With all the ballyhoo about the return of “The X-Files” to television, I was reminded
of something odd that happened a long, long time ago (but not in a galaxy far, far away).
It was near midnight on a clear August
night in 1966 when my girlfriend and I went into the field beside her house to watch the annual Perseids meteor shower. I
was nineteen and had never seen a display quite like it before: a spectacular fusillade of shooting stars slashing across
the sky, one after another in rapid succession. The image of that night sky and the sense of awe I felt have remained vivid
all these years later.
Apart from the shooting stars, we noticed a bright pinpoint of light, moving comparatively slowly, coming up over
the horizon in front of us. It moved steadily until it appeared to be overhead. A satellite, surely; it was reminiscent of
watching Sputnik go over nearly a decade before. But the pinpoint of light stopped and seemed to hover for a just a moment.
Then it accelerated away with blazing speed off to our right. It was gone in a second or two. There seemed to be no apparent
explanation for the sudden change in speed and direction. It was puzzling.
I was working that summer as an intern at my hometown
newspaper, my first job in the news business. So the next morning I gave myself the assignment of making a call to a professor
at Penn State and asking some questions to see if I could figure out what I saw. The professor said the slower moving light
probably was in fact a satellite. He said the time and direction roughly coincided with the orbit of Echo I. If you remember,
Echo was a metallic-coated balloon one hundred feet in diameter used to bounce microwave signals off of and was, under good
conditions, visible from the ground.
But what about the way it stopped, or seemed to, and the way it did a super-fast dash out of sight?
Here’s what the professor said, and this is a direct quote because I still have a yellowing newspaper clipping of the
story I helped to write: “The account of the erratic movement can be explained by the observer looking around and taking
his eyes off the moving object and then returning them.” I didn’t remember looking away and looking back, but
certainly I could have been distracted by the ongoing meteor show. Still, I wasn’t particularly sold on the professor’s
This little experience would have become just a transitory wisp of memory were it not for what came next.
Two more reports came
into the paper that morning. They were taken down and added to the story by a staff reporter. First, a woman who lived in
a rural, sparsely populated area well out of town claimed that what she called a UFO had loudly swooped by her home the previous
afternoon. She said the object was small, egg-shaped, and orange in color. Second was this item: “A small helicopter,
reported seen over this city and adjacent areas, landed at the airport yesterday, but its pilot and passenger did not identify
themselves, and the craft carried no identifying marks.” The story speculated as to whether the helicopter might have
somehow “sparked” the UFO report.
Here’s the bottom line for me: I can believe that mistaken observation or atmospheric
refraction or some such esoteric element could have come into play with what I saw or thought I did. I can believe that someone
not used to seeing a helicopter in her neighborhood could have excitedly misapprehended what she saw. It’s the final
item, the bit about an unmarked helicopter with unidentified occupants, in combination with the other things, that gives me
a just a little bit of pause. No markings? Really? That, indeed, would be odd. Rationally, I can’t take it any further.
Just an offbeat event that provides a little tickle of mystery. With this one, there is no conclusive truth out there. So
it just stays in my personal X-File.
© 2016 Donald C. Sarvey and Editorial Enterprises, Inc.