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From ATS Thread: The Mantell UFO Incident

The Mantell UFO Incident

Posted by jkrog08, on May 16, 2009

Image of artist depiction courtesy of

Hynek Classification:CE2

“The Mantell UFO Incident”, this is what is referred to by many as the first death caused by a UFO. This is not the only case of military and UFO engagements, but it is the case with the most evidence. This case was investigated by Project Sign, the predecessor to Project Bluebook. The official explanation from the United States Air Force is still listed as “undetermined”, however the USAF has stated other times in other documents that Mantell died while chasing a balloon. Many speculations fly as to exactly what Captain Mantell was chasing and what caused him to crash, was it Venus? Was it a Skyhook Balloon? Or was it something more, something otherworldly? Maybe the more important question is if it was an extraterrestrial craft did “they” cause Mantell to crash, or was it incidental and simply the outcome of a primitive aircraft trying to perform with a super-advanced interstellar spacecraft? I know this has been discussed on here before, but it has not been discussed or presented in any great comprehensive detail. With this being one of the best UFO-aircraft encounter incidents I feel it deserves this much more comprehensive presentation.

Chapter Summary

  1. Overview of Captain Thomas F. Mantell
  2. The Encounter and Crash
  3. The Ensuing Investigation
  4. Alternate Explanations
  5. USAF Conclusions and My Research
  6. Final Conclusions
(I only do this so those that want to skip ahead to other parts can have a reference point to do so.)

1. Overview of Captain Thomas F. Mantell
Image of Captain Thomas Mantell courtesy of
  • Born in Franklin, Kentucky June 30, 1922, full name is Thomas Francis Mantell Jr.
  • He was not the only child.
  • Graduated from Male High School in Louisville Kentucky.
  • Joined Army Air Corps on June 16, 1942.
  • Graduated from Flight School June 30, 1943.
  • Served in World War Two and was assigned to the 440th Troop Carrier Group, 96th Troop Carrier Squadron, and 9th Air Force.
  • Was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and and Air Medal with 3OLCs for heroism.
  • Following the war he returned to Louisville and joined the newly formed Kentucky Air National Guard on February 16th, 1947.
  • Was appointed Flight Leader “C” of the 165th Fighter Squad.
  • He became the first casualty of the Kentucky Air National Guard when he died in a plane crash chasing a UFO on January 7th, 1948.
  • His remains were moved to Louisville and buried at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.
  • On September 29th, 2001 the Simpson County Historical Society placed an historical marker in honor of Mantell at the Franklin, Kentucky exit off Interstate 65 next to the Simpson County Tourism building.
Image of marker courtesy of

An experienced pilot in the Air National Guard with 2,167 flight hours and a veteran of World War Two who took part of the Battle of Normandy, Mantell was not one who was ignorant of simple sky phenomina and the dangers involved in air travel. He also was not one that would chase Venus or a balloon and risk his life doing so. With those many flight hours and battle experience it is hard to believe that he would take great care to knowingly push is plane to the limit to observe something nominal and average. In any event we must remember that on this day in 1948 a fellow human and soldier lost his life, a very tragic event for his family and friends.

2.The Encounter and Crash

The UFO Is Spotted

Map showing location of Fort Knox, Kentucky depicted by black dot

On the day of January 7th, 1948 at approximately 1:20 PM due to several witnesses on the ground in Owensboro,Irvington, and Maysville (which was only 80 miles East) Kentucky making calls to the Kentucky State Police of a “large, circular, metallic object of 250-300 feet (91 meters) in diameter following a westbound path” and the crafts near proximity to the Gold Reserve at Fort Knox the state police notified Godman Airfield, which was the airfield serving Fort Knox. Godman asked Wright Field in Ohio if they had any aircraft in the air, which they didn’t. At around 1:45 PM Sgt. Quinton Blackwell and two other witnesses saw an object from where he was at inside the Fort Knox Airfield Control Tower. They also stated the object was changing from reddish color to white in some pattern. Base Commander Colonel Guy Hix reported a “very large, white, umbrella shaped object about one fourth the size of the Moon (from his perspective, not literally!).” He also stated that “through the binoculars it appeared to have a red or pink border at the bottom and remained stationary for seemingly one and one half hours.”

