The Captain Thomas F.
Captain Thomas F. Mantell was
Kentucky Air National Guard pilot and at 25 years of age a veteran of
World War II (awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal w/3
OLCs for heroism) with a total recorded flight history of over 2,000
2:45 p.m. on January 7, 1948, he along with three other pilots were
instructed to approach an Unidentified Flying Object observed by a
number of witnesses in the skies above Kentucky. He crashed shortly
thereafter, his shattered wristwatch stopped at 3:18 the time of impact.
episode apparently began at around 1:20 p.m. when control tower
operators at Godman Army Airfield received a call from the Kentucky
State Highway Patrol of an unusual object in the skies near Maysville,
other reports (of a white, round westerly moving object 250 to 300 feet
in diameter) were also received from Owensboro and Irvington.
1:45 p.m. the object was sighted from Godman itself, and shortly
thereafter four P-51 Mustangs already airborne (one piloted by Mantell,
officer commanding) were ordered to close. One pilot low on fuel broke
off almost immediately, but the other two accompanied Mantell in almost
At 22,500 feet (6,900 meters) Lieutenants
Clemons and Hammond broke off the chase. Mantell, however, seemingly
obsessed continued to climb until apparently blacking out from hypoxia
at 25,000 plus feet (7,600 meters). His plane was observed to stall
before spiraling earthward, crashing shortly thereafter on a farm near
the Tennessee-Kentucky state line.
Within a short time the
object disappeared in a southward direction into Tennessee and the
rumors began ( a government cover-up was under way, the plane had been
shot down by a UFO, the pilot’s body was riddled by holes etc). 
Sign, a study of the UFO phenomenon by the U.S. Air Force during the
years 1947/48 failed to reach a conclusion  while other
investigators ruled Mantell was chasing the planet Venus.
The object was a balloon, quite possible in view of the multiple
sightings with common or similar descriptions:
astronomer Dr. Carl K. Seyfert at approximately 4:30 p.m. forty five
miles away in Nashville, Tennessee, as filed from Wright Field in Ohio,
that Dr. Seyfert . . . had spotted an object SSE of Nashville that he
had identified as a pear shaped balloon with cables and a basket
attached, moving first SSE, then W, at a speed of 10 miles per hour at
25 thousand feet. This was observed between 16:30 and 16:45. 
the January 8 Nashville Tennessee Banner . . . Two Hopkinsville
aviators, Jimmy Garnett and Bill Crenshaw, investigated the object by
plane and identified it as a "free weather balloon" (there were no
instruments attached to it). Telescope observers here and at Franklin,
Columbia and Clarksville also identified the object as a balloon. As
well as . . . At Madisonville, Ky., where Hugh Clark and Thomas Gant
observed what they believed was the same balloon from a plane, the
Weather Bureau surmised that it might have been one of 21 weather
observation balloons sent up by Northwestern University at Evanston,
And as for Mantell himself, though an experienced
pilot, he was new to the P-51 Mustang, its idiosyncrasies and rate of
climb (the afore consistent with the official opinion that he blacked
out at altitude and lost control of the aircraft).
 There is
some speculation that a Skyhook (a balloon capable of reaching
extremely high altitudes and used to provide a stable platform for a
wide variety of top secret research equipment) possibly launched from
either Clinton County, Ohio, some 150 miles (240km) away or from Camp
Ripley, Minnesota, 750 miles (1200km) away might have been the
unidentified object, and that the Air Force not wishing to be
implicated in, or held responsible for, the death of an Air National
Guard pilot did attempt a cover-up/misinformation campaign.
 Mantell’s UFO encounter is still listed as “undetermined” by the
U.S. Air Force.
 Seyfert said he originaly thought the object to be Venus, sometimes
bright enough to be seen in daylight, then a comet.
Skyhook/Mogul balloons, highly classified at the time, were in all
probability unidentifiable as such by either civilian authorities or
regular U.S. Air Force personnel of the day.
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