Summary: What really happened in the twilight skies over Kecksburg on Dec. 9, 1965 has been the subject of controversy for nearly 38 years. In an effort to encourage an open dialogue among first-hand witnesses and those who remain skeptical, the Sci Fi Channel sponsored a “town hall meeting” Saturday at the Kecksburg fire hall.
What really happened in the twilight skies over Kecksburg on Dec. 9, 1965 has been the subject of controversy for nearly 38 years. Did something actually land in the Mt. Pleasant Township community? If so, what was it?
A meteorite? A Russian satellite? An experimental American aircraft? A UFO? The visible, armed military presence that night and subsequent government secrecy have fueled the uncertainty, many say. Still others say, “What uncertainty? Nothing happened that night.”
In an effort to encourage an open dialogue among first-hand witnesses and those who remain skeptical, the Sci Fi Channel sponsored a “town hall meeting” Saturday at the Kecksburg fire hall. About 50 people attended.
Bryant Gumbel, former co-host of “Today” and “The Early Show,” was on hand to serve as moderator.
The meeting — an “historic” event, said Greensburg UFO investigator Stan Gordon — was organized and filmed by the cable channel as part of an investigative documentary titled, “The New Roswell: Kecksburg Exposed.” The two-hour special, produced by MPH Entertainment, Inc., and hosted by Gumbel, is scheduled to air 9 p.m. Oct. 17.
After a brief on-camera introduction, Gumbel turned his attention to Chuck Hilland, Jr., whose family has long maintained nothing happened that night.
“I was only 2 at the time, so I can’t confirm or dispute anything that happened,” he said, adding his father was working that night and didn’t get home until after midnight. His mother didn’t leave the house.
“All I can tell you is my parents really believe nothing significant happened that night,” he said.
In 1965, John Hays, now of New Florence, was living in a farmhouse close to the scene.
As a 10-year-old, he thought all the activity was “exciting ... like a big party.” And even though he was told to go to his room, Hays said he tried to sneak downstairs frequently to get a look at all the members of the military and officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who were gathering at his house. Hays said he later saw a flat-bed truck emerging from the site near his house carrying something the “size of a VW.”
“I’m here today because I really want to find out what’s going on,” Hays said before the meeting. “I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. Most of the people who deny anything happened are land owners. It’s made me wonder what they were promised, or what they were threatened with.”
Michael Slater, then 14 and living in Kecksburg, was outside with his brother that evening when a military jeep pulled up. The two boys were asked to assist with “crowd control.” If anyone asked for directions to the crash site, they were to give them the wrong directions.
“We had fun sending people all over the place,” he said, adding the men in the jeep told them they were “doing a service for your country.” Slater said he and his brother later saw a flat-bed truck emerge from the woods, carrying an object covered by a tarp.
Don Sebastian, who lived in Johnstown at the time, was in the area visiting friends when they heard the radio report that something had crashed near Kecksburg. They jumped in the car, only to be turned away by armed state police, he said. But determined to find out what was going on, Sebastian persisted, sneaking around the roadblock and heading back toward the scene.
“I saw a line of soldiers down in the clearing ... best guess, maybe 100 guys ... armed at hip level and walking single file parallel to the crash site,” he said prior to the meeting. “It looked like a drill. Perfect formation. Nobody out of step.” Until they heard a scream, he said.
“This was a terror scream, and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” he said. After a minute or two, he heard another scream.
“It didn’t sound human,” he said. “That’s when I lost my nerve. I figured this was a place where I could get shot. So, I was out of there.”
“The Army was definitely there. It’s irrefutable. I saw them,” said Dave Newhouse, a teenager at the time. When he and a friend tried to sneak into the woods, they were stopped by an Army guard.
“He pointed his rifle at me and said get out,” Newhouse said before the meeting. “So, something was definitely there. I don’t have any idea what it was, but the Army doesn’t come out to guard a patch of woods.”
Gumbel wanted to know where the heck was the media during all this? Bob Gatty, a reporter for the Tribune-Review at the time, had just gotten back into the office after covering a meeting. His city editor told him, “Don’t sit down. I’ve got the story of the century for you. A UFO just landed in Kecksburg.”
Gatty drove out to the site, and upon arrival, was met by a lot of “military types.”
“I couldn’t get any answers,” Gatty said. “I tried to go down into the woods, and a cop told me, ‘You can’t go down there.’ And I said, ‘What if I do?’ And he said, ‘You’ll be arrested.’”
John Sibal, of Trauger, said he tracked the object that night as it changed directions three times before crashing into the woods. “It had to be controlled by someone to do that,” he said, adding he hid in the woods for more than an hour upon finding the crash site. Finally, after the military had gathered, Sibal claims he saw a hand come out of the flat top of the fallen object.
“See, you’re laughing,” Sibal said to Gumbel, citing ridicule as the reason he hadn’t come forward sooner.
Turning to Gatty, Gumbel asked why he hadn’t interviewed any of these people that night?
“If I’d seen any of these people, I would have had the story of the century,” said Gatty, laughing.
“OK, who of you think this is all a bunch of hooey?” Gumbel asked the group.
“I do,” said Linda Kovacina, whose husband, George, owns the farm next to the Hilland property. George did not attend the town meeting.
“Do you think these people are making all this up?” Gumbel questioned, to which Kovacina had no reply.
Ray Howard, of Kecksburg, expressed doubt that any flat-bed truck would be able to get in and out of such a steep ravine.
“There’s no way,” he said with emphasis. “They couldn’t have gotten within 500 feet of that thing.”
“So, these people are making this up?” Gumbel asked again.
“I don’t know. It’s just hard to believe,” said Howard.
“It’s no use having these meetings. They don’t do any good,” Sibaldaid, adding if the government isn’t forthcoming with classified information, “you can throw all this stuff out the window.”