Friday, June 13, 2008

The UFO landing on Presque Isle

One of the reasons I became fascinated with UFOs so early in life was because of a sighting that happened in 1966 in my home town of Erie, Pennsylvania. I was only a child at the time but the story became legend in this small town. It was investigated by officials from the State Police and Air Force and became case #10798 of Project Blue Book in which it was classified as unsolved.

But it may or may not be able to be classified as unsolved any longer.

Of course many of you know UFO sightings have become more frequent over Lake Erie in the more recent years, mostly in the area of Sandusky, Ohio. Especially of note is the Michael Lee Hill video which was shot in August of 2006.

However there was something particularly special about the 1966 sighting at Beach 6 of Presque Isle, besides its being classified as unsolved. It was a Close Encounter of the Third Kind.

Presque Isle State Park is Pennsylvania’s most frequented State Park. Its over seven miles of beaches on Lake Erie are usually jam packed through the warm summer months. It was on the hot and humid night of Sunday July 31st 1966 that six people had come from nearby Jamestown, New York to enjoy a refreshing visit to popular Beach 6 along the northern edge of the park. Those present that night were Betty Jean Klem (16), Douglas J Tibbets (18) came along with Gerald LaBelle (26) and Mrs. Anita Haifley (20) who brought along her children Sandra (2) and Sara (6 months). Somehow during the evening their car became stuck in the sand in the east end of the beach parking lot and try as they might the men could not dislodge it. Others who were leaving the park gave assistance by offering a ride to Mr. LaBelle so he could get a tow truck to free the stuck vehicle. Within a few minutes of this Park Policemen Ralph E. Clark and Robert Loeb Jr. drove by the beach and noticed the trapped car. Stopping at the car they promised that they would return to render assistance is Mr. LaBelle could not find anyone to help by the time they returned.

It was around 9:30pm when something strange happened. Mrs Klem recounts the events as recorded in the August 1, 1966 Erie Times News:

“We were sitting in the car waiting for help. We saw a star move. It got brighter. It would move fast, then dim. It came straight down. The car vibrated. I know we saw it, we had taken a walk in that area earlier. There was nothing between those trees then. All of a sudden it was just there.”

According to the witnesses the object was mushroom shaped with a narrow base rising to an oval structure. There were also lights on the back of the object. The UFO approached from the north and briefly hovered over the area before landing. Ms. Klem said a beam of light came from the craft and moved along the sand in a straight line as the craft dissapeared behind the tree line.

“It lit up the whole woods in the path. It wasn’t like a search light. There was light along the ground, along the whole path.” She said the light did not waiver but continued to extend into the woods.

About this time the patrol car with officers Clark and Loeb returned as promised to offer assistance. Immediately the light from the object extinguished. The officers approached the car and were told of the craft that landed in the woods, and Mr. Tibbets offered to show them the general area where he thought it touched down. With Douglas Tibbets leading the way, the officers followed along-leaving the two young women and the children alone in the car.

Moments later as Betty Klem sat behind the steering wheel of the car she saw something emerge from the woods that the three had just entered. She thought at first that it was an animal, but then she saw the shape and size of it. What she saw was a dark featureless gorilla shaped humanoid about six feet tall walking toward them. Although not in the initial report in an interview with Mr. LaBelle on June 12th of 2008 he recounted that the girls told him that it circled the car from a distance and then came close and clawed at the car. Screaming in utter terror Ms. Klem immediately sounded the cars horn frantically. The creature then sluggishly moved back into the brush and the UFO rose and took off with incredible speed to the north just minutes before Mr. Tibbets and officers Clark and Loeb came running to their aid. To highlight the urgency at which they arrived Mr. LaBelle was told that one of the officers actually lost his service pistol in the sand and decided to forgo the seconds it would take to recover it in order to reach the distressed women as soon as possible.

