Although the bizarre UFO incident of April 1966 began in Portage County, Ohio, it would end over the state border in Pennsylvania covering over 80 miles. Furthermore, what began with one police car with two officers pursuing an unknown, low-flying object quickly turned into multiple police cars who would join the chase at various places along the route.
What’s more, like many of the Project Blue Book investigations, despite the abundance of evidence and witnesses available, the official findings were dismissive and, to some, preposterous. That the UFO was merely a rogue satellite or even the planet Venus, was bordering on insulting to those directly involved with the events. As well as those who witnessed them.
In fact, such was the public interest in the case despite the dismissive findings of the US Air Force, it would be immortalized in the “chase scene” of the three police cars in the 1970s blockbuster movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Before we delve into the very real events of the Portage Country UFO Chase, you can check out the famous police chase scene from the aforementioned movie below.
“I Looked Behind Me…And I Saw This Thing!”
Just after 5 am on the morning of 17th April 1966, Portage County police officers, Wilbur “Barney” Neff and Dale Spaur pulled their car to the side of a quiet country road near the district of Ravenna. Ahead of them was an abandoned car that the pair looked to investigate.
The car certainly appeared suspicious and not just due to its apparent abandonment. Inside, there appeared to be a mountain of radio-type equipment. Along the side of the vehicle was a strange logo – a triangle with a bolt of lightning surging through it. On top of that the words “Seven Steps To Hell” proudly announced themselves.
Then, the two officers heard an “electrical humming sound” coming from behind them. They turned around immediately. Spaur would state in an interview with the Record-Courier the following day:
“…when I looked in this wooded area behind us, I saw this thing! At this time, it was coming up, to about tree-top level. I’d say (at) about 100 feet, it started moving towards us…Barney was still watching the car…the thing kept getting brighter and the area started to get light. I told him to look over his shoulder, and he did!
Both police officers now stared, open-mouthed and in awe at this bizarre sight in front of them. Then the strange craft came to a stop directly above the pair. Both were aware that all around them was silent aside from the humming. A sound akin to an “overloaded transformer”.
The pair would estimate the object to be around 50 feet across and approximately 20 feet in height. On top of the craft, and through the brightness of the light, they could make out a dome-shape and what appeared to be an antenna.
Gerald Buchert – A “One-Man Police Department” For Several Hours!
Almost in unison and without saying a word, the two officers darted towards their patrol car. Spaur would recall:
…we both went for the car. We got in the car and we sat there…
Then, after a brief moment to compose himself, Spaur radioed to the dispatcher at the switchboard desk. The officers would receive orders to follow the object after it had begun moving to the east.
At around the same time, Chief of Police in Portage County, Gerald Buchert, was on patrol when he heard the radio communication regarding the strange lights overhead. He would immediately turn his car around and head back home to grab his camera. He awoke his wife as he did so, excitedly telling her to get dressed and come outside.
Not at all amused, Joan Buchert nevertheless would follow her husband outside, her thick dressing gown wrapped around her. Before she could say anything, though, Gerald was pointing to the sky. There a saucer-shaped object hovered.
Just before it moved away, not making a sound as it did so, the police chief managed to snap a picture. He would later state to The Plain Dealer:
…(the object was) round when I looked straight up at it, but when it moved to the left…it looked like a saucer, like two table saucers put together!
Because of his position, whenever a member of the public would contact the main desk of the Portage County police department, a “special” phone would ring in the Buchert household. It was a phone that none of the family members were ever allowed to touch.
In 2004, almost twenty years after his father’s death in 1986, Buchert’s son, Harry, would recall how from dawn that morning for several hours his father was a “one-man police department”.
Across State Borders
Meanwhile, as the first beginnings of dawn began to lighten the dark early morning sky, Spaur and Neff continued to follow the bizarre aerial object. As they drove down Route 224, the object was on their right-hand side, visible through the vehicle’s left window. They would estimate it to be between 300 and 500 feet high.
As it moved, the ground underneath of it became illuminated in the white glow of the underside light. Suddenly, the craft moved to the vehicle’s left-hand side, now at a considerable pace. In fact, the police car was soon traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour in order to keep up with it.
