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1966 Portage County UFO chase by policemen:

These events have been the model for the scene of the UFO chase by the police in the world famous movie "Close Encounters of the third Kind" by Steven Spielberg. Yet, who knows that the scene was inspired by real events?

This case is Project Blue Book Record 10073.

"I've seen Venus many times, but I never saw Venus 50 feet above a road and moving from side to side like this was..."

(Portage County Sheriff Ross Dustman to United Press International.)

In this case file:

Click! The case: events, investigations.
Click! The report by Richard Hall of NICAP.
Click! The witnesses written statements.
Click! Article from the Ravenna, Ohio, RECORD-COURIER newspaper, April 18, 1966 (unreadable).
Click! Article from The Cleveland Plain Dealer Monday, April 18, 1966.
Click! Article from The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sunday, October 9, 1966.
Click! Air Force letter to Project Blue Book, May 17, 1966.
Click! William Weitzel letter to Professor William Powers.
Click! Letter to Spaur and Neff from Wm. T. Powers.
Click! References.

Letter to witnesses Spaur and Neff from William T. Powers:

Dear Mr. Spaur and Mr. Neff.

I am the man who called from the Dearborn Observatory the night after the sighting and got Mr. Spaur's statement. I am an assistant to Dr. J. A. Hynek, director of the observatory and scientific consultant to the Air Force UFO investigating office.

Apparently I found out considerably more about this event than the Air Force investigator did, because I cannot agree with the evaluation publicly released a few days after his sighting. What you reported to me could not possibly lead to such a conclusion: a satellite satisfies none of the characteristics of your reported object. As a matter of fact, Dr. Hynek agrees with this. He was not consulted before this news release was put forth.

I thought at first that during the latter part of your experience, after you had lost the object and then re-acquired it, that you and Mr. Houston might have spotted Venus, and thought it was the same object at a higher altitude: I spoke to Major Quintenilla (sic) on the telephone at the time I gave him the results of my telephone interview, and told him of this idea. Now I have additional information, chiefly from Mr. William Weitzel, which appears to make that hypothesis incorrect. I now understand that you and other witnesses did notice Venus and the Moon, and saw the object in motion relative to them, as well as being able to see a shape. At no time, however, did I suppose that the earlier part of the sighting involved anything other than an airborne object.

As far as Dr. Hynek and I are concerned, this incident will require considerable additional investigation, before any conclusion at all can be reached - assuming, of course, that some kind of explanation can be found, which seems highly doubtful.

I regret exceedingly that your report seemed to have been taken lightly, or even disbelieved. I can see no reason for your being insulted in this way, and I apologize for whatever part my report to the Air Force may have played in leading to such a result. I have no reason whatsoever to doubt that you saw exactly what you described. In defense of the Air Force handling of this case, I would like to point out a fact that is not generally known: at the time of this sighting and the previous Michigan sighting, Project Bluebook had just lost its chief ( and essentially its only) field investigator, who had just retired. Hence Maj. Quintenilla had to rely on reports from inexperienced investigators, and was forced to do most of his own investigating by telephone. I can understand why he may have received false impressions himself via the telephone converstations because when I read the detailed statements by yourself and other officers, given to Mr. Weitzel, I realized that there was much of importance that I had missed. I think you will agree that conditions on the night I called you were not ideal for a telephone interview! Also, you must realize that since the Michigan sightings, the Major has been flooded with letters and angry telephone calls - that press release may well be nothing more than a perfectly human reaction on the part of a man who has had to put up with some pretty disgusting insults himself. Dr. Hynek's "swamp gas" analysis was definitely not popular, although I tend to think it was a good guess, since I do know a lot about the circumstances surrounding those sightings.

Another factor that may help explain ( not excuse) the evaluation is the fact that only a few weeks ( or was it just a week?) before, a deputy sheriff in Washtenaw County, Michigan, took some time exposures of what he thought were two UFOs, which turned out to be Venus and the Moon. I'll stake my reputation, such as it is, on that one, since I measured the trails, calculated the positions, and found that everything checks with that analysis. Everything, that is, but the deputy's idea of what he was photographing. Anyway, that one was really played up by the newspapers, who used blowups that exaggerated the length of the trails and cut out the hills and streetlights at the bottom of the picture, and gave everyone the impression that the dust-specks were stars. So when I said "Venus" that no doubt set off the expected train of thought. Project Bluebook now has a new field investigator, a young lieutenance who seems pretty bright; he's coming to our Observatory so we can talk over with him the way an investigation has to be carried out if it is going to lead to respectable conclusions. For reasons I won't go into, I am sure he will work out much better than the previous man. If it is any comfort to you, your sighting and the subsequent news release may have been the combination needed to cause a significant improvement in the general handling of such cases. I hope you can still remember what it was like when you had never seen a UFO - it takes a long time for anyone, who has good sense, to absorb all the reports and gradually realize that there may be something really worth looking into among them. So many of them turn out to be ordinary objects, that one can easily get into the habit of writing them all off. You are very fortunate to have had first-hand contact with something unusaul. A person who has not had such an experience, who must judge only on the basis of people's words, has a much harder time knowing what to believe.

One last word or two: Juding from your statements after the press release, I would judge that you are not particularly anti- Air Force - you only want to be treated like honest men. I hope that you will see fit to consider this letter as between you and me. I have no desire to embarrass Project Bluebook: I just want to see what I can do to help it work better. I think that the Air Force is probably the best-equipped organization for investigating UFOs, and we ought to air at seeing what we can do to get that vast machinery moving a little more in the right direction. We won't do that by getting the press into a fight with Bluebook. A man on the defensive isn't going to listen to reason, and the Air Force is run by men, even as you and I. I don't see any harm in your letting the people around you know that your story is believed, and that the Air Force may possibly revise its opinion on the basis of more complete information, but I would think that it would be best for now not to get this in the papers. I'm writing this letter for your personal peace of mind, not to satisfy the casual curiosity of the public. Not that I think the public should be kept in the dark - it's just that the Air Force is in a ticklish position right now, and I want to give them a chance to clean their own house. Of course you don't have to do anything I say - I'm not in the Air Force or under their orders, and neither is Dr. Hynek. I hope you will think it over, though.

In the meantime, we're collecting all the information on the sighting that we can, here at Dearborn. If you find out any more, such as additional witnesses who might trust us enough to tell us their stories, we'd appreciate it. Just in case the file is re-opened. If it isn't re-opened - well, we'll deal with that when it happens, if it does.

Yours truly,

William T. Powers
Systems Engineer
Dearborn Observatory
Northwestern University
Evanston, Illinois

Please excuse my lousy typing - I wanted to get this letter off to you.

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This page was last updated on November 7, 2003.