[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t 1:30 PM January 7, 1948 a strange incident occurred that has never been explained. That incident cost a 25 year old Air National Guard captain his life. This very competent pilot had seen action in World War II and was a fighter “Ace” (five or more enemy kills). Yet, nothing could have prepared the brave young air warrior for what he was about to encounter.
Early hints of that which was to come
Prior to 1948 there had only been hints at possible UFO aggression. The disappearance of 5 TBM Avengers off the coast of Florida was one unexplained loss of US pilots and their aircraft. The numerous sightings of “Foo” fighters that had terrorized several bomber crews over Europe and the Pacific theater was another indirect yet non-aggressive yard stick of unidentified aerial phenomenon where, if there had been fatalities, they had not been observed or reported. At the very least it seemed that a global surveillance of man’s hostilities and defensive capabilities was being conducted by an, as yet, unknown entity.
Even Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, Director of Project Blue Book, covered the Mantell aerial crash and commented that a thorough check of weather balloon launches all over the possible regions that could have produced a sighting had been undertaken. Ruppelt’s opinion was that Captain Mantell had misidentified a weather balloon at a higher altitude than his and had lost his life in pursuit of it. However, Ruppelt was unable to find a recorded balloon launch event in the general region.
As Godman Army Airfield observed a large glowing sphere that had been hovering within their line of sight, state troopers, and other trained observers had corroborated the existence of an unknown aerial object within their air traffic control jurisdiction. Later that day UFO’s displaying fantastic flight speed and capability in neighboring Madisonville were reported at approximately 7:00 pm. So as <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>Captain Mantell’s flight of 4 F-51 Mustangs flew over the area on their way to Standiford Air Base in Kentucky from Marietta Army Air Base. Control tower operator, Quinton Blackwell radioed the flight leader, Captain Mantell, for assistance in identifying the unknown object.
Mantell’s aircraft was not fitted with a pressurized cockpit or high altitude oxygen mask. One of his wingmen did have an oxygen mask but was low on supply. When Mantell acknowledged the Godman Tower request to intercept the unknown aerial object, one flyer dropped out of the formation low on fuel, and to retrieve an oxygen mask while the captain was followed by his wingmen lieutenants Clemments and Hammond to an altitude of 20,000 feet. Only Clemments had an oxygen mask. Mantell pointed out the object to his trailing lieutenants as being at 12’oclock.
A plan that led to disaster
According to Mantell’s plan, they would ascend to 25,000 feet for 10 minutes to try and identify the mysterious airborne enigma and break off the pursuit if they had no luck from there, but Clements and Hammond broke off the chase at 22,500 feet, descended, and headed for Standiford at about 3:15 pm. Clemments had mentioned that at 16,500 feet just before using his oxygen mask, the air was already getting dangerously thin. I must take this opportunity to interject that during World War II bomber training that crew members were subjected to the equivalent of 30,000 foot altitude air density for a number of minutes and then would perform a series of mental tests based on acuity. Such actors who had enlisted for duty after Pearl Harbor such as Clark Gable qualified under such conditions. Mantell, an experienced aviator with more than 2,000 hours combat time, likely knew his limits.
It was at that time that Clemments reported he had lost contact with Mantell who still appeared to be climbing into the sun as he and Hammond withdrew from the area. After several attempts to raise the captain form Godman Army Airfield tower with no response, a report came in that at 3:50 pm, Mantell’s F-51 Mustang had crashed near a farm house in Franklin, Kentucky. The 25 year old World War II hero was found dead in his aircraft and pulled from the wreckage partially decapitated by Franklin CountyFire Fighters. This was the official version of the story.