Both girls were in a state of panic, and it took them a while to calm down. Mrs. Haifley was in such shock that she refused to talk about the incident. Ms. Klem initially refused to talk about it also but after removed from the location she began to relax and told the tale. The officers noticed scratches on the car where the being had made contact, and all four insisted that they were not there before the visit to Presque Isle. The four adults and two children were taken by patrol car to the Park Ranger station where they detailed the story. According to Mr. LaBelle more heavily armed patrolmen came in to assist with the situation and they refused to let the young people go back to their car to retrieve their belongings until morning.

By 7am the following morning the State Police and United States Air Force were involved. Officers Paul Wilson and Robert Canfield investigated the area and found unusual impressions in the sand. About 350 to 400 yards away from the car two diamond shaped imprints about 18 inches wide and 6 to 8 inches deep were found 10 to 12 feet apart were discovered. In another place three impressions were found in a triangular pattern about 11 feet apart from each other. Finally officer Wilson found tracks that led in a straight line to the car. They were conical shaped, about 8 inches wide 5 to 7 inches deep and five to eight feet apart. Officer Wilson reported that he did not believe that they were footprints but seemed to have been made by some kind of heavy object or objects. Sometime during the morning Air Force investigators took a statement from Ms. Klem. Soon after the incident she was also interviewed by a Psychiatrist who affirmed that the testimony she gave about the incident seemed to be true and not due to illness or delusion.

In the days following the sighting beach 6 was filled with UFO enthusiasts waiting to catch a glimpse of what those young people saw that Sunday night, but no one else had such an experience.

I’m sure many of you have heard some version of this encounter. Various versions add or subtract various details. The memory of this incident lingers on in the small port town of Erie, Pennsylvania and every once in a while it is discussed various local media. Such is the case with this report from YouTube.

The reporter covering the Presque Isle story is Brian Sheridan, a well respected and long time television journalist in the Erie community. He is now a part time reporter for the local ABC and FOX affiliates and full time Professor of Communications at Mercyhurst College. Some of you may remember Erie’s well reported and infamous “Pizza Bomber” case a few years ago, Mr. Sheridan was the only reporter on the scene at the time and it was his report that was viewed worldwide.

Right after this report Mr. Sheridan received a phone call from a local truck driver, Mr. Kim Faulkner. He claims that this incident was nothing more that a hoax. Mr. Sheridan interviewed him and found his story to be legit. He did a follow up report “UFO at Presque Isle part 2-Solved!”

After seeing these videos I contacted Brian Sheridan and asked if he thought Kim Faulkner’s story was just a way for him to get his 15 minutes of fame. He wrote me back saying,

“…His brother confirmed the story Faulkner told. We also found the Boy's Life ad he mentioned. He was also the only one who contacted us after the first story ran who did not claim they did it as a hoax or prank. It made the most sense of anyone we talked with at the time. Other people just wanted to brag. Faulkner didn't even want to go on camera. He just called to fill me in on the story after his brother told him about the first piece we aired.”

The balloon that Mr. Faulkner launched as a child on that July night can still be purchased here:

So it seems the case is closed. We have a cause and a park policeman from the original report that seems to doubts the veracity of the sighting. Or is it? Something just didn’t sit right with me about the report. According to the report the wind carried the balloon northwest from Mr. Faulkner’s boyhood home on 1817 West 22nd street (almost at the corner of 22nd and Greengarden Avenue) a distance of almost 3 miles. Here is a visual of the path that the balloon took according to the Mr. Sheridan’s report from Mr. Faulkner. The dark blue dot is beach 6

I spent many hours in the outdoors of Erie County and frequently observed weather patterns. I could be mistaken but it seemed that during the summer months the winds primarily came from the southwest, which would have driven the balloon to the northeast-not northwest. So I went back to the newspapers of July 30 –August 1st 1966 and found that the indeed the winds off lake Erie at the time were coming from the southwest varying from 9-22 knots. I contacted local meteorologists to make sure I was not mistaken and was told unless there was some strange pattern that was not recorded then the balloon would definitely have traveled to the northeast. Here is a visual of the balloons path according to the meteorological information obtained from the records. The red is the direct path, the pink is the extremes of the possible variations of the path and the dark blue dot is again Beach 6.