It now appeared distinctly “metallic” and very definitely a solid object.
As the pursuit continued, other police cars in the area or nearby were listening to the progress of the incident, with some actively looking to make their way there. This would continue for almost half an hour, at which point the two officers were approaching the state border with Pennsylvania.
Also monitoring the police communications radio was fellow Ohio police officer, Wayne Huston of the East Palestine department. He patiently waited for the Portage County police officers to pass his location at an intersection on the main road. Before he witnessed their car, though, the huge, metallic disc passed overhead. A second later, came Spaur and Neff.
Huston pressed down hard on the gas and joined in on the pursuit.
The two police cars continued to give chase. However, a short time later approaching Conway, Pennsylvania, Spaur’s vehicle began to fade. At 6:15 pm, completely out of gas, the patrol car limped into a service station.
Scrambled Jets, Attempted Intercept, And Disappearance!
A Pennsylvania police cruiser is what had drawn Spaur’s attention to the service station, although in reality, he couldn’t have gone on much further. When he found the owner of the police vehicle, Frank Panzanella, he had himself just seen the bizarre object pass by him as he sipped his morning coffee. The Pennsylvania officer radioed a report from his car of his sighting and location. However, as he did, all four of the police officers could hear the radio communications of the Air Force. And specifically, the order to scramble jets.
It was then all four realized that the UFO had stopped and now hovered defiantly in the air. Seconds later, several military jets came into view. Panzanella would later state:
The object was the shape of half a football (and) was very bright… (after jets arrived) the object continued to upwards until it got as small as a ballpoint pen. Relative to the moon, the object was quite distant and to the left of it. We all four watched the object shoot straight up and disappear!
All four witnesses were amazed at the events they had seen, to say the least. That amazement would soon turn to frustration as the official investigation closed in.
“Tell Me About This Mirage You Saw!”
It would become quickly apparent to both the witnesses and other UFO researchers and independent investigators that a “glossing over” of actual events was taking place. When Spaur was approached by Major Quintanilla representing the official Air Force investigation, for example, he would begin the telephone conversation by asking his main witness:
Tell me about this mirage you saw!
When that was shortly followed by the suggestion that his statement should reflect that the incident took place for only minutes, it was perfectly obvious to Spaur that the “investigation” was no such thing. He refused to sign the altered testimony. Furthermore, only pressure from Congress would force Quintanilla to travel to the site of the incident and interview the officers personally.
The official investigation would ultimately state that the police officers had given chase to a “low-flying satellite” and then went on to pursue “Venus”. Furthermore, the Air Force would deny that any military jets were scrambled on the night in question.
Incidentally, the US Air Force would also “ask” Buchert not to release the photograph he captured. By that point, however, The Cleveland Plain Dealer had already seen the picture and described it, so acknowledging its existence.
Further damning regarding the attitude of the official investigation was a report prepared by the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) and voluntarily passed to the Condon Committee (the committee set up to draw “final conclusions” to Project Blue Book). They would appear to have completely disregarded it, not even making a passing reference to it on their ultimate report.
However, the Portage County incident had captured the public’s imagination. Multiple UFO researchers descended on the area. And many locals would begin monitoring the police radio bands on the off-chance they would stumble on to a similar incident.
“It Was Three Days Of Living Hell!”
Perhaps because the main witnesses – of which there were four – were police officers, the incident quickly went on to be seen as credible in the eyes of those who took an interest. The wife of the late Gerald Buchert, Joan Buchert, would state in 2004 how the telephone ringing was constant several days. As were the knocks on the front door of the family home. She would recall:
My husband lost 20 pounds…It was three days of living Hell!
That toleration boiled over into frustration at the official report’s findings. Many of the larger press organizations would temper their enthusiasm for the case following these official findings. As we have examined before on other cases, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if it ever came to light of outside pressures to editors and media owners was the result of the sudden climb down in interest.
UFO investigators, publications dedicated to such matters, and even some of the smaller and local newspapers would stick with the case, attempting to extract every last piece of information from the situation.
