By Sam Kusic
On Dec. 9, 1965, a fireball was reported streaking over four states, across the Pittsburgh area and toward Greensburg.
Local sightings touched off calls to police, who assumed they should be looking for an airplane on fire or a downed aircraft.
Around dinner time, residents of Kecksburg, a village in Mt. Pleasant Township, began reporting that something had fallen into a wooded area just outside the town.
Police responded. So did the fire department. And along with them came the curious onlookers.
Some people claim to have walked into the woods and seen a metallic object half-buried in the ground. They described it as acorn-shaped, big enough for a man to stand in, with some strange markings -- like hieroglyphics -- on it.
And within a few hours of the crash, the military showed up. Soldiers cordoned off the area, and some people reported being ordered to leave at gunpoint.
Also responding were newspaper, radio and television reporters, who heard police radio transmissions and received calls from people who had seen the fireball.
But by that point the woods had been declared off-limits to all.
In the wee hours of the morning, a military flatbed tractor-trailer was supposedly seen hauling some tarp-covered object out of the woods and speeding off into the night.
State police and the government later said they found nothing in the woods, insisting that people had seen a meteor that likely burned up before impact.
Kecksburg's fire department hopes to cash in on the anniversary of perhaps the biggest story to ever to hit the small village in Mt. Pleasant Township.
In cooperation with Stan Gordon, a Greensburg UFO and Bigfoot researcher, the community is set to recognize the purported UFO crash on Dec. 9, 1965, with a daylong event Saturday, complete with witnesses, speakers and even a refurbished replica of the object, a prop that was used when the television show "Unsolved Mysteries" produced a segment about the incident.
Because the rural department played a role that night four decades ago and because it is struggling financially, officials are hoping that a crowd with an interest in reports of flying saucers and aliens shows up with some cash to burn.
Admission is free, but there will be food, T-shirts, ball caps and DVDs for sale.
"We're just an old, country-style fire department. We've got something we can hold onto, and we're going to capitalize on it," said Rich Comp, co-chairman of the department's newly formed UFO and festival committee. "One of these days we're going to need a new truck."
Gordon, who maintains that he is convinced that something crashed 40 years ago, says interest is still high and people still speculate about what really happened in the woods of Kecksburg that night.
"Publicly, there seems to be a lot of support to find out what happened in 1965," he said.
He's lined up a list of speakers, all of whom either were in Kecksburg that night or are taking part in his ongoing investigation.
Among them are Leslie Kean, a journalist and the investigations director for The Coalition for Freedom of Information. According to the organization's Web site, its purpose is "achieving scientific, congressional and media credibility for the study of unexplained aerial phenomena while working for the release of official information and physical evidence."
Kean is the plaintiff in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against NASA that seeks records related to the incident.
The Harvard-educated attorney handling the case, Lee E. Helfrich, of the Washington, D.C., firm Lobel, Novins & Lamont, is also expected to attend. She will talk about the status of the lawsuit.
Larry Landsman, special projects director for the Sci Fi Channel, is another guest speaker. His station produced two documentaries on the Kecksburg incident and put together The Coalition for Freedom of Information.
Witnesses also will be on hand, including Robert Gatty, a former Tribune-Review reporter who covered the incident for this newspaper.
Gordon said that when all the witness accounts are taken together, each piece corroborates the other.
"Over the years, many different individuals were able to confirm what other people had already told us without them having known each other. So many pieces of the puzzle began to fit together after so many years of research," Gordon said.
He says the actions of the government that night continue to fuel theories -- and suspicions.
"What was so important that the military responded the way it did that night?"
He said he thinks there are three possibilities -- that what crashed was an advanced, manmade space probe with some re-entry capability, that it was part of a secret government or military experiment, or that it was an extraterrestrial spacecraft.
"It's an intriguing story," Gordon said.
Ron Struble, chairman of the community's UFO and festival committee, said there is no doubt in his mind that something did crash in Kecksburg. But the question of what it was is not for the community to answer.
"We're not investigators," he said.
The event is being held at the fire department's social hall. It begins at 1 p.m. Seating is limited.
* Special Thanks To Christian Macé
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