It wasn't a bird, it wasn't a plane — and it definitely wasn't Superman.
But just what were those lights or saucer-shaped objects hovering in the sky?
Thomas Wertman, state director of the Mutual Unidentified Flying Object Network (MUFON), spoke June 24 to about 30 people at the Avon Lake Public Library about unidentified flying objects seen passing through various parts of the United States.
The Parma resident has been a member of the Mutual UFO Network, a private international nonprofit organization based in Irvine, California, for 10 years. He believes that with recent technology and History Channel shows such as "Unidentified" and "Ancient Aliens," the UFO phenomena will continue to be a hot topic for enthusiasts seeking answers about eyewitness accounts.
Wertman's talk focused on Project BLUE BOOK, the Air Force's 1947-69 investigation into UFO sightings. At the time, the Air Force remained steadfast in explaining away what the objects were or debunking the possibility of interplanetary travel posing national threats during the Cold War era. Wertman also spoke about a 2014 incident reported by Navy pilots on the USS Nimitz who were monitoring a UFO traveling at supersonic speeds while they were on a training exercise along the southern California coast.
In 2017, the Pentagon admitted to spending more than $20 million in "black budget money" from 2007 to 2012 to investigate reports of UFOs. The Pentagon's UFO Unit was overseen by Luis Elizondo, a former Pentagon military intelligence official and other top government officials.
During Project BLUE BOOK, there were slightly more than 12,000 sightings of UFOs reported, and about 700 of those remain unexplained. The Mutual UFO Network researches about 8,000 reports of UFOs worldwide a year.
In Ohio, MUFON investigated 180 cases of UFOs reported last year, many of them in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties, Wertman said. In fact, Wertman said that about 10 percent of the annual UFO reports are from Cuyahoga and Lorain counties. Since 2014, there have been 93 UFO sightings in Cuyahoga County and 32 sightings in Lorain County, according to MUFON statistics.
"When you get into it, some of these things sound like something out of ‘Star Trek,’" Wertman said. "About 90 percent of these reports can be explained — some people actually are looking at Venus through their telescope, they catch a glimpse of a drone or even lights on a plane landing at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.”
Wertman first became intrigued by UFOs when he learned about a 1973 incident involving an Army Reserve helicopter crew that encountered a UFO in the Mansfield area. The chopper was returning to Cleveland from Columbus, where the crew had undergone physicals. The fast-moving saucer-shaped aircraft flew straight at the chopper and nearly collided with its rotor blades and somehow caused its altitude to increase. The chopper later returned to its desired altitude and when it landed, the crew discovered the fuel tank was virtually empty. Crew members didn’t understand how it had lost so much fuel on such a short trip, Wertman said.
“As time went on, I became more interested in their encounter and later became an investigator for MUFON,” Wertman said. “I interviewed three crew members who were on the helicopter that day, and their accounts all matched.
"Whether these UFOs are some kind of technology from Russia or China that we don't know about or something extra-terrestrial, we don't know," Wertman added. "The incident involving pilots aboard the USS Nimitz changed the way the military investigated UFOs. It's about science and national security."
Wertman’s audience was of all ages, including Madeline Waggoner, an eighth-grader at Learwood Middle School. She was there with her mother, Sarah Waggoner, and brother, Trent, 9, who was wearing a Mars 2050 T-shirt. He hopes to travel there someday.
The 13-year-old said she and her family have watched "Ancient Aliens" on the History Channel since she was 6, spurring an interest to attend Wertman's talk.
"This is something I have always been interested in," Madeline said. "If there's infinite stars and infinite galaxies, there's got to be someone else out there. With all these reports and UFO sightings, I think there is enough proof that we are not alone."
Besides the UFO incident involving the USS Nimitz pilots, Wertman believes similar reports will be released by the military through declassification.
"I believe we will be seeing more information released on these kind of things," Wertman said. "It's a big topic of interest."
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