Four P-51s of the Kentucky National Guard had been grounded at Marietta Army Air Base in Georgia on December 30, 1947. A week later some Kentucky Guardsmen volunteered to fly the four fighters back to their home base at Standiford Air Field in northern Kentucky. The leader of this ferry mission was a Captain Mantell who filed a visual flight plan for the trip north and about midday January 7, 1948, took off from Marietta in his Mustang warplane leading three other similar fighters. The flight of four P-51s formed up into two pairs and took up a northern course. The flight planned to maintain a low 4,000-foot altitude for the entire trip so nothing was done about the oxygen supply aboard the aircraft. Captain Mantell’s wingman was a Lt. Hendricks. Close by were the other two P-51s piloted by a Lt. Clements and a Lt. Hammond. Support personnel returning to Standiford left Marietta Army Air Base shortly thereafter in a slow C-47 transport that had airlifted all the Guardsmen to Georgia the previous afternoon.
At 4:15 CST the support personnel arrived at Standiford Field and were startled to learn that three of the P-51s in the ferry mission had not yet landed. Instead the aircraft were engaged in a chase of a strange object in the sky above the southwest horizon. That’s all the airmen knew until 5:00 p.m. when Major Doyle of the Air National Guard unit received a phone call from Standiford Operations. The Major was stunned to find out that Captain Mantell was dead!
Just before Captain Mantell’s flight crossed the Kentucky/ Tennessee State line, a UFO alert had electrified the Blue Grass State. The Indianapolis News described the commotion thusly:
“Dozens of persons on the ground in the area of Madisonville, Ky., had been telephoning police to report seeing a circular object hovering overhead and giving off a brilliant red glow.” Civilians had notified the Kentucky State Police at 1:00 CST to report something odd soaring over Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Some ten minutes later phone calls from more excited witnesses came in from places like Lexington which suggested a high altitude for the UFO due to the widely scattered points reporting sightings at approximately the same time.
State police contacted military police at Fort Knox to tell them an “unusual aircraft or object, circular in appearance and over 250 feet in diameter,” was speeding through the air on a westward course at a “pretty good clip” just south of the military installation. The MPs dialed the orderly room of Godman Field, Fort Knox’s airstrip, to inform the commanding officer there, Colonel Hix. The clock on the wall showed 1:20 p.m. when the phone rang in Godman Tower. Chief Control Tower operator T/Sgt. Blackwell answered. A Sgt. Cook of Colonel Hix’s office was on the line and he told Sgt. Blackwell about the UFO and requested a check with Flight Test Operations at Wright Field, Ohio to determine if there was anything experimental in the air that might correlate with the reported aerial object. When contacted, a Captain Hooper at Flight Test Operations replied in the negative, saying that the only thing in the region they had was a conventional aircraft on photo missions, however Flight Service did provide Sgt. Blackwell with more UFO reports from cities west of Fort Knox, Irvington and Owensboro, that matched the previously mentioned, sightings in regards to size and appearance.
About 15 minutes to two o’clock, Sgt. Blackwell caught sight of something in the Southern heavens and turned to the other man on in the tower, PFC S. Oliver, to ask for confirmation. Private Oliver saw it, whatever it was, but could not believe his eyes. Sgt. Blackwell urged a closer look. The Private did and became convinced he wasn’t imagining things. The two enlisted men then summoned their Detachment Commander, 1st. Lt. Orner, who was working in a ground level office. Lt. Orner was just finishing discussing the UFO in question with Kentucky State Police when Sgt. Blackwell called, so the Lieutenant didn’t have to be asked twice to go and take a peek at the sky enigma. Lt. Orner went quickly to the tower and peered to the southwest where there was a “small white object” apparently stationary in the sky. Using field glasses, Lt. Orner was still unable to tell if the object was generating its own light or reflecting it. Of the image, he said: “…it partially appeared as a parachute does with the bright sun shining on the top of the silk, but there also seemed to be red light around the lower portion of it.”
Downstairs at the traffic desk was the Operations Officer, a Captain Carter, who heard Lt. Orner excitedly announce over the teletalk box at 2:07 p.m. that more observers were needed in the tower. Captain Carter rushed upstairs and took his turn with the field glasses. The commotion also attracted a Mr. Duesler and a Lt. Col. E. G. Wood. The two joined the others already in the tower. This was at about 2:20 p.m. Captain Carter said of the object: “…it appeared round and whiter than the clouds that passed in front of it and it could be seen thru circus clouds.” PFC Oliver remembered that there was speculation over what the sky object could be. To him the thing appeared like: “…an ice cream cone topped with red.” Since no one could come up with an adequate explanation, it was finally decided that the Commanding Officer of the Air Base should be summoned. The CO, Colonel Hix, quickly arrived and took a look for himself. He would say: “It was very white and looked like an umbrella. I thought it was a celestial body. I can’t account for the fact it didn’t move. I just don’t know what it was. It appeared about ¼ the size of the full moon and white in color. Thru the binoculars it appeared to have a red border at the bottom at times, a red border at the top at times. It remained stationary, seemingly for 1 ½ hours.”