Four P-51 Mustangs, already in the air on their way to Standiford Air Field in northern Kentucky were called to investigate. They were lead by Captain Thomas Mantell.

Image of vintage Kentucky Air National Guard P-51 Mustang courtesy of

The Chase Begins

The Three Persons involved in the chase:

  • Captain Thomas Mantell
  • Lieutenant Albert Clemmons (Right wingman, only one with an oxygen mask, but it ran out,turned back at 22,500 feet)
  • 2nd Lieutenant B.A. Hammond (Left wingman,also turned back at 22,500 feet)
  • NOTE: The fourth pilot continued on to his destination due to lack of fuel and is not relevant.
In constant radio contact the whole time, Sgt. Blackwell ordered the Mustangs’ to intercept the unknown craft. One pilot had to quickly turn back as he was low on fuel. The three remaining planes continued on the intercept course. The two other pilots (other than Mantell) reported making visual contact with the object but said it was so small and far away they couldn’t identify it, this is possibly because the crafts altitude at the time was likely around 30,000 feet, which at the time before pressurized cabins was a unreachable altitude, at least a very dangerous and ill advised altitude to try to attain. The craft were in a steep climb and the other pilots suggested they level altitude and try to get a better visual of the craft, Mantell ignored his comrades advice; this was his first mistake.

Only one of Mantells’ companions, Lt. Albert Clemmons, had an oxygen mask available, which was nessicary to war in the low oxygen environment of 20,000 feet and above. Lt. Clemmons and Lt. Hammons called off their pursuit at 22,500 feet and returned to base. Mantell however, continued climbing to 30,000 feet. Anyone who knows anything about air flight and the atmosphere will tell you that without an oxygen mask or pressurized cabin (which wasn’t available at the time) you will black out from Hypoxia because the oxygen concentration levels are less at higher altitudes. This was Mantells’ second and fatal mistake. As best we know he blacked out from Hypoixa at around 30,000 feet, his plane then proceeded to plummet back down to Earth and crash at approximately 3:18 PM, at least that is the time his watched stopped. Before this though there was some very interesting observations made by Mantell as he briefly did catch up to the craft. The following is the reported actual radio communication transcript from the incident. All of the communications were not transcripted, or at least made public as an officer listening in Illinois made some stunning revelations, as we will see.

The following is quoted from the available transcripts I found:

"Godman Tower Calling the flight of 4 ships northbound over Godman Field. Do you read? Over.

[Pause] Godman Tower Calling the flight of 4 ships northbound over Godman Field. Do you read? Over."

"Roger, Godman Tower. This is National Guard 869, Flight Leader of the formation. Over."

"National Guard 869 from Godman Tower. We have an object out south of Godman here that we are unable to identify, and we would like to know if you have gas enough; and if so could you take a look for us if you will."

"Roger, I have the gas and I will take a look for you if you give me the correct heading.”
"The object is directly ahead of and above me now, moving at about half my speed...It appears to be a metallic object or possibly reflection of Sun from a metallic object, and it is of tremendous size... I'm still climbing... I'm trying to close in for a better look."

Now here is the interesting part that I mentioned above, this is a statement from USAF officer Richard Miller:
Richard T. Miller, who was in the Operations Room of Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois also made several profound statements regarding the crash. He was monitoring the radio talk between Mantell and Godman tower, and heard this statement very clearly. "My God, I see people in this thing!" Miller added that on the morning after the crash, at a briefing, investigators had stated that Mantell died "pursuing an intelligently controlled unidentified flying object." In conclusion, Miller made this statement, "that evening, Air Technical Intelligence Center officers from Wright-Patterson AFB arrived and ordered all personnel to turn over any materials relating to the crash. "Then, after we had turned it over to them, they said they had already completed the investigation." "I was no longer a skeptic. I had been up to that time. Now I wondered why the Government had gone to all of the trouble of covering it up, to keep it away from the press and the public."
Very interesting indeed, I see no reason for an officer of the USAF to lie about something like that. Is it true that Mantell actually saw “people in there”, he was the only one at that altitude as his other companions turned back at 22,500 feet. We all know what happened next. 

