It all began in the early afternoon of January 7th, 1948, when witnesses reported to local authorities the presence of a strange round object over Madisonville, Kentucky, heading south. This "UFO" was described as round, very large and bright. Immediately, 3 North American P-51 Mustang fighters, which had already gone out for an exercise, were sent by the nearest military base to make contact with the object. The squadron, then led by Captain Thomas Mantell, began to pursue the unusual object.
At 3:15 p.m., Captain Mantell spoke to the control tower and announced, "I saw the object. It is above me. I'll try to get closer to it, to get a better look at it... It looks metallic... It's terribly large, about 170 meters in circumference. It's growing in height; it's flying at the same speed as me. I'm going to follow it up to 6,000 metres.".
At 3.20 p.m., the leader of the operation speaks one last time: "The object is going up. It has picked up speed and is climbing as fast as I am, about 580 km/h." I'm going to climb up to 7,000 metres and if I don't catch up to it, I'll give up hunting".
Accelerating in a way that was inexplicable at the time, the object disappeared into a cloud. The 2 other pilots abandoned the pursuit but not Captain Mantell who decided to continue to pursue the UFO. It was at this point that the base control tower lost radio contact with Captain Mantell's plane... Finally, at 5:00 p.m., Thomas Mantell's body was found in the debris of his plane, 145 km from Godman's base. The plane is said to have climbed to an altitude of 9000m and his watch was found stopped at 15:18. The investigation concluded that Captain Mantell had lost consciousness due to a problem in his aircraft's oxygen supply. The aircraft would then have fallen in a nose-down attitude until the crash.
Captain Mantell top left / The photo is of the wreckage of Captain Mantell's aircraft.
To explain this phenomenon, the army put forward two hypotheses:
- The pilots of the squadron as well as the numerous witnesses would have confused the planet Venus (actually visible in broad daylight during this period) with a UFO.
- The confusion could have been made with a weather balloon or a Navy Skyhook balloon dropped from Clinton, Ohio.
The hypothesis of a UFO was not retained ! But the second hypothesis, which became the official explanation, was contested by Captain Duesler (one of the three US Air Force investigators who analysed the area where the plane crashed) in 1997 ! He asserted that it was not possible that the plane crashed in a nose-down attitude as it was said to have done ! Indeed, the crash zone and the plane itself were more or less intact, which would have been impossible if the plane had crashed like that ! This story is then again and again a mystery that will probably never find its answers !
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