A Kentucky National Guard pilot dies in the pursuit of a UFOJust over 58 years ago, a Kentucky National Guard pilot crashed his plane and died while pursuing a UFO.
By Drew Speier & Rachel Chambliss
By Drew Speier & Rachel Chambliss
It was a story that made headlines and one that's still talked about today. But the question remains, what was Captain Thomas Mantell chasing that day?
It's a mystery dating back to 1947. A UFO allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. That story is well documented, but equally puzzling was this mystery regarding a UFO in the skies above Kentucky just a few months after the Roswell incident.
In 1956, a government film addressed this case, a case that'll never be solved because Captain Thomas Mantell from Simpson County, Kentucky, an experienced pilot and World War II Ace, took the answer to his grave.
It made headlines across the country. January 7th, 1948, 1:30 pm, Kentucky State Police receive reports of a UFO near Godman Air Force Base. The unidentified object is described as a big, bright, shiny star.
Four F-51 Mustangs, on their way to Standiford Air Force Base in Kentucky, are contacted by the tower. They're ordered to investigate a white object, some 300 feet in diameter. One plane returns for fuel and oxygen, the other three approached the object.
Pilot Thomas Mantell says he sees it ahead of him. The planes climbed to 22,000 feet, too high for WWII fighters without oxygen. Two returned to the base, leaving Captain Mantell in sole pursuit of the unknown.
Minutes later, Mantell with another transmission states, "Mantell to tower: it appears to be a metallic object, and it's of tremendous size."
Captain Mantell kept climbing, most likely past 30,000 feet. Radio contact was lost.
Minutes later, less than two hours from the initial sightings, Mantell's F-51 crashed on a farm in Franklin, Kentucky. His watch stopped at 3:16 p.m. His body, still strapped in his plane. By all accounts, he passed out from a lack of oxygen, forcing his plane to plunge to the ground.
Today, a historical marker sits near the site where Mantell's plane went down in Franklin, Kentucky. In fact, it went down on a farm nearby Joe Phillips farm. His son, a school child then, was one of the first on the scene.
William Phillips Jr. recalls, "We heard this real loud boom, you know. It actually shook the house. In fact, the best I remember it was two of them, like an explosion."
Phillips Jr. was six years old and home sick with his younger sister when the crash occurred.
He says, "We ran to the window, and just happened to pick the right window, and see it hit the ground, as it hit the ground."
The news of the incident immediately made headlines. Newspapers reported Mantell had been shot down by a magnetic ray from a flying saucer. The story took on a life of its own.
Mantell was the first person ever to die while pursuing an unidentified flying object.
The military's response - it was most likely a weather balloon.
Phillips Jr. argues, "I can't see that a balloon could move and out run a P-51. The P-51 was the fastest thing the military virtually had in '47."
It's a story that, almost 60 years later, is still talked about in Franklin, Kentucky where Mantell was born and, oddly enough, died, just a few miles from the Simpson County tourism building where he's honored.
Dan Ware, Simpson County Tourism, says, "There are many UFO buffs who stop by to ask and see what we've got, and want to know as much as they can about the story. It continues to fascinate people, even after 50 years."
To this day, people still wonder what Captain Mantell was chasing.
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See Also: Kentucky Decorated Military Pilot Died Pursuing UFO