Now this from Captain James F. Duesler:

"The wings and tail section had broken off on impact with the ground and were a short distance from the plane," he recalled. "There was no damage to the surrounding trees and it was obvious that there had been no forward or sideways motion when the plane had come down. It just appeared to have "belly flopped" into the clearing. There was very little damaged to the fuselage, which was in one piece, and no signs of blood whatsoever in the cockpit. There was no scratching on the body of the fuselage to indicate any forward movement and the propeller blade bore no telltale scratch marks to show it had been rotating at the time of impact, and one blade had been embedded into the ground. The damage pattern was not consistent with an aircraft of this type crashing at high speed into the ground.

This observation could easily be interpreted as the plane crashed due to hostile actions, something like a force field bringing it down. But lets not assume that, it is only my speculation. Although the UFO left the area by about 3:50 PM it was later reported by multiple witnesses in Tennessee.

3. The Ensuing Investigation

Okay, here is where we are at so far, I know this is a lot of information to digest in the first read.

  1. Circular, Umbrella shaped UFO spotted near Fort Knox, Kentucky.
  2. Four P-51 Mustangs sent to intercept and investigate, only three were able to.
  3. Two of the three aircraft turned back at 22,500 feet due to safety reasons. They were only able to see something far off in the distance.
  4. Captain Mantell continued to increase altitude despite knowing it was dangerous, obviously he saw something he thought was worthy of the risk. Mantell reached between 28-30,000 feet and got an excellent view of the craft. All we know for sure is he said it was large, circular, and metallic. It is rumored he also said he saw “people” inside the craft.
  5. Shortly after this he blacked out(due to Hypoxia as described above) or was shot down (less likely, but still possible) and his plane fell back to the Earth killing him.
Alright, we are caught up now. The ensuing investigation and witness statements are what I will be sharing next. 

The Initial Investigation

45 minutes after engaging in the pursuit Captain Mantell was dead, still strapped in his aircraft but dead from the extreme forces involved from crashing 30,000 feet back down to Earth near a farm south of Franklin, Kentucky just near the Tennessee-Kentucky border . His watch stopped at 3:18 PM so we can assume that was his time of death as well. The plane was heavily damaged as one would expect. Here are some pictures of the crash…. 

Courtesy of
Courtesy of
Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Now let us look at the final USAF conclusion and some of the witness testimony of the UFO and the crash of Mantells’ plane. 

Official Air Force Conclusion: Captain Thomas Mantell lost consciousness and therefore lost control of his aircraft while pursuing an unknown flying object at high altitude. 

Some witness statements surrounding the event:

Glen Mays, who lived near Franklin, KY stated categorically that Mantell's plane exploded in mid-air." The plane circled three times, like the pilot didn’t know where he was going," reported Mays, "and then started down into a dive from about 20,000 feet. About halfway down there was a terrific explosion." Then again, there is the testimony of Godman Base Commander Guy F. Hix, who stated to reporters that he observed the craft for almost an hour through binoculars. He would not have confused what he saw with the planet Venus.

In more recent years, additional information has come forward. Captain James F. Duesler, who was one of several military officers at Godman, was retired and living in England. In 1997, he stated that he and several other officers actually saw the gigantic UFO hovering over Godman field that day. Duesler, who was a pilot and crash investigator, stated, "the UFO was a strange gray-looking object, which looked like a rotating inverted ice cream cone."

The report adds that no official transcription of the conversation has been recorded. However, later, the airmen present in the control tower at the time of the incident were interrogated.

Their declarations put together generated this version of the flight that cost the Captain's life. At approximately 02:45pm, Mantell stated that he saw the unidentified object "directly ahead and above me and flying at a speed twice less than mine". He continued: "It seems made out of metal and terribly large... it makes me think of the reflection of the sun on the transparent canopy of an airplane."

A P-51 fighter aircraft of the Army exploded in full sky and crashed on Joe Phillips's farm at approximately 5 miles in the south of Franklin yesterday afternoon towards 03:30 pm, killing the pilot, identified as being Thomas F. Mantell, 3533 River Park Drive, Louisville. The plane's identification was Ky. NG 869.

