The Kecksburg, Pennsylvania "UFO Crash" -
actually the Great Lakes Fireball of December 9, 1965

The fireball that started the Kecksburg 'UFO crash' story

Robert Sheaffer - The Debunker's Domain

The train of the Great Lakes Fireball, seen across at least six states and Ontario, that started the Kecksburg 'UFO crash' story. Photo taken 9 December 1965 4:43 p.m. E.S.T. by Richard Champine of Royal Oak, Michigan. Location: 2 miles east of Pontiac, Michigan, approx. 45 seconds after event.

Living up to its name, the Science Fiction Channel  (now called SyFy) premiered a sensationalist "documentary" on October 24, 2003, claiming that a "UFO crash" in Kecksburg was "a second Roswell." Later the case was on UFO Hunters as well.

In 2014, Discovery Canada, in its utterly sensationalist tabloid-journalism series Close Encounters, re-enacted wild claims about a large acorn-shaped object crashing, that was then seized by government agents and hauled away. See my Blog entry about this,  Discovery Canada Serves up the Kecksburg Crash Yarn.

The reality is that a brilliant fireball meteor was widely seen at that time, and studied extensively by scientists. Several scientific papers were published about it in astronomical journals. The supposed "crashing UFO" reported from Kecksburg matches exactly with the great fireball in time, and in direction.

Astronomers Von Del Chamberlain and David J. Krause of the Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University in East Lansing did an in-depth study of the reports of the Dec. 9th fireball from across a wide area of the U.S. and Canada. They published a scientific paper in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Aug. 1967- Vol. 61 no. 4, pp. 184-90). This object was in fact over a hundred miles from Kecksburg, "disappearing at a point over land some 15 miles south-east of Windsor [Ontario]". (Witnesses typically greatly underestimate the distance to brilliant fireballs such as this. See "UFOs Explained" by Philip J. Klass.)  "The usual rash of early reports gave 'landing sites' for the object ranging from western Michigan to Pennsylvania... Loud sonic booms were heard in the Detroit-Windsor region." Using photographs of the object's trail from two different locations, Chamberlain and Krause were able to calculate the orbit of the meteor before it entered the earth's atmosphere. You can retrieve the full article on-line here .

The visibility of the great fireball Chamberlain published a second scientific paper about the fireball: Chamberlain, Von Del, 1968: Meteorites of Michigan, Geological Survey Bulletin 5, East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan Department of Conservation, Geological Survey Division, pp. 1-5.

Another article about it, titled "Great Lakes Fireball", was published in the February, 1966 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, page 78. See part of the article here. In it, G. W. Wetherill, a professor of geophysics and geology at UCLA who investigated the incident, is quoted: "The fireball was observed by many people in Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and to a lesser extent in neigboring states. In newspaper accounts, a great many supposed impact sites were reported, both in southwestern Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Fragments were claimed to have fallen in Ohio and Michigan.
These imagined happenings arose from the impossibility of estimating the distance of an object in the sky. Almost everyone who saw the fireball thought it was much closer than it really was. When it disappeared behind a house or a tree many people thought it had fallen only a few hundred yards beyond."

Robert Young's article debunking the Kecksburg claim was published as far back as the Spring, 1991 issue of The Skeptical Inquirer magazine (Vol. 15 no. 3): "Old-Solved Mysteries: The Kecksburg Incident." ( Purchase back issue for $6.25. ). An updated version of "Old-Solved Mysteries" begins on p. 177 of the book The UFO Invasion, edited by Kendrick Frazier, Barry Karr, and Joe Nickell. (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY, 1997). The visibility of the great fireball

 An alleged replica of an artifact supposedly recovered, erected in Kecksburg

(left) An alleged replica of an artifact supposedly recovered, erected in Kecksburg. Those aliens who flew it must have been pretty darn small!

Wisdom from Zippy the Pinhead about Kecksburg A March, 2003 news story about the controversy from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A believer's view of Kecksburg from UFO Casebook.

Wisdom from Zippy the Pinhead about Kecksburg

Thanks for assistance to Bob Young, Tim Printy, and James McGaha.

The UFO Skeptic's Page

Go to The Debunker's Domain