A detailed look at one of the most fascinating UFO encounters in recent history. The Exeter UFO incident of 1965 involved a rapidly flying craft, blinding red lights, fighter jets, law enforcement, military, and civilian witnesses.
At around 2 a.m. on September 3, 1965, Norman Muscarello, 18, was hitchhiking near Kensington, New Hampshire, on his way home to Exeter a few miles to the north. Traffic was sparse, and the young man had been forced to walk much of the way. While passing an open field, he noticed five flashing red lights 100 feet from him. Blinking along a 60-degree arc, they were positioned over a house bordering the field. Powerful enough to illuminate the surrounding area, the lights apparently ran along the rim of a structure, not quite visible but seemingly 80 to 90 feet in diameter.
As Muscarello watched, the lights moved silently out over the sloping field. There they rose and fell with a "floating leaf" motion, sometimes disappearing briefly behind trees or a house. As he would later tell the Air Force, "Only one light would be on at a time. They were pulsating: one, two, three, four, five, four, three, two, one. They were so bright I could not distinguish a form to the object."
A sensation of sheer terror overwhelmed him when the lights suddenly moved toward him. When he dived into the ditch, the lights backed off, hovered over a house for a short time, and then retreated into the field. Muscarello leaped to his feet, raced to the house, and banged on the door, screaming for help. No one responded.
Just then he saw a northbound car. He dashed to the middle of the road and waved it down. The middle-aged couple in the car dropped him off at the Exeter police station at 2:24. Muscarello stormed inside in a distraught state and blurted out his story to the desk officer, Patrolman Reginald "Scratch" Toland. Toland was surprised. Muscarello, who had a reputation for toughness, was not easily shaken or frightened.
Toland radioed Officer Eugene F. Bertrand, Jr., then out on patrol, and asked him to come in to talk with Muscarello. As it happened, an hour and a half earlier, at 1 a.m., he had been on the Route 108 bypass when he saw a car stopped along the side of the road. Its occupant told him she was too upset to drive and was trying to regain her composure. A huge object with flashing red lights had followed her all the way from Epping (12 miles northwest of Exeter) at a distance of no more than a few feet. When she reached the overpass, the object had risen abruptly and disappeared into the night sky.
Bertrand thought she was a "kook," as he put it. Nonetheless, her fear was real enough, and he stayed with her for 15 minutes until she was ready to go on.
The significance of her story did not strike him until he heard Muscarello recount his own terrifying encounter. His curiosity aroused, Bertrand offered to take him back to the site. At a few minutes before 3, the two arrived at the field along Route 150. From the patrol car, they saw nothing out of the ordinary. Bertrand reported as much to Toland, who suggested that he stroll out into the field just to be sure all was normal.
So Bertrand and Muscarello ventured into the darkness, the officer shining his flashlight through the distant trees as they walked. Maybe Muscarello had seen a helicopter, Bertrand suggested, but the young man insisted he knew what a helicopter looked like, and he knew about other kinds of conventional airplanes, and this was like none of them. The two had gone some 50 feet from the road when horses in a nearby corral suddenly began to kick the sides of the barn and to whinny as if in fear. Dogs howled. Muscarello screamed, "I see it!"
Bertrand stared out at the trees beyond the corral and watched in shock at the sudden appearance of "this huge, dark object as big as that barn over there, with red flashing lights on it." The object "barely cleared" a 60- to 70-foot-high pine tree as it came toward them at a tilt, swaying back and forth all the while. Reflexively Bertrand dropped to one knee, yanked his .38 revolver out of its holster, and aimed it toward the object, which looked "bright red with sort of a halo effect." On second thought Bertrand decided it would not be a good idea to shoot. He grabbed Muscarello, who was paralysed with fear, and led him toward the car.
From there they observed the object as it hovered 100 feet away and at 100 feet altitude. It rocked back and forth. The pulsating red lights flashed in rapid sequence, first from right to left, then left to right, each cycle consuming no more than two seconds. Bertrand had already alerted another officer, David Hunt, who said he was on his way. Over the next few minutes, as they awaited Hunt's arrival, they watched the object hover. The animals continued to act agitated.
Then the object started to move slowly and erratically in the direction of Hampton. "It darted," Bertrand remembered. "It could turn on a dime. Then it would slow down." By now Hunt was there and seeing it, too. He would tell writer John G. Fuller:
"I could see that fluttering movement. It was going from left to right, between the tops of two big trees. I could see those pulsating lights. I could hear those horses kicking out in the barns there. Those dogs were really howling. Then it started moving, slow-like, across the tops of the trees, just above the trees. It was rocking when it did this. A creepy type of look. Airplanes don't do this. After it moved out of sight, toward Hampton, toward the ocean, we waited awhile. A B-47 came over. You could tell the difference. There was no comparison."
