Cpt. Thomas Mantell
At around 2.45pm on January 7 1948, Captain Thomas Mantell arrived at Godman Field, near Fort Knox, Kentucky, on a ferrying flight. Accompanying him were five F-51s of the US Air National Guard. Before they could land an order was given to intercept a UFO which had been observed at around 1.20pm, hovering in the sky near the base. One fighter, low on fuel, was forced to land whilst Mantell and the others went in pursuit of the UFO.
Having reached an altitude of 15,000 ft (4,500m), two of Mantell’s wingmen peeled off and returned to Godman because their aircraft lacked the necessary oxygen demanded by USAF regulations when flying in excess of 14,000 ft (4,200m). Shortly after, Mantell radioed the control tower confirming visual contact with the UFO, which he described as “metallic and tremendous in size.” It appeared to be moving, he said, at about half his speed.
At 22,000 ft (6,600m) Lt. B A Hammond informed Mantell that he and his remaining pilot were abandoning the intercept, but he failed to respond and continued to climb. By 3.15pm he was lost to sight, and as there were no further calls from him a search was initiated almost immediately.
The wreckage of his P-51 Mustang was eventually located shortly after 5.00 pm on a farm in Franklin, Kentucky. His body was still inside it and his watch had stopped at 3.18pm, suggesting the time of impact.
Captain “Jim” F Duesler was a crash investigator stationed at Godman Field at the time and was required to attend the crash scene. He did so in the company of two other men. The trio were to make some strange discoveries concerning the crash, which had taken place in a small clearing surrounded by tall trees. When they arrived, Mantell’s body had already been taken away.
Military personnel who were present at the time were perplexed by the condition the body was in. The skin, they told Duesler, showed no signs of having been punctured or penetrated, despite all the bones in his body been completely crushed and pulverized. Duesler’s findings on inspection of the wreckage was equally strange. It looked as if the Mustang had “belly flopped” into the clearing. Because there was no damage to the surrounding trees it was obvious there had been no forward or sideways motion when the plane had crashed
Further investigations proved just as puzzling. The normally two foot wide fuselage, which was virtually undamaged, was now only nine inches wide. The condition of the propeller blades brought the investigators to the conclusion that they had not been rotating at the time of impact. The impact itself mystified Duesler. Because of the Mustang’s heavy front engine it should have nose-dived into the ground. This clearly was not the case. He went on to state: “There was no indication of any mechanical fault with the aircraft just prior to the crash. If there had been we would have expected Mantell to report this over the intercom. No such report was received.”
The official Army Air Force’s verdict was pilot error and the case was officially stamped ‘closed’ and the true circumstances of what had occurred entered the Project Saucer files, a secretive investigation group operating out of Wright-Patterson Army Air Field in 1948. Mantell, the AAF (Army Air Force) concluded, had blacked out due to lack of oxygen whilst trying to intercept a high altitude weather balloon.
In early 1948 the mood of the times was being reflected in films depicting aliens and their craft as being hostile, and so it was hardly surprising that rumours began to surface that one such invader had shot down Mantell.
In the 1950s the cultural mood had become distinctly bipolar. The movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still portrayed humanity, and not the aliens as a threat to world peace. Whereas in 1956, the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers showed aliens taking over human bodies in their conquest of the Earth. Both films demonstrate the uncertain light in which the UFO phenomenon was seen.
Venus or weather balloon?
At first the USAF seemed uncertain as to the cause of the Mantell crash, first explaining the UFO as the planet Venus and then later as a weather balloon – or a combination of both. It is now generally believed that what Mantell was chasing was a Skyhook balloon, secretly launched by the US Navy at the time, a scenario often touted by the military to explain away UFOs. The now famous Roswell Incident springs readily to mind.
To date, four possible scenarios have been given to account for Mantell’s death. The first suggests that he succumbed to oxygen starvation whilst chasing the planet Venus. This is unlikely, given that he was an experienced pilot and would not have mistaken the planet other than for what it was.
The second, that he succumbed to oxygen starvation whilst chasing a Skyhook balloon. This is entirely possible. However, independent witnesses of the Mantell UFO described it as an “inverted ice-cream cone” which suggests the balloon was flying upside down!
The third and fourth scenarios, put forward by commentators of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), suggests that Mantell was fired upon by aliens out of self-defence, or that he fell foul of the“power field” generated by their craft. The general consensus of opinion however is that Mantell’s death was the result of an unfortunate accident.
Following the Kenneth Arnold sighting of 1947, Americans and Europeans were ready to assume that “flying saucers” were from outer space. The idea of space exploration had already been mooted before WWII, and during the conflict German rocket technology had advanced spectacularly. Little wonder then that the USSR and USA rushed to recruit German scientists and technicians after the hostilities had ceased. The Americans feared that the USSR would soon develop its own nuclear capabilities, thus making an invasion of the US feasible. Its citizens and military were obsessed with the fear of communist invasion, and so the political anxieties of the time concerning invasions of all kinds and the idea of life in space came together in an odd sort of marriage. The ‘logic’ at the time was that if UFOs were not of terrestrial origin then they had to come from outer space, thus giving birth to the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis, which has remained popular ever since.
