The Famous Case of the 1966 Hillsdale Michigan ‘Swamp Gas’ UFO

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Michigan has always been a ‘hot spot’ for UFO activity. One of the most famous UFO cases in ufo Hillsdale occurred in Hillsdale, Michigan in 1966. Dr J. Allan Hynek was at that time working for the Air Force Project Blue Book, which had been set up to investigate claims of UFO activity. Hynek was sent to Hillsdale College in south-central Michigan to talk to witnesses.  

After a cursory investigation of the reported UFO, Hynek dismissed the entire sighting as the result of misidentified “swamp gas,” even though the sighting had been confirmed by 17 witnesses and investigated and confirmed by William E .Van Horn, the Hillsdale County Civil Defense director and a former commercial pilot.

The following 1966 press release (recovered in 1984) recounts Van Horn’s initial report of the incident:

On the evening of March 21, 1966 at 10:32 p.m., a call was received from the New Woman’s Dormitory at Hillsdale College by the Office Of Civil Defense… from a student reporting that some type of craft had descended from the Northeast, flashed by their dormitory and disappeared to the South. At this time, the girl described as well as later, the observing of red, green and white pulsating lights. There were 17 of the college students that made this observation.

At approximately 11 p.m., a second call was made by the girl to the Civil Defense Office informing them that the object had reappeared and had settled close to the ground approximately one half mile from the dormitory. Van Horn at once called for help from the Police Department and three cars plus himself were sent in a two mile area from the dormitory to the East. Van Horn checked the area at the half mile point and after he was unable to locate anything. He at once returned to the dormitory.

Upon arriving at the dormitory, he was escorted to the second floor and taken to a room facing the east, from where he made the following observation. He observed that there was an object which was at an approximate distance of 1,500 to 1,700 feet away from them… settled into a hollow and was apparently either near or on the ground. The two lights upon his first observation were what he would describe as a dim orange on the right and a dirty white on the left. After observing this for a period of about 10 minutes the lights began to grow in brilliance, the dim orange became red and true in color and the white became a true white. As the lights became more brilliant, the object or vehicle began to rise.

It would rise to a height of approximately 100 to 150 feet, stop momentarily and began to descend. This occurred several times. At one time upon descending, a glow from the side opposite them came from somewhere and he was able to see a convexed surface.

The vehicle was also observed to move right to left, and left to right, and did so in a very smooth manner. The ascent and descent were at an estimated rate of 25 to 30 feet per minute (*). At no time were any of the witnesses able to detect any type of sound or noise.

At approximately 4:30 a.m., those still observing the scene noticed the lights disappear and this was the last that was seen of it.

The area that this was observed in was by no means a swamp but rather an area which is cultivated by Hillsdale College as a park.

While it is easy to misidentify all manner of natural phenomena as UFOs, Van Horn’s report hardly sounds like swamp gas, and the fact that the object was seen by so many people over an extended period of time made it all the more unusual.

Van Horn had tests run on oil, plants, water, and animals taken from the vicinity of the purported UFO landing site. All showed higher than expected levels of radiation, with amphibians taken from the site showing the highest levels.

While these results are in no way ‘proof’ that an alien craft had touched down near Hillsdale College that night in 1966, it is also true that there is no obvious rational explanation for the results. The tests were provocative to say the least, especially when taken in conjunction with the reported landing of a UFO on that spot.

Hynek’s dismissal of the Hillsdale UFO caused such a strong negative reaction from the public  that within two weeks he reconsidered his dismissal of the sighting, and afterward became one of the most vocal proponents of the need for serious study of the UFO phenomenon.

Arguments about whether UFOs were ‘real’ or whether key reports such as this one were part of an elaborate disinformation campaign initiated by the U.S. government continue to this very day.

J. Allen Hynek died in 1986.


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