Mrs. Joe Phillips said she was sitting at the fireplace when she heard the plane, with its engine seemingly at difficulty, flying close to the house. Almost at once there was a great explosion. Surprised, she looked though the window and saw the disintegrated aircraft strike the ground in a wooden area at approximately 200 yards of her house.

Pieces of the aircraft were found within a quarter of mile of the point of impact. Several Franklin people declared they have heard the explosion.

A vapor column still floated in the sky one hour after the crash.

Another eyewitness, Barbara Mayes, a student in Franklin said she saw the aircraft exploding as it was high in the sky. She waited for the bus that would bring her back home from the Lake Springs college when she saw the explosion.

This directly from the Air Force investigation Project Bluebook…

"... based on unpublished reports assembled at the Wright-Patterson Air Force base. The Air Force investigation has proved that the flying saucers "are not a joke." Neither are they a cause for alarm to the population."

"a report on new files at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base lists 240 domestic and 30 foreign accounts of flying discs as having been investigated. Of these 30 per cent seem to have been weather balloons and the like and 30 per cent more are perhaps explainable conventionally-leaving 40 per cent unexplained."

"The Air Force recently said there was no evidence that the discs were guided missiles fired from some other country, but that on the other hand it was not impossible that they were. Later the Air Force announced it was not making any further comments on the discs: "We can't prove or disprove the existence of some of the remaining unidentified objects as real aircraft of unconventional design. The possibility that the saucers (the rest is illegible)"

Here are some more links to notable witness accounts: 

4. Alternate Explanations

Inexperience with P-51?

This explanation could be used as a secondary explanation to the crash but not as the primary. This does not account for the visual confirmation of the actual object. 


Courtesy of

This is more possible but still not likely as the astronomical reports state that Venus would not have been observable at this time. Not to mention the fact that it is highly unlikely that multiple trained military personal would confuse the planet Venus with a UFO.

The Mantell Crash was quickly investigated by Project Sign, the Air Force's new research group which had been created to study UFO incidents. Though Project Sign's staff never came to a conclusion, other Air Force investigators ruled that Mantell had misidentified the planet Venus, and, wrongly believing that he could close in to get a better look, had passed out from the lack of oxygen at high altitude.

However, this conclusion was later changed, because although Venus was roughly in the same position as the UFO, astronomers working for Project Sign ruled that Venus would have been nearly invisible to observers at that time of day. The cause of Mantell's crash remains officially listed as undetermined by the Air Force.

A Skyhook Balloon?

Courtesy of 

Again possible, but not likely. It is note worthy to say that this was a top secret Navy project and no one at the airbase would have known of it. It also can somewhat fit the description of the craft. The Skyhook balloon was about 100 feet in diameter and metallic in color. This however does not account for the remaining size discrepancy nor the color changing of the craft. Also it does not account for the people observed in the craft or the large umbrella shape of the craft. Although it is true that Skyhook balloons were launched on January 7th in Clinton County, Ohio the fact is they were 150 miles northeast of the base. This has been disputed as other investigations show that no balloon was launched on that day. Also I highly doubt that even without knowledge of the balloons experienced military officers and pilots would have mistaken any form of balloon for a unknown craft. As you saw in the picture above it obviously looks like a balloon. This is however the most likely alternate explanation. Even though the USAF could not (lol) locate any records of any balloons being launched on that day they still maintain this as true. 

New Information comes to light…

Updated: 24 August 2007:

In March of 2006, Drew Speier* of WFIE TV in Evansville, Indiana, asked me to help them produce a segment on the Mantell incident for Channel 14. I advised him that there were much better UFO cases and that there was considerable controversy surrounding the case. In hopes of doing other, much better segments in the future, I consented to do the show for the May showing. The show aired on May 23 (transcript). Our thanks to Mr. Speier and WFIE, as we re-opened the case and found some surprising new information. An update by WFIE was "filmed" on June 28th and shown on the 26th of July (transcript).

Several official documents indicate that the Skyhook balloon theory does not work.

1) Skyhook balloons were NOT classified; their missions were. A Popular Science article released only a few months later in May of 1948 proves this. But three years later the Navy made the ridiculous debunking claim in 1951 that secret Skyhooks explained all the "reliable" reports.

