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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.

NICAP investigator Weitzel writes to Prof. William Powers:

The letter from William Weitzel, NICAP investigator, to Professor William Powers gives a very detailed and rich account of the events, even if the author specifies that the collection of material is only partial.

May 4, 1966

Professor William Powers
Dearborn Observatory
Northwestern University
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Professor Powers:

Enclosed is a partial collection of materials relating to the Ohio-Pennsylvania UFO "chase" of April 17, 1966. Included is the complete text of my letter of April 23 to Congressman Stanton, and a trial photo of a composite layout which was included with that letter. I am sorry not to be able to send more right now, but am in the middle of moving back into my Pittsburgh apartment from Franklin. I've had to shove and push quite a bit just to find a place to type.

Numbered spots on the map have the following significance:

1) Spaur and Neff first sighted the UFO here, between Atwater and Randolph, on Rte. 224. It appeared over some trees atop a small hill next to the road. They had been hearing some traffic on the radio about a UFO reported in Summit County, and Dale said, "There it is!" At this time it rapidly grew in size and came from over the trees, relatively small, to a point directly over their cruiser, quite large and bright. "Like high noon," quoted the Radio Operator in Ravenna who listened to their initial description and resulting chase. Spaur said the thing was round, about 45 feet across, and about 100 feet above them. Another radio operator reports that Spaur said it illuminated the ground so brightly that they would not have needed headlights. (I examined the area four days later; at that time of the morning, 5:07AM EST, the sky was blue-black, just barely light.)

Spaur and Neff had left their cruiser before seeing the UFO, to examine a parked (abandoned) car and rapidly re-entered their car when the object came overhead. While they watched and radioed the description, it began to move down the road to the east and accelerate forward. The radio operator in Ravenna told them to chase it. They did so. Its appearance now was rounded on top, with a cone-shaped light underneath. It continued to illuminate the ground over which it passed, tilting forward when it moved forward; the light followed it to the rear on the ground, whence Spaur's analogy with a flashlight which, when aimed down, throws a beam to the rear when tilted forward. Spaur did not see a beam in the air, only the illuminated ground. This does not seem to me to be unusual, granting the proximity and brightness of the object.

Both radio operators who monitored the chase (Ravenna and Salem) and Spaur and Neff themselves, described their emotional response as excited and frightened, but at no time did they lose their heads. Spaur was able to watch the UFO most of the time he was driving. When the Ravenna radio operator suggested to Neff that he take a shot at the UFO, Neff replied that it was like nothing he'd ever seen before, and implied he'd rather not try shooting.

Spaur's intention at this time was to try to identify the object. This motive was suspended until dawn, at which time it was frustrated.

2) At Canfield, or just outside the city, the UFO turned south. It seemed to "wait" for Spaur and Neff to catch up. It had done this, I forgot to mention, at Deerfield. It did again near Columbiana, where I65 intersects 14-46, and may have at Berlin Center (intersection of 534 and 14).

3) Jack E. Cramer, radio operator for Salem, Ohio, police, had been monitoring the pursuit, traffic between Spaur and Ravenna. As the cruiser sped down Rte. 14, going toward Canfield, Ravenna asked Salem to see if someone could photograph the object. Both stations at this time believed Spaur to be traveling on 14A, which goes southeast from Deerfield to Salem. (This is one reason why there were not more witnesses.) When the pursuit vehicle passed 534, Salem expected them to arrive in the vicinity soon; 534 crosses both 14 and 14A. Two police officers in Salem, Lonnie Johnson and Ray Esterly, left the Salem Police Station and went in their cruiser to a hill nearby, watching the sky for something (they weren't clear as to just what they were looking for). Although they expected the object to arrive from the northwest, they suddenly saw, to the east, three jets chasing (or so it appeared to them) a large, bright object. One jet was behind it, seemingly at the same altitude, about a mile. The other two were arcing in from the left (north), coming toward the first jet. The object appeared about five times as large as the jet behind it. All three jets had contrails; the object did not. The four were traveling roughly southeast. The officers were facing in the general direction of Columbiana. They radioed in their sighting, continued to watch a short time, and returned to the station within 10 (ten) minutes. At this time, radio traffic indicated that Spaur and Neff had reached a point east of Columbiana, near Firestone Farms. After they called in, and before they returned, and at about 5:30 AM EST, radio operator Jack E. Cramer and police Lieutenant Richard M. Whinnery heard a voice on the radio (Cramer states either 155 or 29.58 mc) (or MHz): "I'm going down to take a look at it ... I'm right above it, and it's about forty-five feet across; something trailing behind it ... like a ball of fire". This voice was louder than normal received traffic, did not identify itself, and come on only this one time.

The log at the base radio for Columbiana County Sheriff's Office, near Lisbon, indicates that at 5:35 Spaur and Neff were at the state line.

