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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.

The events:

In Summit County, Ohio, on April 17, 1966, a woman has called the police to report a UFO sighting. Patrol cars in the nearby counties have received the notification through the radio and laughed about it.

At about 5:00 A.M. on April 17, 1966, Portage County, Ohio Sheriff deputy Dale Spaur and Wilbur "Barney" Neff, temporary police auxiliary, stopped on Route 224 near Ravenna to investigate what appeared to be an abandoned car. According to a legend, the car was full of what seemed to be radio equipment and had an insignia on the door consisting of a triangle with a lightning bolt inside it and the words "Seven Steps to Hell" written above the triangle. "Seven Steps to Hell" is the motto of the 7th Army, however, their insignia is an "A" with stepped sides, as shown underneath.

7th army patch

Actually the allegedly mysterious automobile is no part of the factual aspect of the incident. The thorough investigation William Weitzel for NICAP indicates that Weitzel learned that the automobile's owner was quickly traced, and that he actually examined the vehicle himself while it was still parked along 224. He wrote, "It had some tapes, a cheap Japanese transistor toy tape recorder with a tape of hillbilly music on it, some miscellaneous electrical gear, in the back seat. Trunk full of old tires." The "Seven Steps to Hell" insignia was not on the car, only in witness Dale Spaur's subsequent nightmares.

As they checked the car, Spaur noticed something rising out of the woods behind them:

"I always look behind me so no one can come up behind me. And when I looked in this wooded area behind us, I saw this thing.... As it came over the trees, I looked at Barney and he was still watching the car.. and he didn't say nothing and the thing kept getting brighter and the area started to get light..."

The object was about fifty feet in diameter, with a bright, well-defined light beam shining down from the bottom.

"When Barney Neff saw the object he just stood there with his mouth open for a minute as bright as it was, and he looked down. And I started looking down and I looked at my hands and my clothes weren't burning or anything, when it stopped right over on top of us. The only thing, the only sound in the whole area was a hum... like a transformer being loaded or an overloaded transformer when it changes..."

They broke for their patrol car. Once safely inside, Spaur radioed a quick report. A Sergeant Schoenfelt told them to follow the object. They chased the object at speeds of up to 100 mph as it headed east, constantly reporting their position on the radio to allow other officers to follow the chase.

As the object moved to the east, Officer H. Wayne Huston of East Palestine, Ohio joined in the chase. He had been listening to the radio reports, and when he saw the object pass overhead with Spaur and Neff close behind, he took off in pursuit.

The chase continued across the state line into Pennsylvania, and as Spaur's vehicle got low on gas, he pulled over to enlist the aid of a Conway, Pennsylvania officer. When Spaur stopped, so did the object. They phoned the Air Force from Conway, and minutes later over the radio they heard that jet fighters were being scrambled to intercept the object. The object had other plans, however, and it suddenly shot straight up and vanished.

Frank Panzenella, a Conway, PA police officer said:

"The object was the shape of half a football, was very bright and about 25 to 35 feet in diameter.... The object continued to go upward until it got as small as a ballpoint pen. Relative to the moon, the object was quite distant and to the left of the moon. We all four watched the object shoot straight up and disappear."

Police Chief Gerald Buchert of Mantua photographed the object from in front of his home. The Air Force told him not to release the photo, but The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the photo showed an object that was like two saucers put together, with a light upper saucer upside down over a dark lower saucer. The picture was only seen by a reporter and Mr. Weitzel, NICAP investigator, who was not convinced, but it was never available for analysis.

You need to read Mr. Weitzel's investigation details in his letter to Prof. Powers to realize just how stunning the events were.

Spaur stated:

"Somebody had control over it. It wasn't just an object floating around. It can manoeuver."

Investigation and denial:

The official Air Force evaluation has concluded that the case is explained "by an astronomical phenomenon." When asked for details, they explained that the officers had seen a satellite at first, and then had chased the planet Venus for forty-odd miles. Absolutely none of the witness and investigators could agree with this perfectly ridiculous explanation. But at that time, after the Robertson Panel organized by the CIA, Project Blue Book did not have anything left of a possibly sincere research project but had clearly become an anti-UFO propaganda machine.

The investigation by Major Quintanilla actually consisted in a two minutes and a half phone call to the sole Dale Spaur, starting with this question: "tell me about this mirage you saw." Then a second one minute and a half phone was passed again only to Dale Spaur. According to a written and signed testimony by Spaur, Quintanilla wanted him to sign a text specifying that the sighting lasted only a few minutes. When Spaur protested that it was at least a 60 miles car chase covering two states, Quintanilla put an end to the conversation. It required Congressional pressures to have Quintanilla make his way to Ravenna to meet and interview Spaur and Neff. This time, Weitzel was there because Spaur asked him to tape his interview with Quintanilla. A partial transcription of the tape reproduced in Dr. J. Allen Hynek's first book "The UFO Experience," is very telling of the ways and manner of Quintanilla when he interrogated UFO witnesses.

A detailed report on the incident was assembled by NICAP, and this report was turned over to the Condon Committee, who did not mention it at all in their final report. (Who would have thought?)

Because so many civilians were monitoring their radio broadcasts after the incident, the sheriff's office decided to give the UFO the code name Floyd. In June, 1966, Spaur saw Floyd again briefly. He just looked up, and it was there. He radioed in that "Floyd's here with me!" Then he refused to look for several minutes. When he looked back, Floyd was gone.

The men who were involved in this incident suffered for it. They were hounded by the media and ridiculed by others. Buchert and Neff stopped talking about the incident to anyone. Panzenella received so many phone calls about the incident that he finally had his phone disconnected. Huston quit the police department and moved to Seattle, Washington, where he became a bus driver, changing his preferred name from Wayne to Harold. Spaur's life was ruined. He was hounded even worse than the others. He began to have personal problems that culminated in his arrest for the assault and battery of his wife. He turned in his badge and made a meager living as a painter. His wife divorced him.

Spaur said:

"If I could change all that I have done in my life, I would change just one thing. And that would be the night we chased that damn thing. That saucer."

Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the respected astronomer who was supposed to "explain" UFO cases submitted to his expertise by the Project Blue Book of the US Air Force, and who after 20 years of research had changed from a complete skepticism to a conviction of the reality of the phenomenon as non-terrestrial in nature in some cases, did not personally investigate the case since as NICAP did it. However he followed the unfolding and explained how utterly despicable Major Quintanilla's investigation and explanation was. He also notes that normally, Blue Book was supposed to consult him before pronouncing any astronomical "explanation," but in this case as in few other, he was not consulted at all. Nevertheless, he gave the reason why it could not have been Venus.

Dr. James E. McDonald, a highly respected physician, specialist in atmospherics, studied the UFO phenomenon first with total skepticism, then acquiring the conviction that the UFO phenomenon is probably of extra-terrestrial origin in some cases and should be see as the most important scientific issue of the century. He called for reevaluation of this case on April 17, 1966 not only on the scientific grounds involved, but also to avoid unfairly subjecting to local public ridicule the several officers who have testified.

Film maker Steven Spielberg used the case as inspiration in his world famous movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

A lot of people is still convinced that UFOs do not really exist and are hoaxes and misinterpretation under the influence of movies such as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."


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This page was last updated on November 7, 2003.