Buchert, who would ultimately submit his negative copies of the photograph to Quintanilla – something he would quickly regret – would eventually boil over at the dismissive nature of the official investigation. Several days after the incident, he would state:
I asked the Major (Qunitanilla) if it was the planet Venus then how come it moved up and down and side to side? I at one time kept the wires from the telephone pole in view and the object DID go below the wires and then above them. The wires were NOT moving. I was advised by the Major that this was due to atmospheric conditions, most likely!
It was an incident that would affect several of the other witnesses significantly.
The Far-Reaching Aftershock Of A Life-Changing Morning
While he wouldn’t speak about the incident often, Buchert would keep a private scrapbook of every report or newspaper article about the incident. He also almost retired from his position as Chief of Police, feeling that the community would no longer have faith in him.
He didn’t, however, go through with this drastic measure, and remained Chief of Police until his death in 1986, twenty years after the incident, from a sudden brain aneurysm.
When asked about the incident in October 1966, barely six months after the events, he would state bluntly:
I’d rather not talk about it. It’s something that should be forgotten (and) left alone. I saw something but I don’t know what it was!
For officer Dale Spaur, the future years were even more severe. Not only for him, but those around him. Perhaps because he was the main witness out of the five men involved, he seemed to receive the most attention. Coupled with the frustration of the very public questioning of his credibility and reporting by the official report, it was a situation from which he would never recover.
He was eventually arrested on battery charges after grabbing and shaking his wife violently in a fit of nervous rage. She would ultimately divorce him after his steady and rapid decline. He would leave the police force, handing in his badge and weapon. He would later state:
If I could change all that I have done in my life, I would change just one thing. And that be the night we chased that damn thing. That saucer!
He would live on “one bowl of cereal and a sandwich a day” after his motel room rent, and the money the courts ordered him to pay in child support left him literally with “exactly nothing!”
“The Nut Who Chased A Flying Saucer!”
Spaur’s eventual ex-wife would tell how “something happened” to her husband after the incident. He would act strange and nervous, even disappearing for several days at a time on occasion. She would state:
Our marriage fell apart. All sorts of people came to the house. Investigators. Reporters. They kept him up all night. They kept after him. Hounding him. They hounded him right into the ground. And he changed!
She would describe him, regrettably, as a “lost soul”. Spaur would further offer that “I have become a freak…the nut who chased a flying saucer!”
“Barney” Neff, like Buchert, would finally refuse to talk about the incident. His wife, Jackelyne would state on his behalf following a request for an interview that:
I hope I never see him like he was after the chase. He was real white, almost in a state of shock. It was awful. And people made fun of him afterwards. He once told me, ‘If that thing landed in my back yard, I wouldn’t tell a soul!
Panzanella felt much the same. He would even go as far as to disconnect his phone permanently.
Huston would even quit the police force entirely and move almost as far away as he could to Seattle, Washington. He would find work as a bus driver and even changed his first name from Wayne to Harold. Huston would recall in the same article as Spaur:
Sure, I quit because of that thing. People laughed at me. And there was pressure. You couldn’t put your finger on it, but the pressure was there. The city officials didn’t like police officers chasing flying saucers!
Perhaps as credible a case as it is, it is a great example of how such encounters can leave a person’s life, and their families’ in tatters.
A Connection To Other Sightings In The North East Of America In April 1966?
The Portage County incident, was not the only encounter in the upper northeast of America at the time. In fact, there was a wave of sightings immediately before and following the UFO chase of the 17th April 1966.
For example, as far back as the 29th March at 7:50 pm, in Eliot, Maine, a nurse witnessed a “bright red elliptical object with a dome” while driving home. She could also see several portholes along the side, from which a bright white light emerged. The object hovered near the power lines and had the appearance of “crumpled aluminum foil” and was a dull silver color.
The witness also became aware of a “pinging sound” which appeared to emanate from the strange craft. She was also suddenly aware that she could hear several dogs barking anxiously. She continued to watch for several seconds before it finally disappeared beyond the horizon.