At intersection of I65 and 14-46, Spaur and Neff believed the object they were pursuing rose to an altitude of about 1000 feet.

Johnson and Esterly, the police officers watching the jets, estimated their altitude to be 10,000 to 20,000 feet. They were not certain the object was at thesame altitude, although they said it looked to be. Johnson has had flying experience, in USAF (A2C). Both could clearly see the jets' outline, exhaust flame, and space between jets and contrails. Elevation was about twenty-five degrees; object was flying level. They watched for "less than two minutes".

All four men signed statements certifying the above, except the radio operator for Columbiana County (Orville Scarry), who allowed the complete log of the chase to be copied, such as it was (from 5:35 on). Neither Ravenna nor Salem logged any details of the chase; both radio operators, however, seem to have clear memories of it.

4) Patrolman Wayne Huston, East Palestine Police, had been listening to the traffic from Portage County, and on his own initiative, waited in Unity, Ohio, for Spaur and Neff to come by. His expectation was fulfilled. A few minutes before they passed him, he heard them on his radio. He saw the object coming from the northwest, over Rte. 14, and fly overhead. He estimated its altitude was 1000 feet. It appeared to have a "partly melted ice-cream cone" shape; dome-shaped top and bright cone-shaped bottom. Not certain, he said, whether the bottom was solid or not. P-13 (Spaur and Neff) were in hot pursuit immediately behind. He had been standing beside his cruiser, OV-1, and when they passed, jumped in and followed, southeast on 14. It took some time to catch up. OV-1 communicated with P-13 by radio. Eventually they were bumper to bumper, comparing notes and commenting on the UFO's behavior. They crossed the state line and continued from Ohio 14 onto Pa. 51. Someone radioed the Chippewa, Pa. State Patrol but no extra cars were available. While that radio operator was seeking help, he heard the cruisers, P-13 and OV-1 roar by. He looked out but apparently everything and everyone had disappeared down the road; he saw nothing. (Chippewa station is just off Pa. 51.)

When the Ravenna radio operator (Robert Wilson) realized learned from Lisbon (Orville Scarry, Columbiana County radio operator) that Spaur and Neff had reached the state line -- time on Lisbon log, 5:35 AM EST -- he advised that they return when another unit picked up the UFO. P-13 was now out of Portage radio range and communication was relayed through Lisbon. Unfortunately, no Pa. patrolman was contacted until they reached Conway.

5) Outside Rochester, Pa., steep hills rise on both sides of the road going southeast. It was here that the UFO elevated and disappeared. When Sparr, Neff and Huston approached Brady's Run Park, they encountered a treadle-triggered red traffic light set off by a Volkswagen leaving the park, and some trucks at the intersection. They got through this jam successfully, and negotiated some underpasses just outside Rochester. They had seen the UFO disappear over the hills, and were pessimistic about finding it again. But when they emerged from the bridge complex, there was the UFO, "waiting" for them over the road. It had dropped lower. As soon as they saw it, it sped away from them. They entered Freedom. At 5:50 AM EST, Lisbon logged this communication with Portage County: "What's the location of P-13?" "Just about into Freedom, Pa. Also OV-1 of East Palestine is running with him. Still observing the object. Bright light with a rope or string attached to it. 1500 to 2000 feet in height. Traveling at speed over 100 miles an hour." "Have him 25 and return to base." "OK."

At 5:55, Lisbon relayed the order to return to Portage. Spaur said "Turning around now." But it was 6:15 until Spaur and Neff got back (west) past Freedom. In the meantime, they, Huston, and Frank Panzanella of Conway Police, had watched the object while standing in an Atlantic service station on Rte. 51 in Conway.

6) As Spaur approached Conway, his engine began sucking air in high gear. Spaur realized he was running low on fuel. Just then he saw Panzanella's patrol car, and Panzanella standing outside, across the road. He turned around and pulled up there, with Huston. Panzanella admitted (he had not been about to) that he had been watching the object, had at first thought a plane was in trouble, and had come down from a hill in Conway to observe from the highway. He radioed the Rochester radio operator, who handles traffic for several local communities, to call the airport. Spaur states the position of the object was left of the Moon, below it. He also saw a bright stationary point to the right, "Just opposite to the nose of the man in the Moon." The object did not seem to be moving, but suddenly it elevated rapidly to a point just opposite the Moon (still left). When a voice on Panzanella's cruiser receiver announced that jets were (to be) involved ("They're sending two up"), the object again elevated rapidly and dwindled in size.

A Boeing 707 from the direction of the airport flew "under" it. Spaur was sure someone on the plane saw the object.

Spaur had not realized how far they had come, and was shocked when Panzanella told him how close the airport was.