After Bartrand and Hunt returned to the station to write up their reports, Toland got a call from a local night operator. She had just spoken, she said, with a badly frightened, almost incoherent man who claimed a flying saucer had been chasing him. In fact, it was still in sight. When she tried to connect him with the Exeter police, she lost the call. She had then traced it to an outdoor phone booth in Hampton. Toland notified the Hampton police immediately, and Bertrand and Hunt went out looking for him (even checking the hospital), but the witness was never located.
Explanations on parade.
When he arrived at work at 8 a.m., Exeter Police Lieutenant Warren Cottrell found Bertrand's terse 11-sentence report on the dramatic event of six and five hours earlier. Cottrell called Pease Air Force Base several miles north of Exeter, at Portsmouth. At 1 p.m. Major David H. Griffin and Lieutenant Alan Brandt arrived from the air base. They interviewed Bertrand, Hunt, and Muscrello and visited the site. At one point in the conversation, they asked the witness not to tell the press about their experience. It was too late, however. A reporter from the Manchester Union Leader had learned of their sighting minutes after its occurrence and had interviewed them even before they went home.
The next week, Massachusetts ufologist Raymond E. Fowler, an investigator for the Washington-based National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), arrived in Exeter and commenced what would be the most thorough investigation, surpassing the Air Force's perfunctory efforts and the armchair labors of subsequent would-be debunkers. Shortly after his interviews with the principals, Major Griffin forwarded a brief report, plus statements from the three, to Project Blue Book at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio, concluding:
"At this time I have been unable to arrive at a probable cause of this sighting. 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. Pease AFB had five B-47 aircraft flying in the area during this period but I do not believe that they had any connection with this sighting."
Before Blue Book had even been sent this analysis from the only Air Force representative (along with his fellow Pease officer) who had actually conducted any field investigation, the Pentagon in Washington was already informing the press that the witnesses had seen nothing more than "stars and planets twinkling" owing to a temperature inversion. Then Blue Book weighed in with its own explanation:
"Big Blast Coco, a SAC/NORAD training mission, was flown on the 2-3 September 1965. By 03/0430Z, the operational portion of the mission was complete... The town of Exeter is within the traffic pattern utilized by Air Traffic Control in the recovery of these aircraft at Pease AFB, N.H. During their approach the recovering aircraft would have been displaying standard position lights, anti-collision lights, and possibly over-wing and landing lights."
In a November letter to Bertrand and Hunt, Blue Book head Major Hector Quintanilla, Jr., mentioned "Big Blast" as a "possible" explanation, though a "final evaluation" of the sighting had yet to be made. He wrote:
"In addition to the aircraft from this operation, there were five (5) B-47 aircraft flying in the area during this period. Since there were many aircraft in the area, at the time, and there were no reports of unidentified objects from personnel engaged in this air operation, we might then assume that the objects observed between midnight and two a.m. might be associated with this military air operation. If, however, these aircraft were noted by either of you, this would tend to eliminate this air operation as a possible explanation for the objects observed."
In a December 2 letter written by Bertrand but signed by both, the witnesses responded:
"As you might imagine, we have been the subject of considerable ridicule since the Pentagon released its "final evaluation" of our sighting of September 3, 1965. In other words, both Patrolman Hunt and myself saw this object at close range, checked it out with each other, confirmed and reconfirmed the fact that this was not any kind of conventional aircraft, that it was at an altitude of not more than a couple of hundred feet, and went to considerable trouble to confirm that the weather was clear, there was no wind, no chance of weather inversion, and that what we were seeing was in no way a military or civilian craft. We entered this in a complete official police report as a supplement to the blotter of the morning of September 3rd (not September 2 as your letter indicates). Since our job depends on accuracy and the ability to tell the difference between fact and fiction, we were naturally disturbed by the Pentagon report issued which attributed the sighting to "multiple high-altitude objects in the area" and "weather inversion." What is a little difficult to understand is that your letter arrived considerably after the Pentagon release. Since your letter says that you are still in the process of making a final evaluation, it seems that there is an inconsistency here. Ordinarily, this would not be too important except for the fact that in a situation like this, we are naturally very reluctant to be considered irresponsible in our official report to the police station. One of us (Patrolman Bertrand) was in the Air Force for four years, engaged in refuelling operations, with all kinds of military aircraft; it was impossible to mistake what we saw for any kind of military operation, regardless of altitude. It was also definitely not a helicopter or balloon. Immediately after the object disappeared, we did see what probably was a B-47 at high altitudes, but it bore no relation to the object that we saw."