Only ten minutes later, at 8 pm, about 15 miles south in Hampton, New Hampshire, another motorist witnessed “two oval objects with revolving red body lights”. Suddenly, one of these objects would descend rapidly to “tree-top level” and follow the witness’s vehicle for several seconds before it vanished in a rapid ascension.
Another sighting came just over an hour later, again to the south of the previous one. This time, at 9:15 pm and around 20 miles away in Haverhill-Merrimac in Massachusetts, several witnesses, including a deputy sheriff and a local teacher, would report a “pulsating luminous white object” moving back and forth in the night sky.
Suddenly the colors of the object changed from white to red. Then it changed again, this time to green. Then blue, and finally back to white. It hovered in the same spot for several seconds before speeding away at great speed.
Hovering Discs Near Power Lines Or Radio Towers
The following evening on 30th March, again in Massachusetts came another sighting, this time in Rehoboth. At just after 8 pm, three separate reports, each containing multiple witnesses, would come in regarding an incident that would unfold over a two-hour period.
Between the tree incidents, witnesses would report an oval-shaped craft which appeared to have an amber glow with red and orange lights, was hovering at low altitude just to the side of one of the town’s roads. When one car approached the object, it suddenly took off at high speed. Witnesses would also report a “whistling or humming” noise.
An hour after the first sighting in Rehoboth, in East Hampton, Montauk, Long Island in New York, came a similar report. This time, a husband and wife, and their children witnessed a “bright white object” near the power lines of a local radio tower. What’s more, they would also report a “swooshing” sound, perhaps similar to the “humming” in other reports.
The family also noticed how intense static appeared on their radio when the object was in sight. As it continued to circle the area, the nervous cries of neighborhood dogs and cats could be heard. Then, a beam of light emerged from the underside and struck a utility pole.
Another report in the same area would surface from a truck driver at just after 11:30 pm when his truck suddenly failed without warning as he drove beneath the hovering object. The strange craft would circle the area several times before disappearing into the sky.
More Bright Hovering Objects Disappearing Vertically At Great Speed!
Four nights later on the 3rd April in nearby Franklin, New Jersey, a disc-shaped object with portholes along the side was witnessed “hovering near a radio transmitter tower”. The owner of the station, along with his wife had suddenly heard a low rumbling sound. When they went to investigate outside, they witnessed the object overhead. They would describe it as “twice the size of a jet fighter plane”.
At just after 3 am on the morning of 5th April 42-year-old Lillian Louis would awaken in her home in Lycoming, New York. As she made her way to the kitchen to get a drink of water, she could clearly see out of her window a “spinning vapor-like sphere” which would suddenly depart several seconds after she witnessed it.
The following evening on the 6th April in Selkirk, New York, multiple witnesses would report an egg-shaped object with colored lights and portholes along the side, hovering just above the tree-tops. After several moments it would accelerate out of sight, leaving a brief tail behind.
On the evening of the 7th April in Grove City, Pennsylvania, several motorists would report strange “lights rising from the ground” and then passing over their cars at close range. Several other reports on the same evening would come from (relatively) nearby Ligonier of a “silver, cigar-shaped object” cutting through the night sky.
At roughly the same time, in Mansfield, Ohio, two sheriff’s deputies would report a “bright round object” that they gave chase to for several miles, at high-speed no less. It would eventually disappear vertically at alarming speed. This incident, not least due to the chasing aspect, particularly mirrors the events that would take place in Portage County only ten days later.
A Series Of Sightings In Massachusetts Clearly Moving To The South
On the evening of 17th April beginning just after 7 pm, a little over twelve hours after the UFO chase in Ohio, a wave of sightings in various locations in Massachusetts would unfold. And what’s more, as in similar sightings during this time, there was a distinct and clear direction to the timeline of the sightings.
At 7:15 pm in the town of Danvers, several people would report an “elliptical object with rotating white lights” around the edge. The object would circle the area several times before disappearing into the sky.
