NASA to probe self for UFO dataKECKSBURG, Pa. - The U.S. government says nothing of note happened in this small town in the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania at 4:47 p.m. on Dec. 9, 1965. A meteor may have passed by, but no alien ship or Russian space probe fell to Earth, as many here believe.
By Sean D. Hamill
The Chicago Tribune
By Sean D. Hamill
The Chicago Tribune
Still, Bill Bulebush, 82, says he knows what he saw, heard and smelled, despite the doubts of the government and others in this community 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
"I looked up and saw it flying overhead and it was sizzling," said Bulebush, a retired truck driver. "I found it in the woods down there [in a valley] and I got to it 15 to 20 minutes after it landed. I saw it 10 to 15 feet away from behind a big tree -- because I was worried it might blow up -- and it smelled like sulfur or rotten eggs and was shaped like a huge acorn, about the size of a VW."
Other people said that shortly afterward, dozens of Army soldiers and three members of the Air Force showed up; later that night a flatbed military truck took the object away.
Despite such accounts, the government has been "trying to make it out like we're a bunch of liars," Bulebush said. But now he and his fellow believers may have their best chance yet to prove their case.
A recent settlement in a 4-year-long Freedom of Information Act court battle requires NASA to meticulously comb its files for documents about the Kecksburg incident.
The lawsuit was filed in December 2003 in the District of Columbia by Leslie Kean, a freelance journalist, with financial support from the SciFi Channel, which ran a show that year titled "The New Roswell: Kecksburg Exposed."
Searching for answers
Kean was asked by SciFi in 2002 to find a UFO case with credible witnesses and possible physical evidence. She created the Coalition for Freedom of Information to support the effort and to look into other "unexplained aerial phenomena."
Part of Kean's own criteria, despite SciFi's title for the Kecksburg show, was to pick a case as far removed as possible from the 1947 incident in Roswell, N.M. -- thought by many to be a crashed alien spaceship but later revealed to be a top-secret research balloon.
"The types that go to Roswell and parade in the street in costumes, we try to stay far, far away from that," she said.
Kean pressed the case after she filed a Freedom of Information Act request earlier in 2003 and NASA said it couldn't find any documents related to Kecksburg. But Kean already knew the space agency, which had a program in the 1960s to recover and analyze space debris, had some documents. Stan Gordon, a UFO and Bigfoot researcher with whom Kean was working, had information he got in response to a request he sent NASA in the 1990s.
"In the beginning, they probably saw Leslie's request and thought, 'Oh, she's after UFOs,'" said her attorney, Lee Helfrich of Washington. "Maybe they just didn't treat it seriously at first."
They do now.
From frustration, action
After NASA turned over about 1,000 pages of documents that failed to adequately address Kean's request, the case boiled over on March 20 for federal Judge Emmet Sullivan, who had tried to move NASA along for more than three years.
According to a transcript, the judge angrily referred to NASA's search efforts as a "ball of yarn" that never fully answers the request, adding: "I can sense the plaintiff's frustration because I'm frustrated."
A settlement was reached Oct. 17 specifying how NASA will make a new records search and that both sides must report to Sullivan periodically, starting Dec. 17. NASA also agreed to pay Kean $50,000 in attorneys' fees and costs.
In a statement, NASA would say only that it was "conducting another records search."
This past week Kean and her attorney received the first batch of documents: 689 pages of Form 135s, which are inventory sheets that indicate what is in boxes and files in NASA's archives.
Based on a first read of the documents -- from which Kean will select files for NASA to review for any documents related to Kecksburg -- Kean said she's "cautiously optimistic" that they'll turn up something.
"I asked my attorney if she found the 'Kecksburg UFO Explained' file," Kean said with a laugh. "She said, 'Not yet.' But I'm still hopeful."
Many people in Kecksburg believe Kean's effort is just another frivolous step down the rabbit hole of fantasy.
"I wouldn't go along with the stories because it didn't happen," said Ed Myers, 81, who was chief of the Kecksburg Volunteer Fire Department in 1965 and said he didn't see the dozens of soldiers or the blue lights some people swear they saw.
Myers no longer helps his hometown fire department, a decision that began when the department encouraged UFO speculation by displaying a mock-up of the craft that Bulebush and others said they saw.
The mock-up was created in 1990 for a documentary and now sits prominently on a hillside behind the fire hall.
After years of rejecting efforts to make money off the story, the fire department hosted a wildly popular Kecksburg UFO gathering two years ago on the 40th anniversary, and began selling T-shirts, mugs, plates and hats with a picture of the flaming acorn hurtling across the sky, along with the date, Dec. 9, 1965.
Sales continue today at the Kecksburg UFO Store in the basement of the Rescue EMS headquarters house near the fire hall.
"We've made about $10,000, mostly from shirts, so far," said Ron Strueble, 64, a fire department volunteer. "We're at the point now where we can start buying some additional equipment for the trucks."
For Bulebush, the UFO store is good for the town, but it's the lawsuit that he hopes will be his validation.
"I don't have too much time in this world. I'd like to be here to see this through," he said. "I want to find out what they're holding back on us."