Now I am by no means calling into question neither the reporting of Mr. Sheridan nor the veracity of Mr. Faulkner’s statement. But it just doesn’t seem possible that the Faulkner balloon was the source of the encounter on July 31st 1966. Leaving out the wind trajectory alone it also does not jive with the details of the report. Even given gullibility or mass hysteria, it would seem to be a far stretch that the sighting of a 9 foot children’s hot air balloon would cause the frenzy that ensued on beach 6 that hot July night. There is also the physical evidence that verified some of the witnesses’ details. Evidence classified as such by professional policemen and the United States Air Force and not just park police who usually have far less experience in such investigations. Many articles I have read about the case cast a shadow on the young people of the story, making them out to be naive teenagers out for a late night romantic interlude at a secluded location and having been caught they make up a fanciful story. Mr. LaBelle even told me he was accused of fabricating the incident by using a flashlight and playing tricks on the passengers in the car for a practical joke. But the facts show nothing of the sort. And Mr. Belle, 32 years after the fact holds to the story.

Also it is a little reported fact that the UFO was observed by more than these 5 individuals at beach 6. In the August 1st 1966 Erie Times News a side story is included with the initial report of the UFO at Presque Isle, it’s titled “Eight others see ‘UFO’ in Erie Area. These 8 individuals saw a UFO the same evening between the hours of 8pm to midnight.

Steve Lupe was on Beach 2 with a group of friends that evening and he along with 3 others spotted an object hovering near the Peninsula around 8:30pm.

French exchange students Helena Roche and Alain Orcel living at 412 Frontier Drive about a mile away from the beaches of Presque Isle saw a lighted silvery object flying low that evening.

Stephanie Mango of 4704 Homeland Ave also saw it, saying it flew silently at treetop level. It was round and it’s color undistinguishable. The object moved toward the beach and then changed course and moved toward Erie’s Bay area where it disappeared from sight.

Sue Karie, Linda Henderson, and Janice Dickey were sleeping out in the yard of the Karie household at 1012 Shenley Drive when around 11pm when they spotted the silvery object flying from south to north. She reports that “I heard a whistling sound and looked up and saw an object moving north as high as The Boston Store (about 138 ft). It was very low, and we all ran and got into the station wagon and locked the doors when we saw it.” She said at first it looked like a star but it kept fading in and out. It was round and saucer shaped and they saw if for a minute after which it disappeared.

Here is a map compiling all the locations of these additional sightings that night located by the red dots. The light blue dot is where Mr. Faulkner released his balloon and the dark blue is beach 6 for reference.

So we do not have to rely upon the testimony of those who encountered the UFO close up at beach 6 that July evening in1966. I think the evidence is irrefutable that something landed on Presque Isle that night. And it seems to have had an occupant that looked very much like a Bigfoot type hominid. What it was is as much a mystery today as it was back in the summer of 1966.

The original witnesses like many of those from the various 1960’s sightings are aging and some are no longer with us. Mr. LaBelle informed me that Douglas Tibbits passed on a few years ago and Mrs.Haifley moved out west a long time ago and had not been heard from since. Betty Jean Klem is still in the Jamestown area but does not wish to revisit the events of that night. It gave her nightmares for years after and she has decided to moved on.

There is another strange incident associated with this event. During my interview with Mr. LaBelle he lamented the fact that in every newspaper archive he has searched the initial reports of the incident turn up missing. If it is microfilm, that section omitted. If it is an actual paper the page has been ripped off. I found this curious, for when I initially searched our local library for the newspaper microfilm of July 31, 1966 I noticed that someone has written on the box containing the months collection of newspapers “July 31, 1966 missing and cannot be replaced”.


Until next time,

Pastor Swope


cryptidsrus said...

Great story and post, Swope!!!

blogsquatcher said...

Always interesting to see the accounts of UFOs and bigfoot seemingly intertwined. I've collected your account, for what purpose I don't really know yet..

Ted said...

This is also in

How To Contact Space People