Five miles to the south and a quarter of an hour later, several people would report sightings of bright oval objects in Peabody. Most would describe the object as having a dome on the top and with flashing lights of red, green, blue, and white. After hovering or circling calmly, the object would then “dart away at high speed”.
An hour later at 8:30 pm, and 9 miles further south, this time in Wakefield, several local residents would report an oval-shaped craft hovering and making a “humming” noise. When it moved, red, blue and white “beams” would show on the underside upon descent. It would settle at relatively low altitude before disappearing into the night sky.
The following evening, bizarrely or not exactly 24 hours before the first sighting in Danvers at 7:15 pm, blue glowing oval object with red and green flashing lights was reported in Peabody. After hovering the craft again disappeared.
Over two hours later and 25 miles to the south in Cohasset, came reports of an oval object with red flashing lights. When attempts were made to use searchlights on the mysterious craft, it would purposely “dodge” them. This would demonstrate not only intelligent control, but remarkably quick reaction.
Numerous Multiple Witness Reports Of Oval Objects With Red And Green Lights
Shortly before midnight on the same evening – the 18th April – a motorist in Lancaster, Ohio, narrowly avoided hitting a “bright object” that hovered almost to the ground in the middle of the road. The motorist braked his vehicle and turned around to see what the object was.
It was now making its way through a nearby cornfield. Several bright lights now flashing on its exterior causing the color to light up the ground below. Then, without warning, the lights simply “switched off” and the object vanished. The witness would apparently suffer form bloodshot and severely sore eyes for several days following the encounter.
Twenty minutes later, and back in Massachusetts, this time in the town of Sharon, several residents and on-duty police officers witnessed an oval-shaped craft. It had a white glow to its exterior and a “steady red light” on each end. As an aircraft approached its location, the object suddenly vanished. However, much to the shock of the onlookers, it reappeared a short time later in exactly the same place.
Just after noon in Peabody on the 19th April, only twelve hours after multiple witness sighting in Sharon, several witnesses would report an almost exact oval-shaped object, again with red, and this time green lights. Even more intriguing, the object would land in a nearby field. Two local residents would approach it. However, before they could reach it, it shot upwards into the air and disappeared.
Strange Objects “Approach” Residents And Vehicles!
On the same day, at 8 pm in Harford, Connecticut, came several more reports of an oval-shaped craft. Once more with red and green lights which hovered overhead before vanishing at lightning speed.
Around two hours later and around 80 miles to the northeast in Bellingham, Massachusetts, an “elongated elliptical object” with red lights at each end was witnessed hovering in the skies above. Furthermore, many witnesses would report a “hissing” sound which appeared to come from the strange craft.
Shortly before midnight in the nearby town of Quincy, multiple witnesses would report a large disc. As well as two, smaller discs with red and white flashing lights. A similar sighting would come from Alliance, Ohio shortly after midnight on the morning of 22nd April. A domed disc with rotating red lights came close to a moving car and hovered while keeping pace for several seconds.
At 9 pm on the same day in Beverly, Massachusetts, more reports of oval objects with red, green, and blue flashing lights surfaced. This time, three objects hovered over a local high school. Once again, witnesses would report a low humming sound. One of the witnesses would raise their arms to “wave” at the crafts. As if in response, one of the crafts suddenly approached their location. Hovering close overhead before returning to its original position.
The following evening in Warren, Ohio, a bright, round object again approached a moving car. And followed it for several minutes before disappearing back into the sky.
On the same evening, came another sighting in Massachusetts. This time in Randolph. And once again had the police as the main witnesses. Officers near a “rural lake” witnessed an egg-shaped craft with white flashing lights around the edge and colored lights on the underside.
The Dorchester Sightings – More Domed Crafts With Red Lights!
Perhaps the last sightings of the mini-wave of oval-shaped UFO sightings of the northeastern corner of the United States took place on the evening of the 23rd going into the 24th of April. A week after the Portage County incident in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
At just after 10:30 pm, a family witnessed a domed disc with “blinking red lights” running around the edge. On top of the dome, a flashing yellow light sat. The object approached the family’s apartment, cleverly making its way around any obstacles in its way. All of the family could hear a distinct humming sound which clearly came from the strange craft.
