- Melvern Noll wheeled his GMC Sonoma pickup into the parking
lot of Fun Land of Highland. It was 4 a.m. on Jan. 5 and dead quiet in
the small Illinois town some four miles south of I-70 in Madison County.
Fun Land has been Mel Noll's enterprise these last 12 years, operating
for all but the winter months, offering the folks of Highland wholesome
diversion with its miniature-golf course, go-kart track and video games.
Noll, 66, coming off an overnight run to Bloomington -- he's also a part-time
truck driver -- had stopped at his business on the way home that frigid
morning, worried that the pipes might freeze. He stepped out of his pickup
and started toward the office/snack bar/arcade room when something caught
his eye. "I happened to look toward the northeast," he says in
a down-home country dialect, "and seen, like, a bright star and never
thought too much about it, just 'That's awful low for being a star.'"
He went into the office for a bit, checked the plumbing and returned to
his truck: "I looked up and there it was, just like a big house floating
in the air, with windows in it and a bright light on the inside, like there
might've been a big room in there."
- Although it is difficult to judge the size of an airborne
object at a distance -- there's no point of reference by which to gauge
-- Noll estimates that the craft was "about the size of a football
field." The object was moving slowly, perhaps 50 mph, some 800-1,000
feet above him and off to the south, providing a view of its side and bottom
as it passed along a stand of trees. "I just couldn't hardly believe
my eyes what I was seeing up there," he recalls. "I mean, there
was no noise, nothing! And I was looking for wings and couldn't see no
wings on it. I thought, 'What in the heck is it?'" Noll stood on the
parking-lot gravel contemplating this strange sight for five minutes or
so: "I just kept watching it, and at one point it seemed like it slowed
down and I had the feeling it spotted me down here, and it scared the heck
out of me. Then it kept a-going toward the southwest." The last he
saw of the craft, a mysterious and silent behemoth, it was sailing silently
past the Oberbeck Grain Elevator.
- When Noll walked in to the Highland police station and
told them about the UFO, he felt compelled to add that he hadn't been partying.
The dispatcher, Nancy Edwards, reassured him: "I believe you. I can
see it in your face that you saw something." Edwards then got on the
horn and notified a St. Clair County police dispatcher, who in turn began
a round of contacts to patrol officers in various jurisdictions.
- Nothing much was shaking in Lebanon at 4:11 a.m. when
Officer Ed Barton received the call from St. Clair County dispatch. Barton,
who at first scoffed at the dispatcher's request to look for a flying object
in the shape of a "two-story house" with white lights and red
blinking lights -- "If I find it, what am I supposed to do with it?"
-- soon changed his tune when he spied a "very bright white light
just east of town." From the time he first saw it, "and that
was a good five, six miles away," says Barton, "it looked like
two large -- very large -- bright white lights so close together it
looked like they were almost touching, with rays of light emitting from
them." Barton switched on the cruiser's overhead lights, driving south
on Route 4 in the general direction in which he'd seen the craft. "I
was going rather fast," he says, "because I thought at first
it was a plane going down."
- Getting an occasional visual on the craft through the
trees, Barton turned on Route 50, heading eastbound about three miles into
the village of Summerfield. And there it was. "Just imagine an elongated,
narrow triangle, but massive, so big it blotted out the stars that would've
been above it," Barton says. "And on each of the corners of this
thing were these round, bright white lights, so bright I had to squint
to look." It had been stationary, but then it began to move. "That's
when I noticed it was coming toward me, and so I pulled off the road, turned
off my overhead lights, turned off my squad car."
- All the witnesses saw the object at different distances
and different angles. Barton had one of the closest views -- by his reckoning,
it was some 200 feet away and about 1,000-1,500 feet in the air. Barton's
proximity helps discount the theory that the craft was an airplane. "I
was a military brat 21 years -- my father was active-duty Air Force
-- so I'm familiar with both foreign and domestic aircraft," he says.
"It got to where I could usually identify an aircraft just by the
engine noise, and when this thing went over, it made zero noise. I mean,
that's what really caught my attention -- no noise whatsoever."
- At that moment, a mere half-mile from Officer Barton,
a resident of Summerfield was also observing the aeronautical phenomenon.
Johnny Doss, 43, had undergone heart surgery in July. He still wasn't back
on the job as an environmental-waste hauler, and he wasn't sleeping well.
His wife, Cindy, an EMS coordinator in Lebanon, has a police radio that
the couple keeps tuned to police and fire chatter. Sometimes Johnny passed
the hours listening in. That morning, he heard the report of the UFO and
listened to Officer Barton's live account through the crackle and static
that the object was "just east of Summerfield and it keeps changing
colors." Doss thought he might just walk outside and see for himself.
The thing -- "way larger than an airliner, with several bright lights"
-- had already passed over his home. He says he stood out in his yard
watching it for a few minutes, until the low-flying, westward-heading craft
receded behind some trees at the edge of town. When he came back into the
bedroom, Cindy woke up. "I asked him what he'd been doing," Cindy
says, "and he answered, 'I was outside looking at the UFO.'"
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