At this time those in the tower heard Captain Mantell’s four plane flight roar pass Godman Field on its way to nearby Standiford. Captain Mantell had switched from the radio channel his wingmates were using, which was “C” channel, over to “B” channel, so he could contact Standiford Tower for landing instructions. At that moment Godman Tower’s radio was open to “B” channel and Mantell’s voice boomed out of the loudspeaker. Colonel Hix and the others stopped their scanning of the southern horizon to listen. Captain Carter suggested that the passing P-51s be asked to investigate the UFO. No one offered any objections, so Sgt. Blackwell grabbed the radio mike and began to talk to Mantell, telling the National Guard aviator about the strange target to the south and requesting an aerial check on it if the P-51s had the fuel. Mantell replied: “Roger I have the gas and I will take a look if you give me the correct heading and any information you have on locating it.”
Mantel with crew members from the Kentucky National Guard and one of the P-51 in service in 1947
Although Mantell was agreeable to a little side trip after the humdrum flight up from Georgia, his wingman, Lt. Hendricks, was very low on fuel and begged to be excused so he could land at Standiford as scheduled. Permission was granted and Lt. Hendricks broke off from the formation. As for the other two pilots, they were unaware of what was happening. Lt. Clenunents could see his flight leader’s lips moving but had heard nothing of what Captain Mantell had said over “B” channel, and was still ignorant as Sgt. Blackwell gave Mantell a course heading of 210 degrees. Capt. Mantell banked to the southwest and “poured on the coal,” with his two bewildered wingmates, Lt. Clements and a Lt. Hammond, lagging behind. Immediately Mantell started a sharp spiraling climb at 14,000 feet to zoom straight and steep on a 220 degree heading.
About 2:45 p.m. Mantell radioed Godman Tower that he had spotted the UFO ahead of him and above, so that more climbing was necessary. One of the other pilots broke into Mantells radio transmission to ask: “What the Hell are we looking for?” As the trio of fighters gained altitude, the air began to thin out. Either Clements or Hammond, official records do not identify which, was overhead on the airwaves to say: “This is 15,000 feet. Let’s level out.” Instead Mantell stepped on the gas, maintaining a climb heavenward at 360 miles per hour while radioing Godman Tower that: “The object is directly ahead and above me now moving about half my speed or approximately 180 miles per hour..” Godman Tower could hardly make out the dark specs of the P-51s and Lt. Col. E. G. Wood noticed that the UFO seemed to be at least a tenth the size of the full moon, a huge thing compared to the shrinking dots of the P-51s approaching it. Mantell now felt he was no longer closing on the UFO to his reckoning. He radioed his opinion that the: “…the object was going up and forward as fast as he was… (and that he was) going to 20,000 feet and if no closer would abandon the chase.” Those are the last words uttered by Mantell heard by personnel in the tower that can be found in Air Force files. Captain Carter is the reputed listener. Mantell’s radio transmissions were being piped north by Godman Field to various Air Force Commands, an unusual procedure. Many Air Force personnel eavesdropped on the excited voices, which at, times were mixed in an incoherent babble. Some said they discerned: “I’m closing in on the object. It’s gigantic and it’s metallic.” Another radio transmission rarely quoted and of uncertain origin states that Mantell said the UFO would “rest” and then put on a “burst of speed.” This enabled the UFO to stay ahead of his straining P-51. If true, it would explain why Mantell kept attempting to close the distance since he was being “lured” on ever upward.
Lt. Clements and Lt. Hammond grew very concerned. They looked down and recognized the city of Bowling Green which indicated the extent their little side trip was assuming. Passing 22,500 feet altitude the pilots found breathing very difficult. Lt. Hammond just happened to be equipped with an oxygen mask because he preferred the mask radio mike to a throat mike, however there was little oxygen in the system. Lt. Clements, like Mantell, had no oxygen at all and 20,000 feet was the danger limit for flying without breathable air. Lt. Clements urged an end to the pursuit. Mantell answered back, asking that they chance a climb to 25,000 feet, there level off for 10 minutes, and only then start down. This didn’t sit well with Lt. Clements who, with Lt. Hammond in agreement, nosed back down when they reached 23,000 feet. Mantell said something but his transmission was garbled indicating that brain-numbing anoxia (lack of oxygen in the blood) may have already started to take its toll of the flight leader’s judgment. As Lt. Clements dived, he glanced back at Mantell’s P-51 still climbing at full power toward a shiny spot in the sky near the sun. As Lt. Hammond and Lt. Clements approached Godman Tower at 3:20 p.m. on their way back, they radioed that the UFO: “… appeared like the reflection of sunlight on an airplane canopy.” The four to midnight Control Tower crew began to arrive at this time and swing shift supervisor, Captain A. T. Jehli, was briefed that a “disc,” or balloon, or some sort of strange object, witnessed by many personnel, including the CO, Colonel Hix, was being hunted down by military aircraft.