"Another fact is that the time of our observation was nearly an hour after two a.m. which would eliminate the Air Force Operation Big Blast since as you say, this took place between midnight and two a.m. Norman Muscarello, who first reported this object before we went to the site, saw it somewhere in the vicinity of two a.m. but nearly an hour had passed before he got to the police station and we went out to the location with him."
After not hearing from Quintanilla, the officers sent a follow-up letter on December 29. They again disputed the official explanations:
"It is important to remember that this craft that we saw was not more than one hundred feet in the air and it was absolutely silent with no rush of air from jets or chopper blades whatever. And it did not have any wings or tail. It lit up the entire field, and two nearby houses turned completely red. It stopped, hovered, and turned on a dime."
Some weeks later Lieutenant Colonel John Spaulding, from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, responded: "Based on additional information submitted to our UFO Investigation Officer, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, we have been unable to identify the object that you observed on September 3, 1965."
The Sequel To The UFO Sighting
The Muscarello/Bertrand/Hunt sighting became the focus of a popular book, Incident at Exeter, written by John G. Fuller. The attention ensured that this particular sighting would be remembered in a way few have been.
If one man is to be believed, the most interesting aspect of the story remains hidden by official secrecy. On December 3, 1982, Robert Mark, the Hampton chief of police, told ufologists Lawrence Fawcett and Barry Greenwood of an incident said to have taken place on the night of the Exeter sighting. At the time, Mark, assigned to the 509th Security Police Squadron at Pease, was a sergeant in the Air Force. He said:
"It was at about 12 a.m. when I and two other airmen were at the main gate to Pease. One of the airmen yelled, "Look at that!" I turned around to see an object drop out of the star-filled sky. It was coming straight toward the guard shack at an altitude of about 300 to 400 feet. The lights were approaching at a very fast rate of speed. What I saw as the object was coming straight on, was what looked like two headlights that were very bright.
As the object passed over the lighted areas of the base, the lights would go out as if someone were breaking the bulbs as they went by. It passed directly over the guard shack, but the men could not hear a sound, only the wind. When I first saw the two bright headlights drop out of the sky and come towards the shack, I thought it was a B-52 approaching, but this was dismissed when there was no sound whatsoever.
One of the airmen ran for the shack and grabbed the red hotline phone, which is a direct to CSC (Central Security Control) He began crying and yelling into the phone about what he was seeing. Then he dropped to his knees and lost all control of himself. I had to grab the phone away from him and shake the airman, telling him to control himself, that the thing was not going to kill him. As this was going on, the object headed towards the north end of Pease. When it flew over, the lights there went out also. They remained out for about 30 to 40 seconds, then came back on. The whole area was black when the object passed over."
Mark said the object's lights were so bright that beyond seeing an oblong shape, he could not make out its contours. Two jets were sent to intercept it, but the UFO would shoot away every time the aircraft seemed to be gaining.
A number of Exeter-area witnesses in the late summer and fall of 1965 reported seeing interceptors pursuing UFOs. One woman told Fuller:
"On the 17th of September, we were going up to Exeter. This thing with red, green, and white lights on it stopped over a house. We watched it for two or three minutes, and then a jet plane came. And when it did, every single light on the object went out. The plane went by, and the lights came on again. The plane came back, and the lights went out. Then the object went off, and the plane remained there circling and recircling the spot.
One night in October, while he was in the area collecting reports for his book, Fuller, in the company of three others, had this sighting:
"I looked and saw a reddish-orange disk, about one-fifth the size of a full moon. It was about three or four plane lengths in front of the jet, which appeared to be a fighter. The plane was moving as if in hot pursuit. The disk was perfectly round, dull orange more than red. It was luminous, glowing, incandescent. The plane was not closing the distance between it and the object. We followed both the plane and the object for 18 or 20 seconds until they disappeared below the southeasterly horizon."
All the while Pease AFB resolutely denied that its jets were chasing UFOs. There is no record of such attempted intercepts in Blue Book or other Air Force documents. Somebody, it appears, is not telling the truth. Kinross UFO: An Unidentified Craft, A Hidden Transcript & A Missing Air Force Jet