A Place in History
Here, as in so many UFO cases, a clever disinformation programme was initiated to stifle the truth behind the Mantell affair. The Department of Defence (DoD) issued an official report that they claimed was made by Captain Duesler. Duesler has denied ever writing such a report to any authority and claims the DoD report is a fake and full of flaws.
During an interview with UFO investigator Tony Dodd, Duesler said that the faked statement included the words: ‘Certified A True Copy – James F. Duesler, Jr. Captain USAF.’ This had to be false because Duesler did not serve in the United States Air Force, but the US Army Air Corps before the inception of the USAF.
Even if we assume that Mantell died as a result of chasing a high altitude weather balloon, it does not explain the bizarre state of the wreckage and its occupant at the crash site.
To inject further mystery to this already unusual story, Duesler met a Dr. Loading, an aeronautical engineer who came in from Wright Field, Ohio, on the day after his initial investigation. Loading told Duesler that he was in charge of what he called the ‘Saucer Project‘, and that they were aware of high saucer activity taking place in and around large military exercises. Interestingly, just such an exercise had been taking place at Camp Campbell some fifty miles away on the day Mantell crashed.
Loading also went on to indicate that they were aware of the extraterrestrial nature of these craft and said, “Thank God they are not hostile, otherwise we wouldn’t stand a chance.”
Military history records Mantell’s death as due to ‘pilot error’, and who could argue otherwise? We can only speculate on what might have confronted him on that fateful day. His last message that it was “metallic and tremendous in size” leaves us with some intriguing possibilities.
The Cash/Landrum Affair.
On a lonely road near to Huffman, East Texas, Betty Cash, Vickie Landrum and Colby Landrum (Vickie’s grandson), who were making a journey to Dayton, Texas, USA, saw a bright light in the sky ahead of them. When they drew nearer to the light, they saw that it was an object of some kind. Vickie described it as “A diamond on fire.”
The UFO had flames shooting out from the bottom of it. Its centre was ringed with blue lights or spots. When they were approximately 60 metres from the object, Betty stopped the car and all three got out to take a closer look. When Colby became afraid, he and Vickie got back in the car, followed a couple of minutes later by Betty, who had to use the sleeve of her jacket to open the door.
As they watched the UFO move away they all saw a large number of single rotor and twin rotor helicopters come into view. After resuming their journey they could see the UFO and helicopters from the main highway, before turning off toward Dayton and home.
The case wasn’t to end here, however. Some time later all three witnesses suffered some kind of after effects, which some have attributed to radiation exposure. Vickie and Betty suffered from a considerable amount of hair loss and all three experienced skin burns, headaches, vomiting, eye irritation and diarrhoea. Betty suffered the worse and was hospitalised several times, eventually developing breast cancer.
Several ideas were put forward by the UFO community regarding the origins of the Cash/Landrum UFO. In general they broadly reflect the spectrum of positions that ufologists take regarding such craft. They are as follows:
- A top secret atomic powered military aircraft that bore no relation to extraterrestrial UFOs. (Author’s note: If this was secret terrestrial technology why would the military choose to test fly it over a populated area?)
- A top-secret military device piloted by ETs.
- UFO piloted by human pilots.
In 1986 an attempt was made to sue the US government for $30 million dollars damages as a result of the encounter. Because the US army, navy or airforce denied owning or operating such a craft the case was thrown out, with neither of the defendants or witnesses uttering a word. The question remains: who owned and who piloted the CH-47 twin-blade Chinook helicopters that appeared to be escorting or pursuing the UFO? We may never know the truth for sure.
Its Place in History.
That Betty and her companions had come into contact with something physically real that night, and was not an hallucination, is unassailably true. The symptoms they displayed following their encounter were consistent with exposure to microwave, ultraviolet and X-ray radiation too severe to be self-inflicted. But what had caused their great suffering? The principal investigator of the case, John Schuessler, interviewed airforce generals and congressmen about the incident. Their answers turned out to be contradictory or downright lies. It seemed they were going to great lengths to deny the entire event, despite further witnesses coming forward from the outskirts of Houston to say that they too had seen bright lights and helicopter activity that night.
Peter Gersten – a lawyer specialising in such cases – clearly believed a military cover-up had taken place and that the craft that irradiated his client was of US origin and not extraterrestrial. Though his attempt to sue the government failed, the case brought to the fore the need for accountability. It was a brave stance that sent out an unequivocal message to the powers that be and the shadowy, covert groups who do their bidding.
For Betty Cash that accountability will never be realised. Some years later, on the exact same date as the encounter occurred, she died from cancer. Hers is a case worthy of a place in UFO history, not least because of her great suffering but because she dared to make answerable to the people the role the government and military played in the affair.
© David Calvert 2011
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