Nov 11, 2013 7:28 PM
A national interest in UFO's was sparked, in part, by a plane crash in Kentucky back in 1948. A celebrated war pilot died while following an unidentified flying object.
65 years later, the cause of that Kentucky crash remains unclear.
"This is where it all began. Right out here," says Shelby Stones as she drives up to a small building that used to be her old school house in her neighborhood in Franklin, Kentucky.
"And this was where I was standing when it all happened. The plane was falling out of the sky just up the road here," she said, describing a day in January 1948 she'll never forget. "And that's what I remember most, is the noise it was making"
Stone was 11-years-old when she witnessed a military jet crash just beside her home. The pilot was World War II veteran Thomas Mantell, a 25-year-old, honored for his role in D-day, and now a captain in the Kentucky Air National Guard.
The crash Stone witnessed would forever changed the country's perception of UFO's. There's not much that remains of the crash from 1948, but there is this one artifact - it's a piece of Mantell's plane, and it shows wear and tear not just of age, but the crash itself, it's dented and scarred with burn marks on both sides. And it remains one of the last links to this great mystery from the 40's about what exactly happened to Mantell that day.
"Here was the very first individual to be a casualty of a UFO incident," said National Guard Historian John Trowbridge.
Trowbridge has studied this case.
"Godman Tower had been watching this thing. They'd gotten calls from around the area, from around the state, from state police," he said. "And it was just sitting there for so long and they were trying to figure out what it was. And, apparently, Colonel Hix, who was in the tower said 'hey, we see something. Can you investigate'?"
Before his death, Captain Mantell described the object as "tremendous in size, made of metal of reflective surface, moving at about 360 miles per hour."
Captain Mantell chased the object about 25-thousand feet into the air, say military records, when Mantell likely passed out from lack of oxygen, and then plummeted to the ground.
It's an explanation many have doubted, and one important piece of the mystery was never solved.
"They had no idea what this thing was. And this whole UFO phenomenon was brand new," Trowbridge said.
Above all, this is captain Mantell's legacy, the center of a still-unsolved mystery. That's not all that's mysterious about this case, though. Thomas Mantell lived in Louisville all his life, but was born in a Simpson County hospital. Historians say Mantell was only in Simpson County for two days in his life, the day he was born, and the day he died.