Carbondale UFO tale rises again

CARBONDALE, Pa. (AP) — David Morris wants to believe.

The Greenfield Twp. resident was only 6 years old on Nov. 9, 1974, when then-14-year-old Robert Gillette Jr. and two friends reported to police they saw a red, whirring ball fly over Salem Mountain and followed it to a silt pond in Carbondale.

At age 48, he still is intrigued by the local legend.

Morris was one of dozens of people who took a county transit system trolley from Carbondale Grand Hotel to the old mine pond on Saturday to satisfy their curiosity — part of a hotel-hosted event commemorating an incident that became international news at the time.

“I was curious to see if it was physically possible for something like that to have taken place,” Morris said. “I think it was definitely physically possible.”

The “Carbondale UFO” drew police, military, UFO enthusiasts and spectators from all over the country in 1974. A green-tinged glow illuminated the pond for nine hours; after two days, a diver emerged from the murky waters with only an old railroad lantern.

Kay Pope, who was 15 at the time and is now 58, remembers riding her bicycle to the Russell Park area and seeing it cordoned off by the military. She also saw what appeared to be something large being removed from the area.

“We always rode our bikes up there,” said Pope, who now lives in Blakely. “(I saw) a big flatbed truck on the road with something huge on it that was covered, and there were a lot of people in (military) uniforms.”

Gillette told The Times-Tribune in 1999 that he threw the battery-powered, sealed-beam lantern into the water to scare his sister — but the legend has since lived on.

After seeing the pond and talking with locals who were around at the time, Morris didn’t buy the story that a lantern was behind it all. He was disappointed Gillette did not speak at the event because he wanted to clarify some of the details.

“Why would you call in the people that were called in and heavy machinery to take a lantern out of a pond?” he wondered. “It just doesn’t make any sense. I think something definitely happened there.”

Now 56 years old, Gillette was hanging around the hotel during Saturday’s “alien landing anniversary and celebration” and now claims what he told the newspaper 17 years ago wasn’t true.

“My girlfriend broke up with me, so I was in a bad mood,” he said. “I just told them what they wanted to hear, that it was a lantern. It wasn’t a lantern. Something was pulled out of the pond.”

Saturday’s event included speakers from the Mutual UFO Network and others with expertise on the topic.

Bill Weber, the network’s chief investigator for Pennsylvania and Delaware, said in an interview that he doesn’t have extensive knowledge about the Carbondale incident, and based on what he knew, “I think the jury is still out.”

“I hear reports of lights in the sky, maneuvers in the sky, unknown objects, triangles in the sky,” Weber said. “In Pennsylvania, we average about 25 to 35 cases a month. We have means of testing the credibility. … We take the report, we establish contact with the witness or witnesses and we do our own investigation, internet searches, FAA requests, local police, state police requests. We try to get to the bottom of it.”

In 85 percent of the cases, investigators are able to explain what people saw, he estimated. The other 15 percent of the time, they are not.

For his part, Gillette did not think aliens were responsible for what he saw, but perhaps a Soviet satellite.

“I don’t think it was aliens. Some people do,” the city resident said. “I never called it a UFO. The official people did.”

Richard Suraci, a marketing and sales official for Carbondale Grand Hotel, envisions the festivities becoming an annual event to celebrate an interesting piece of the city’s history.