with his kite lantern can be underscored by pointing to another modern UFO case. On March 8, 1977, a red ball of light was seen over Gatchellville, Pennsylvania, by 11 witnesses in 6 separate groups. All witnesses agreed it drifted against the wind in a left to right wobbling motion for 2 to 5 minutes. Triangulation of observations indicated it was only a few hundred feet above the ground. It dropped to earth and started a grass fire. Fortunately it burned itself out before the fire department arrived, but it left a burned area 100 feet by 30 feet in size. As this was March, it was a fair bet the grass had not yet greened up from the winterkill and was tinder dry at the time. Investigators noted the soil was burned down to a depth of three inches, which sounds consistent with root length.

No hydrocarbon residues were found; therefore the fire was not assisted by gasoline. Grass outside the patch, investigators noted, was not combustible and one is left to wonder if something had dried the grass. The fallacy, however, is blatant. Since the fire was not put out, it obviously stopped where it ran out of fuel.

The case was written up in the International UFO Reporter and was rated by Allan Hendry as a good CEII [Close Encounter of the Second Kind] in The UFO Handbook, i.e., it was a good example of a UFO case with physical traces that proved seemingly the reality of UFOs. Unasked: where is the crashed UFO?

John Harney picked the Gatchellville case as one of three reports in the UFO literature which seemed of real good quality, yet still remained unexplained as of his writing ("In Search of Real UFOs," Magonia, June, 1994). While he didn’t think it was extraterrestrial, he wondered if ball lightning might have been involved because of the large amount of energy released when the object hit the lawn.

Hendry’s Handbook and Harney’s hurrah forget to mention there was a retrieval in the case. In a short article in the International UFO Reporter entitled "Case Wrap-Up: Close Out on the Gatchellville, PA II" it was revealed that analysis was done on some foil-like strips that investigators retrieved from a tree across the road from the burned patch. They turned out to be Mylar. Since Mylar does not release much energy when it burns, investigators concluded, "It is likely they were unrelated."

Guess again. Mylar is a common material used in kites. Kites have a bad habit of running into trees. As for the red light, it was likely either a flare or a lantern surrounded by red crepe paper.

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