2) A "restricted" document shows that Kentucky State Police and callers described an object as "250-300 feet in diameter and moving at a pretty good clip" which later evidence proved was definitely not a Skyhook. The location of the Skyhook south of Nashville was confirmed in another restricted document mentioning world renowned astronomer, Dr. Carl Seyfert, discoverer of the "Seyfert galaxies," among other observers and is in both AF files and news reports. Columbia, Tennessee observers saw it to the north at about the same time as Seyfert and Nashville witnesses, and this brackets the Skyhook's location in the middle about 150 miles from Godman Field and impossible as a stimulus for the primary cases. Incidentally, the Popular Science article even shows the Skyhook launched on January 6th!!! Three other sets of restricted or confidential documents describe an object 250-300' in diameter and much closer. For details see USAF-SIGN1 280, USAF-SIGN1-376, and MAXW-PBB3 680-681.

Accident report documents (and others) are also allowing us to construct an accurate flight timetable for the Mantell chase and it apparently proves that all the previous scenarios of what happened are wrong, simply because Mantell's wingmen lied about it afterward to cover up their complicity in flying too high without oxygen.

Link to Skyhook launch charts

5. USAF Conclusions and My Research

To re-hash what I stated earlier the first official explanation from the USAF by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt was that Mantell lost consciousness while pursuing an unknown object, and thus crashed. This was later changed to a more conventional “balloon theory” (sound familiar?)Here are some interesting contradictions.

  • The first team to investigate were from the USAF Project Sign(which later became Bluebook), they stated that Mantell mistook Venus for a UFO. We now know that is not true as Venus could not have been seen at that time.
  • After the embarrassment of the Venus explanation the USAF found another explanation, that was the Skyhook Balloon. Although there were conflicting accounts of any balloons being launched that day. A lot of researchers believe this was simply a convenient cover story, like Project Mogul was for Roswell.
  • It is interesting to note that the final official report from the USAF was that Mantell was mistakenly chasing a balloon and blacked out due to Hypoxia. The Project Bluebook report was that the object and cause of the crash was unknown. But it was speculated that the crash was caused from pilot Hypoxia, the object still remains unknown.
In 1956, USAF Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, the supervisor of the Air Force's Project Blue Book study into the UFO mystery, would write that the Mantell Crash was one of three "classic" UFO cases in 1948 that would help to define the UFO phenomenon in the public mind, and would help to convince Air Force intelligence specialists that UFOs were a "real", physical phenomenon. 
But yet he reverses his statement later and becomes one of the prime proponents of the balloon theory? Again doesn't  this sound familiar(Roswell in case you haven’t figured out already)?
  • We have a source who worked with the Skyhook project say that no balloons were launched from Clinton County, Ohio until July 9th, 1952.
  • We are left with the fact that the nearest point of origin for a Skyhook was Camp Ripley, Minnesota.
  • At an average drift speed of 18-25 MPH it is possible that a balloon could travel the 750 miles to Fort Knox with an 8 AM launch on the day prior to the sightings.
  • It is possible if you plot a course from Camp Ripley to Fort Knox to believe that indeed it could have been a simple balloon,however one must take into account the fact that the craft was seen moving westward at times, this is in the wrong direction if the southeastern path is to be taken into account. This could be due to witness mistakes or changes in local wind direction. What about the stationary path reported at 1:45 PM by ground personal? This could be due to localized drift variations, although those are more common in the Summer months. Another aspect to take into account is that Mantell stated the object moving at around 180 MPH, that is not acceptable for a balloon theory. 
  • Also what is not acceptable is the “time warp” as I call it (copyrighted,lol) where the object was spotted in Columbia, Tennessee(which is 50 miles south of Nashville) BEFORE it was spotted in Nashville! That is not possible if you believe the southeast track of Skyhook to be true. Was there TWO CRAFT, one Skyhook and the other something else?

  • Air Force Captain Edward J. Ruppelt (the first head of Project Blue Book) notes that there was some disagreement amongst the air traffic controllers as to Mantell's words as he communicated with the tower: some sources reported that Mantell had described an object "which looks metallic and of tremendous size," but others disputed whether or not Mantell actually said this.
Timeline of Events

1:20PM CST: Godman tower informed, other sightings continue west of Fort Knox near Irvington and Owensboro. 

