One of the most celebrated UFO sightings in history happened today fifty years ago, September 3, 1965: The Exeter Incident.
It began in the wee hours of a September morning in the rural town of Exeter, New Hampshire.
At 12:30 AM a police officer, Eugene Bertrand, found a woman parked on the side of the road near Highway 108. In a state of near panic, she said a UFO with flashing red lights had chased her for miles. She pointed to a diminishing bright light in the distance. Unimpressed, Bertrand watched it briefly, telling the woman it was nothing to fear and after the woman calmed down departed in his prowl car.
Nearly two hours later, a shaking Norman Muscarello, 18, exploded into the Exeter police station. He told desk officer Reginald Toland he had been hitchhiking toward home when he saw what he called "the Thing" – a "group of five bright lights" in a line moving over a large field, "go down behind trees, behind a house and then disappear".
Muscarello said the lights, "floating like a leaf", began to follow him and he fled in terror.
Officer Toland radioed Bertrand and after he picked up Muscarello at the station the cop and shaking teen arrived at the reported UFO site.
A "huge, dark object as big as a barn…with red flashing lights on it," was visible to the police officer. As it came closer Bertrand dropped to the ground and started to draw his gun. He thought better of it, grabbed Muscarello and made for the safety of the police car. Nearby woodland animals were in a state of "continued agitation", he said.
Once inside, Bertrand radioed Patrolman David Hunt. Hunt pulled up in his squad car and also witnessed the lights before they moved eastward and then out of sight.
Over the next few weeks, sixty plus reports of UFOs similar to what the two police officers and the teen had witnessed were reported in the area around Exeter.
The Exeter sightings were promptly investigated by the Air Force's top-secret Project Blue Book. "At this time I have been unable to arrive at a probable cause of this sighting," Investigating Officer Major David Griffin wrote in his report. "The three observers seem to be stable, reliable persons, especially the two patrolmen. I viewed the area of the sighting and found nothing in the area that could be the probable cause."
The late astronomer and ufologist J. Allen Hynek called the Exeter sightings "a fine example of a Close Encounter of the First Kind" – a term he created.
An in-depth Look magazine article about the sightings by Saturday Review journalist John G. Fuller and his follow-up New York Times best-seller "Incident At Exeter" sent the nation into a UFO frenzy.