The Pittsburgh Highland Reservoir Sighting

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
October 25, 2018
Last Updated
November 8, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
16 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Sightings

On the evening of 1st March 1978, a construction worker, along with his girlfriend, would witness a strange object descend over the Highland Reservoir in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Little did they know, a director of the Buhl Planetarium, who was at his office late, would also witness the event. Further still, an appeal for witnesses would result in an abundance of calls to a local phone line set up to specially handle them. Many of them would describe the same object, in the same location, and at the same time. Almost thirty separate sightings would be reported as a result of the serious-minded appeal to the public.

A depiction of a UFO emerging from clouds over a Pittsburgh river

A depiction of a UFO emerging from clouds over a Pittsburgh river

The appeal and subsequent investigation would be carried out by the Pennsylvania Center for UFO Research, who were previously known as the Westmoreland County UFO Study Group. Their coordinated and inclusive approach would prove extremely successful in bringing out genuine details and not those who wished to sensationalize what they had read in the paper. With this in mind, the group successfully persuaded the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to withhold details of the sighting until the public could be asked to phone anything unusual they might have seen. While it is a little-known account outside of the Keystone State, it is, at the very least, an example of how future UFO events might be coordinated.

“What Will We Do If It Lands?”

It was a little after 10:15 pm when 22-year-old construction worker, Glenn Ricci, and his girlfriend, Claire Gallery, were driving in the North Hills area of Pittsburgh. [1] They were near to the O’Hara Township Municipal Building when a strange object suddenly became visible in the night sky. Ricci would bring the vehicle to a stop and the pair watched the craft for two or three minutes. The couple would agree that the object was “very bright. Much brighter than a star”.

As they watched in fascination a second object suddenly appeared. This one, Ricci would describe as “incredibly fast. Much faster than a plane”. As the pair followed this second object it suddenly turned in an extremely abrupt fashion, putting it on a collision course with the first object. Both objects would then disappear out of sight towards Highland Park. Ricci immediately put the car in motion and headed in the direction of this bizarre aerial anomaly.

After initially losing sight of the oval-shaped craft, it suddenly reappeared. This time, it was at a much higher altitude. It was, though, very definitely descending, heading towards the Highland Reservoir. It would come to a rest and hover over the reservoir, with the object dwarfing it from above at a distance of around 2,000 feet. On the underside were three triangular lights, while at each end there were two red lights.

Turning to Ricci, Claire asked, “What will we do if it lands?”

A newspaper article on the sighting

A newspaper article on the sighting

“A Peculiar Thing I Can’t Explain!”

By this time, Ricci had brought the car to a stop once again. The pair could hear a strange humming noise. A sound that Ricci would later describe as “unlike any plane I ever heard”. As he continued to look upwards he would take in as much detail as the surrounding lights would allow. One particular detail he did recall was of distinct “paneling” on the exterior of the object.

After a moment or two, the object began moving away once again. As it did so, it began an ascent on an angled trajectory. It would head back almost exactly in the direction that it came.

Little did the pair realize, only slightly earlier, at a little after 9 pm, Paul Oles, the program director of Buhl Planetarium would respond when asked if he had witnessed anything strange that evening that indeed he had seen “a peculiar thing I can’t explain”. He would elaborate that he witnessed a “bright light in the sky” that he first believed to be a spot-light of a helicopter. However, he would state it “appeared to be scanning” the area below.

Following reports filtering through to the aforementioned Pennsylvania UFO group, they would work with the local press to ask residents to phone in their sightings. They did. And most of them were remarkably similar to each other. The director of the organization, Robert Cowell would conclude that “something very large, low and bright” was in the skies over Pittsburgh on the evening in question.

The sighting closest to the location would come from three women who were at Schenley Park in a golf house. They were each insistent that the object simply “couldn’t have been a plane”. They would describe a circular-shaped object with “small white lights” on it hovering close to the ground.

A Plethora Of Pennsylvania UFO Sightings

There were a number of sightings over the following weeks in the state of Pennsylvania. While on their own, each appears rather insignificant. However, coupled together, and then further linked to the sighting over the Highland Reservoir, perhaps these “isolated” encounters were anything but.

For example, in Penn Hills Township on 1st March, came a report of a fast-moving object from an anonymous male witness. On the same evening in Etna, multiple witnesses would report an object with an almost identical description. At a little after 7 pm on 8th March in Oil City, three people would report a “hovering object” for several moments. Incidentally, the weather during the incident was particularly cloudy. On consecutive nights on 30th and 31st March in Strinestown and York respectively “nocturnal lights” were observed by several people.

Also in Strinestown two days later on 2nd April, a distinctly “round object with body lights” would hover at low altitude in front of a car. The witness would report a “pulsating sound” and perhaps even more alarming, a “beam of light” which shined down on the vehicle. On the same evening in Strinestown, another witness would report an object that not only had a strange appearance but moved with capabilities not previously seen. A further witness, named as “Mrs. N. Smith”, would describe a round object overhead which made a “pulsating sound”.