1:45PM CST: Multiple ground witnesses at Godman base report object, visuals range from a “ice cream cone shaped object topped with red” to “like an umbrella with red changing from top to bottom.” 

2:45PM CST: Mantell told to intercept, makes visual with object. Godman says the object “dwarfs the size of the planes”. Mantell continues persuit while other planes abandon. States object matches or exceeds his speed. 

3:18PM CST: Mantell crashes and dies. 

3:20PM CST: Third shift takes over at base and is told they are pursuing a “disc, balloon, or strange object”. 

4:05PM CST: Mantells comrades re take flight after refueling not knowing he had crashed. 

4:30PM CST: Vanderbilt University astronomer sees an object near Nashville, Tennessee, south-southeast of city.

After this the sightings stopped in the regions. It is interesting to note once again however, that the Skyhook was spotted in Columbia ,Tennessee(at 4:05PM) BEFORE it was spotted in Nashville(at 4:30PM). I live in Columbia, we are about 50 miles south of Nashville. How is this possible? Is it indeed that there was a Skyhook in the area BUT there was also something else? Although other reports from Ohio came later that night they are thought to be unrelated and likely from the planet Venus. Rather or not this is true remains to be proven, although it is likely the explanation for the later Ohio sightings. The problem I have with the Skyhook(one of many problems actually) is that if the UFO was indeed the Skyhook than why was this story allowed to spread and be investigated by Bluebook? One explanation is that the Navy (who owned the project) did not want to be held accountable for Mantells death and thus stayed out of it. But then why do we have some officials saying the balloon was launched from Ohio and others saying Minnesota? The theory, regardless if true or not, is as always with the military a complete mess and puzzle. 

Helpful Links

6. Final Conclusions
Courtesy of (Click link for full image) 

That map was a detailed overlay of the flight path of the P-51s with respect to sightings from first observation in Kentucky to last sighting in Nashville(?). 

We have here one of the most researched, debated, and publicized UFO-aircraft encounter cases there is. There is a plethora of information but still no final absolute. In fact this is in general terms one of the best UFO cases. But as usual there is serious conflicting reports from both sides (debunkers and believers), with that said there is still enough evidence to make a good judgement on what happened. It all comes down to your core beliefs for most; d you believe or not? It shouldn’t, it should come down to the facts but it is what it is. There are equally good and bad arguments from both sides of this; one side has much documentation,professional opinions, and the status quo. But it has conflicting stories and things that just don’t add up with logic. Like do you really think all these military officials would act like this over a balloon? Why are there so many conflictions of “facts” and change of testimony? Why did this craft seemingly cause a “time warp”(just a metaphor!) by being seen 50 miles south of Nashville BEFORE it was seen I Nashville? Talk about a paradox! 

On the other side of the argument you have the expertise of war hardened military officials who were convinced this was something “unknown”, and remember the Skyhook projects weren’t classified, only their launch dates. Why did a two time World War Two medal winner and commander risk his life knowingly for just a balloon or Venus? Logic says he would know the difference. A lot of unusual weather conditions would have had to occur to cause this “balloon” to make some of the flight paths and speed changes it made as well. Why did the head of Bluebook state this was one of the “classic” cases that changed UFOs perception by the military and then recant that later? 

What about the “missing” transcripts? On the flip side of this however, you have the documentation and later statements from official and trusted sources offering compelling evidence in favor of a balloon. You have observations from astronomers on the ground in Tennessee describing a Skyhook almost to detail. Then you have the “War Nerves” that are expected immediately after a world war. The biggest thing like always is of course the total lack of a “smoking gun”, the only thing is the transmissions (which are debated) of a dead pilot, witness reports, and circumstantial evidence. All in all this one is pretty even in my opinion, one must look heavily at the facts and decide based not on bias, but logic as to what really happened. 

We also must not forget while getting caught up in this research that what ever the cause, rather it be the first UFO caused death or a tragic misunderstanding; that a young human life was lost on that January 7th day in 1948. A family lost their son and brother,friends lost their friends, and the United States lost a soldier. I do pray for him or anyone that I found has died as it is only respectful. Well that’s all I have right now so I hope someone finds this interesting and everybody have a great weekend!


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