- MILLSTADT, Ill. -- It drifted
ever so slowly over grain fields and railroad tracks and little houses,
silent and stealthy in the dead of night.
- It was immense: As long as a football field. Two
stories tall. Triangular, like an arrowhead. Bright lights winked from
its rear. Red lights shimmered from its belly.
- And no one has any idea what in -- or out of -- the world
- Four police officers on patrol in four rural towns all
saw it. So did at least one civilian. Each witness independently described
the object the same way. Each was baffled.
- Southwestern Illinois, it seems, has a genuine UFO mystery
to chew on.
- Was the government testing some top-secret, slow-moving,
lit-to-the-max mega-blimp? Was nearby Scott Air Force Base trying a quirky
new weapon? Did four police officers hallucinate simultaneously? Or were
extraterrestrials scoping out the heartland with a 4 a.m. fly-by on Jan.
- "It's going to be a long while before we determine
what went on that night," said Colm Kelleher, who studies UFOs at
the National Institute for Discovery Science in Las Vegas.
- Folks out here, some 20 miles southeast of St. Louis,
don't seem too taken with the mystery. They tend to be pragmatic sorts;
they worry about their jobs and their farms and the weather, not giant
flying arrowheads. Some think it was an alien craft.
- Others nod knowingly: secret military project. Either
way, it doesn't much affect them.
- But the sightings have electrified UFO researchers nationwide.
- A team of Las Vegas investigators led by a former FBI
agent spent several days interviewing witnesses here. And at the National
UFO Reporting Center in Seattle, Director Peter Davenport calls the case
"a UFOlogist's dream" because the officers make "excellent
to unimpeachable" witnesses.
- Based on his interviews so far, Davenport says the UFO
"clearly does not appear to be compatible with any conventional terrestrial
aircraft that we know of."
- The catch is "that we know of."
- Even big-time UFO buffs have to admit that it's possible
the mystery craft was a top-secret, man-made experiment.
- The Stealth bomber, for instance, was test-flown in the
Midwest for eight years before the Pentagon officially unveiled it.
- During that time, local UFO societies got dozens of reports
of black delta-shaped ships zooming overhead, said Forest Crawford, an
Illinois UFO researcher.
- "If it was up to me, I'd like (this latest sighting)
to be a giant alien craft," Crawford said, "because those are
more fun to investigate." He thinks it most likely, however, will
turn out to be some sort of stealth blimp.
- Not that the government is about to 'fess up, if in fact
it was involved.
- A spokesman for Scott Air Force Base says personnel there
know nothing about the UFO. (Then again, if it was a classified military
project, "I can't imagine that we would know," Lt. Col. Allan
Dahncke said. "If we did, it wouldn't be so secret.")
- The Federal Aviation Administration is similarly clueless:
Air traffic controllers "didn't see anything, didn't hear anything,
didn't catch anything on radar," spokeswoman Liz Cory said.
- But those who saw the UFO are sure it was for real.
- It floated along about 1,000 feet overhead, emitting
a low-level buzz and following a southwesterly course for 20 minutes or
more. Millstadt police Officer Craig Stevens tried to take a photo but
captured just three bright lights on film.
- Excited and sleepless, Stevens has spent days combing
the Internet for clues about the object. (That, and fending off callers
who offer to examine him for alien implants.) He now says he's "almost
98 percent sure" that the craft was man-made. "There is that
slight possibility, though," he added, "that it may be from elsewhere."
- That prospect pushes Davenport to keep on investigating.
"Until you have one of these objects on a laboratory table and are
talking to the occupants, you can't say definitively what it is."