Lt. Clements and Lt. Hammond landed at Standiford where the former refueled and took on supplyof oxygen, lifting off again at 4:05 p.m. Setting his P-51 on the original 210 degree course, he requested the latest information from Godman and was informed that the base weather station theodolite had lost track of the mysterious UFO behind some clouds. Zooming to 33,000 feet, Lt. Clements raced southwest for 100 miles trying over and over to raise Mantell on the radio. Reaching the Bowling Green area he contacted Godman Tower and reported no visual confirmation of anything strange in the atmosphere. There was no sign of Mantell’s aircraft either. What had happened to Mantell?
Crashed Mantell’s NG869 P-51D
Capt. Thomas Francis Mantell Jr.
A Mr. W. C. Mayos, living on Lake Spring Road outside Franklin, Kentucky, heard an odd roaring at 3:15 p.m. that sounded like an aircraft engine under great stress. He put his head back and gazed up into the azure where he saw a P-51 circling in a lazy fashion. The plane was so high he could hardly make it out. One expert would later surmise that Mantell had blacked out, and was close to death having succumbed to suffocation. On the ground, Mr. Mayos watched in fascination as Mantell’s plane faltered, slipping into a dive, the aircraft doing a slow rotation on the way down. At full throttle the P-51 gained more and more velocity in its earthward plunge. The scream of the dive increased as the pursuit craft’s speed approached the sound barrier. About half way to the ground the stress was too much as the P-51 tore apart with a loud boom. The tail section and one wing ripped free. A Mrs. C. Phillips, a resident of a farmhouse just outside the city of Franklin, bolted from her chair in her living room and rushed to the window at the sound of the explosion. She watched in horror as a big mass of metal slammed to earth just 200 yards away. Witnesses dragged Mantell’s body from the wreck. The pilot’s shattered wristwatch had jammed to a stop at 3:18 p.m. Patrolman J. Walker of the Franklin Police Department rushed to the scene and took charge.
It took over an hour for word of Mantell’s fate to reach Standiford Field, at which time news of the tragedy was relayed to Maxwell Flight Service and the rest of Mantell’s unit. Air Force investigators immediately arranged for a flight to Bowling Green where, when they arrived, a State highway patrol car whisked them to the crash site five miles southwest of Franklin. Witnesses were rounded up and questioned while their memories were still fresh. It was now 6:15 p.m. At this stage there was no way of knowing if Mantell had met death by accident or by a hostile act. Was Mantell “shot down?” Lt. Col. J. F. Brady who drew up the report on the Mantell crash leaked a little emotion in an otherwise straight-laced summary with the following line: “So much for the accident— now hold on to your hat!” What he was referring to were some events reported just after the crash at Franklin. About 230 miles northeast of the site of Mantell’s wrecked plane and some 150 miles northeast of Godman Field, two other UFO incidents were to cause some excitement that evening.
The Latest Sightings
Near Wilmington, Ohio, is the Clinton County Air Base. At 7:35 p.m., on January 7th, the same day as the Mantell UFO chase, S/Sgt. J. P. Haag was walking near the Clinton Control Tower when he became aware of an unfamiliar point of light in the southwest. He checked the weather and noted a low velocity southwest wind was blowing. The sky to the southwest was overcast, but right overhead it was clear of clouds. He guessed the overcast height at 5,000 feet and the cloud layer some 1,000 feet thick. Seen with the naked eye the puzzling light appeared to be about five miles away and between 15,000 to 20,000 feet high. It looked to be stationary and appeared to be casting off a crimson glow that resembled a plane on fire. This possibility sent him scurrying to the control tower. Upon reaching the control room, atop the tower, he used field glasses to take a better look at the red light. A careful observation convinced him the phenomenon was not a comet or a meteor; furthermore, the light was now “dancing,” an odd straight up and down motion that occurred some three to four times. A color change from red to green, when the thing moved, was also discernible. After it stopped “bouncing” the light sped to the southwest on a course of 210 degrees. It was screened momentarily by clouds but the phenomenon could still be discerned since the rays of light it threw off were strong enough to penetrate the overcast. It paused a few moments on its way to the southwest and then it fled quickly over the horizon at 7:55 p.m. No sound was heard.