At 6:15, Lisbon logged this from P-13: "Some government officials wants to talk to us. Advise my office. We are west of Freedom." At 7:30, Spaur thanked Lisbon for handling his traffic.

John Bieghey, radio operator at Rochester, denies transmitting a report that "two" had been sent up after the UFO. He did, however, call the control tower at Greater Pittsburgh Airport. He was told to wait his turn, as he said it was put, while someone from the Pa. State Patrol finished his business. When Bieghey reported the UFO, he was given a number to call. He relayed this to Panzanella. By this time, Panzanella had given Spaur some fuel, and Spaur decided to return. Panzanella stayed to watch the UFO disappearing, but when Bieghey called him with the number he had been given by someone at the control tower, Panzanella went after Spaur and Huston, intercepted them, and they went into Rochester to make the call. Huston states to "Some colonel". Spaur does not remember the identify or credentials of the person to who he spoke, but Bieghey believes it was an Air Force officer. Spaur said the person offered several items for Spaur to compare his UFO to, "He didn't give me a chance to say what I saw," and promised the report would be forwarded to Wright-Patterson. No one else talked with this person.

When Spaur, Neff and Huston got to East Palestine, they stopped to say goodbye to each other. At this time they were joined by a Columbiana Deputy Sheriff, with whom I've talked. There is more in my notes about this but they are unavailable right now.

At 7:30 in Lisbon, this notation, not a communication, was entered in the Columbiana County radio log: "P-13 contacted a Pittsburgh PD unit and they scrambled some jets, that flew under the object." I have still not located the source of this report.

Further notes: At the beginning, and subsequently, of the sighting, a buzzing or humming noise seemed to be associated with the object. When it accelerated, the object's light intensity increased, and the humming noise went up in pitch.

Also at the beginning of the sighting, a deputy sheriff (who prefers to remain anonymous) on the other side of the hill, positioned in Atwater, saw a (the) UFO over the trees in the direction of Spaur and Neff, just as they saw it first. At some times, when going east, Spaur watched the UFO out of his left window, to the north.

The UFO continued to illuminate the ground until dawn broke. Its apparent brightness dimmed when the sky lit up, but it continued to be brightly self-luminous, except for the top portion in the rear of the object.

Monday, April 18, an afternoon NBC news broadcast said a jet trainer with the 459th Troop Carrier Wing, Youngstown AFR, flew near the UFO and heard a humming noise. I have no information on this. On this day also, the news carried a report (from ?) that the object had been a weather balloon.

On Friday, April 22, Major Hector Quintanilla called Mantua Village Police Chief Gerald Buchert at 3:10 PM to tell him the object he had though he photographed to the southeast of Mantua, around the time Spaur and Neff were chasing the UFO, was a flaw in the negative. Sheriff Ross Dustman was informed that the object of the chase had been first a satellite, then Venus. Sheriff Dustman did not accept this explanation.

Chief Buchert photographed an object which was perhaps the same one Spaur and Neff chased, but most likely not. While he heard over his radio that they were in pursuit, it was moving up and down (relative to, actually above and below) near some power lines or phone wires in front of his home. The film seems inconclusive; two dark arcs are not separated by any frame boundaries.* There is no warping, or was none when I examined it, at these points. They could not, however, as the Air Force implied, be an image of Venus. (* or to be interpreted as separate objects, either; there are no frame boundaries at all in this area.)

A densitometer examination of the negative should reveal whether the dark portion of the arcs which Buchert and the press assumed represented the UFO are darker or lighter than the background. If they are darker than the minimum exposure in that area (slight fogging), they could not be of any object at all, except one which emits negative light (a gratuitous, though ad hoc and scientifically unsound, qualification). The Air Force has issued several statements deprecating this peculiar image: flaw in negative, poor handling in development, old foggy film, and Venus-image. I do not know if a densitometer check was made. NICAP's Pittsburgh Subcommittee has this equipment, but I was able to examine the negative only in the presence of Chief Buchert. At any rate, I consider the film to be irrelevant because of the lack of correlation between Buchert's sighting, and that of Spaur and Neff, and between the peculiar image(s) on the film, and the deputies' description of the object. (Irrelevant to the P-13 sighting, that is.) The press gave this item much attention because there was a Photograph.

That's all for the moment, Prof. Powers. Sorry, it isn't more complete. I have to listen to several tapes and make some more calls. If you want more, please write or call. Address: 5709 Woodmont St., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15217. Phone: 412-521-7675. I will get on top of this confusion (moving in) within a few days, and wrap up this phase.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

William B. Weitzel


PS None of the following associated with this UFO: color changes (only white); EM effects; physiological effects, either during or after, such as heat, tingling, disorientation, or the like; radioactivity -- Spaur and P-13 were checked by local CD unit just after sighting; I checked the 224 hovering site 16 hours later.

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