The object hovered over the top of an alleyway that ran beside the apartment building block. Then, without warning, it shot off into the night sky. Several hours later, it would appear once more.
At a little after 5 am, the object appeared again hovering over the family’s apartment. Once more, the lights flashed as they had previously. There was no doubt it was the same craft. The same humming sound dispelled any doubt any family members might have had.
Power Cut To Thousands Of Homes Signals The End Of The Wave!
This time, though, among the humming noises were “weird, whirring, mechanical noises”. Then, even more alarming, an “explosion” noise suddenly rang out. So loud was it, the windows inside the apartment shook and rattled.
At the same time, all the lights went out inside the building. Much like at other sightings, the events caused distress in any animals within the vicinity. The family’s pet dog became extremely anxious, pacing and whining constantly.
Incidentally, the power failure would prove to affect more than just the residents of the family’s apartment block. Official records show that over 2,500 homes were suddenly plunged into darkness and without power. The fact that it occurred (officially) at 4:57 am, is perhaps why it isn’t lodged deeper in the collective public conscious.
An official explanation would place the blame for the sudden power fault due to a “breakdown in the insulation of the wiring” in a nearby block. When UFO researchers performed tests inside the family’s apartment, they would detect significant amounts of radiation from the window that faced where the object had been.
Three days later in Towanda, Pennsylvania, late on the evening of 25th April, a motorist suddenly experienced engine failure. They then noticed a rising heat coming through the roof of the vehicle. When they looked out of the window, they could clearly see a disc-shaped UFO with several portholes along the side. Then, it shot off into the distance and vanished.
Why Were No “Official” Connections Made?
Might all of the above sightings share a connection to the Portage County UFO Chase? It would surely be irresponsible to dismiss so many sightings that share not just one or two details but have descriptions that are almost identical.
Just what was the purpose of these sightings, and who was behind them? That the US authorities wished to cover up the events, as we will look shortly, is perfectly obvious. But what were the reasons for that?
Why were these sightings, which surely such official projects as the Blue Book would have been aware of, completely missed out on reports into the wider-known Portage County incident? If the real mission behind the project was to get to the truth of the UFO and alien question, then these almost identical incidents would surely have been investigating as part of getting to that truth.
Just why were the authorities so desperate to keep these incidents covered up? And perhaps of more importance, were these apparent “one-off” sightings and encounters, including the Portage County incident connected? And if so, what was the ultimate purpose of these visitations?
Indeed, while half of the American populace embraced the “hippie-love” culture and raged against “the system”, and the other half did the complete opposite, with their paths destined to clash culturally in the following decades in more complex times, just what was going on in the American skies in the 1960s?
Other “UFO Waves” And The Complex UFO Big Picture
Perhaps it is also worth pointing out that immediately prior to this apparently discreet wave of UFO activity in the north east corner of America was the wave of sightings in and around the state of Michigan.
Many of the sightings were not only similar to the descriptions given by witnesses in the Portage County case and those that enveloped it, but, while a slightly less dramatic, featured another chase of sorts by local police.
This “wave” of sightings also gave birth to one of the most famous, and indeed most mocked, official explanations for UFO activity. The famous “swamp gas” explanation. It would certainly appear, whether the waves share a connection or not, the official agenda was to discredit, deny, and even ridicule.
Did the powers behind Project Blue Book know more than we realize? Or were their actions out of desperation? Desperation that they didn’t understand any more than the average person just what was going on?
And, with that in mind, who was behind these mysterious surges in sightings? In seemingly random destinations across the United States, and indeed the entire planet? Was this some kind of alien reconnaissance mission? If so, for what end game? And if these bizarre incidents were government-sponsored secret missions, why be so blatant? And have these aerial vehicles fly over highly populated areas?
Should we also take into account the global UFO waves on either side of 1966 in 1965 and 1967 respectively? Is the Portage County incident just one encounter in a much larger and complex picture? One that is as intriguing as it is mysterious, and…
Check out the video below. It examines this most fascinating incident in a little more detail.