Clinton County Air Base, Ohio
A Cpl. J. H. Hudson, on duty in the control tower, also watched with binoculars and in a signed affidavit detailed his own version of the UFO’s appearance and motion. He estimated, for example, the UFO’s nearest approach at four miles and stated that the UFO was white in color when first sighted, but soon changed to a red hue. No shape was discernible until the UFO suddenly dropped down, at which time it assumed a cone-shape with the point-end down. The dimensions of the object appeared to be some 40 X 100 feet. When it ascended, the UFO reversed its position to a point-end up, or “pyramid” configuration. The shifts of position left a green mist trailing behind. The whole UFO seemed to have a glowing aura of burning light. There was no argument among the witnesses as to the fast elevator-type motion of the UFO. One witness compared the sight to a flare being violently tossed about by a thermal air current. When compared to the stars, there was a decided difference, the object brighter and of a distant hue. T/Sgt. Le Roy Ziegler on duty in the tower basically agreed with the other, witnesses calling the UFO a “circular thing, bright and star-like, only bigger than a star.” Not sure of its exact size, he still felt it to be very large. He said he noticed red and yellow colors. Surprised at the motion he said that it: “… seemed to go up and down and side to side at what seemed to be very great speed.” He also saw a faint exhaust trail which was visible only when the UFO was moving.
Since 4:35 p.m. news of the Mantell crash had flashed over the communications network in the Kentucky/Ohio region. Control tower personnel all over were eavesdropping on official exchanges of information about the disaster. At 7:45 p.m. Patterson Operations was on the air to Olmstead Flight Service discussing the Mantell case when two air traffic observers at Lockborune Tower at Columbus, Ohio, to the southwest of Clinton, interrupted to say that something strange had appeared near their airbase and had just left the area. Godman Tower, wide-awake after the events of the afternoon, heard that remark and intervened itself over the interphone to announce they now had visual contact with something too.
And that was the “official” report however….
Sgt. Quinton Blackwell updated testimony
Stg. Quinton Blackwell
Over 40 years has passed since the tragic Mantell incident in 1948 Around the ’90 the old retired St. Blackwell made a video interview with the family of Mantell in a show called “Sightings” in order to bring closure to Mantell’s family in regards the circumstance of mantell’s death. This time he had a very different version of the accounts that officially were presented on the Airforce report.
Blackwell never talk with no one about the accident but is still troubled by his memories of the incident. It was his son Jackie who convinced Blackwell to talk to Mantell’s family and break the gag order imposed by the Airforce in 1948 of what really happened that day. Based on what the official Airforce report said Tommy’s(Thomas) blackout for the lack of oxygen while mistakenly on pursuit of an experimental balloon. But in the home of Blackwell the family heard a more interesting story of this key eye witness.
Blackwell recalled that when he got to the observation tower to his amusement he could see clearly with the field glasses a flying saucer, He quickly called the base operation officer to inform about what is going on. The base officer replied to Blackwell after seeing the craft “Boy you got me in trouble now, I have to call to the base commander”. Soon after, some of the generals come up to the tower for a closer look. Among other relevant information Blackwell revealed on that interview the real reason why Lt. Clements and Lt. Hammond break off pursuit of the UFO to return to base. He said that they return to base to load their weapons with live ammunition on Mantell’s orders. This command can only be given by a wingman commander when he can see a verifiable threat and permission from his superiors has to be granted.
Blackwell stated that Mantell described the object as a 200 feet across by 70-75 feet thick metallic object with observation windows on the top portion of it. And the last thing Blackwell heard from Mantell radio transmission was when Tommy said ” I will move closer to get a better look”. The Airforce said that Mantell was hallucinating due to the lack of oxygen at the time of the sighting but Blackwell stated firmly that based on his opinion Mantell was fully in control of his aircraft. Blackwell had previous experience in dealing with pilots with anoxia and Mantell did not showed any know signs at that moment of anoxia.
Blackwell revealed also the identity of three other Colonels present at the time of the event on the tower. He mentioned that once they got notice that the airplane was down they quickly vanish from the tower as they knew that an investigation will be done and they did not want to write a report on this and this kind of saucer business is not precisely “career enhancement”.
Reconstruction of what Blackweel witnessed when looking through the binoculars in the observation tower.
- nicap.org | UFO’s: A History 1948 (January – July, Excerpt: Pages 1-12) By Loren Gross | Article
- nicap.org | An Analysis of the Thomas Mantell UFO Case By Kevin Randle | Article
- Sightings Season 3 /Episode 18 – February 12, 1995 | UFO Confrontation: Kentucky | Youtube