Whatever happened at 2:45 a.m. July 24, 1948, in Southwest Alabama, skies not only shocked witnesses. It pushed the American government into a secret investigation, but the results were eventually destroyed.
The moon was bright and the skies were clear in those pre-dawn hours as John B. Whitted (co-pilot) and Clarence S. Chiles (pilot) flew their twin-engine propeller aircraft, Eastern Air Lines DC-3 at 5,000 feet en route from Houston, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia. The plane has 20 passengers, 19 of them asleep during that hour. It was just an ordinary routine domestic flight.
What the wide-awake passenger and two pilots saw in the skies around 20 miles southwest of Montgomery, did more than just surprise them. It would, eventually, become a tipping point in extraterrestrial history.
In an official statement one week later, Chiles described what he witnessed. He said there were no wings, and it was powered by a jet. It was shooting flame from its rear at around 50 feet. The bright light was glowing from its windows. Then, the blue light was glowing underneath it. He watched it for around 10 seconds before he lost it.
Whitted provided a similar description. He said it appeared to be around one hundred feet in length. Its fuselage seemed to be around three times a B-29 fuselage’s circumference. There was white light which seemed to be caused by some kind of combustion.
Clarence L. McKelvie of Ohio, the only passenger awake at that time, corroborated the accounts of the pilots. He said it was an unusually bright flying object. He wasn’t able to describe it beyond that, though.
Both of the pilots made drawings of the mysterious aircraft and provided more information in radio and newspaper interviews, just hours after the UFO sighting.
The big question here is what exactly did they see? Some believed it was a weather balloon, others a bright meteor or fireball. Eventually, the Air Force came to a verdict — it’s a bright meteor. As to the well-lighted windows the pilots claim to have seen, experts suggest that it might have been an occurrence named “airship effect.” This is where people who witness unrelated skylights are fooled into believing that they are part of the same exact subject. However, Whitted and Chiles stuck to their story.
James E. McDonald, a UFO expert and University of Arizona physicist, said he interviewed the pilots in 1968. This was 20 years after the said event and the two pilots were, at this time, already Eastern Air Lines’ jet pilots. Still, they continued to believe what they had seen that evening was some kind of airborne vehicle.
What’s even more puzzling was that Whitted added a new, puzzling detail to this already mysterious story. While official reports that time said the flying object had vanished into the clouds, he told McDonald that wasn’t what really occurred. He said that the object had vanished right before their very eyes.
The Chiles-Whitted case still continues to intrigue and baffle, decades later.
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