A further similar object was reported in the town of Red Lion in early-April. It moved in the sky unlike any known aircraft.

A depiction of a UFO over a river in Pittsburgh

A depiction of a UFO over a river in Pittsburgh

The 1977 Morgan Run Incident

Just under a year earlier on the evening of 29th March 1977, just over a hundred miles east of the Steel City in Morgan Run, a similar sighting had occurred. [2] While sat in his mobile home, 45-year-old Burton Woods noticed a strange craft hovering in the skies nearby. Woods would immediately grab his Kodak Instamatic camera, as well as a pencil and paper.

As he pointed the camera upwards, snapping a picture as best he could under the sudden pressure of the situation, he noticed a soft green glow coming from the underside of the craft. He quickly took another picture before discarding the camera momentarily, so he could quickly sketch the scene before him. He walked forward steadily towards the craft as he did so. In total, he would manage to compose three separate sketches.

He also managed to get to within only a few feet of the object before it began to move away, eventually vanishing out of sight. He would later describe the craft as around 200 feet in length. UFO investigators would interview residents of the town. Several would claim to have seen strange lights in the sky on the night in question. Due to the late hour (close to midnight), many residents, however, were already in bed.

Incidentally, Woods would suffer from blurred vision and intense headaches in the months following the incident. This is a similar aftereffect reported by a considerable number of people involved in such close-contact encounters.

Whether there is a connection or not, in October 2002, another sighting over the skies of Pennsylvania would result in a photograph. And what’s more, details of the sighting would echo several of those from those of the late-1970s.

UFO Photograph, Tyrone, 2002

UFO Photograph, Tyrone, 2002 (account below)

The Schenley Park Incident

Several years before the Morgan Run incident and the Highland Reservoir sighting, another account, relayed in the book UFOs in Pennsylvania: Encounters with Extraterrestrials in the Keystone State by Patty A. Wilson, unfolded in Pittsburgh one evening in May 1973. [3]

On the night in question the witness, known as Ralph, had just finished his shift as a cook in a restaurant in the Oakland area of the Steel City. That particular day had been a long one, with Ralph having just finished a 16-hour shift. Now, as he took his tired body across the carpark to his waiting vehicle, he noted how cold the night air felt. He climbed into the car and started engine, heading out toward Schenley Park, which would provide him with the quickest route home.

A depiction of a UFO over Pittsburgh

Sightings of UFOs in Pittsburgh go back decades

As he drove through the park, however, he felt a “sudden urge” to pull the car over to the Oval and rest for a short time. He did so, locking the car doors after killing the engine and settling into his seat before closing his eyes. However, only a short time later, he might have wished he had drove on and not stopped in the park.

Suddenly, a “bright shaft of light” brought Ralph to attention. The light was so intense that he was forced to cover his eyes with his hand. Still a little groggy from being brought so suddenly out of sleep Ralph struggled to contemplate what was happening. He suddenly recalled where he was and then refocused his attention behind the light in an attempt to see who was holding it at him.

A Strange Figure In A “Blue-Green Metallic Uniform!”

He fully expected to see a police officer but could only make out a humanoid figure dressed in a strange “blue-green metallic uniform”. He would later recall that the mystery person had some kind of symbol on his uniform, although he couldn’t for the life of him describe or draw it.

Then, a male voice spoke to him asking why he had stopped, although, for reasons he couldn’t understand, Ralph had the sensation that the voice had “vibrated in his head”. He replied that he had stopped to get some sleep after an exhausting day at work. The reply, though, made him wonder just who the person behind the light was when it asked, “what is sleep?”

Then, things turned even stranger. He was about to answer when he suddenly found himself waking up once more. This time, he was in his bedroom. He didn’t, though, have any idea of how he had gotten there. The last thing he could remember was the voice asking him, “What is sleep?” When he checked the clock things became even stranger.

It was now the middle of the afternoon, almost 12 hours after he had parked the car in the park. Confused and unnerved, he would ask his parents (who he lived with) if they had recalled what time he had arrived home the previous evening. However, all they could tell him was that it was late and that they were both in bed.

Deciding not to say anything else, Ralph remained quiet about the strange events of the previous evening. Over the following days, though, things would continue to develop.

Many Remaining Questions

He would begin to notice a strange appearing in various places on his body, such as around his hairline and around his groin. These rashes were soon accompanied by strange warts or boils. While the rash would eventually disappear, the warts didn’t, forcing Ryan to seek medical assistance.

However, in spite of this, he wouldn’t receive a diagnosis as the doctors were just as perplexed as Ralph was by the sudden condition. The rashes would return on-and-off for a number of years, each time causing Ralph a significant amount of pain.

It would appear almost certain that some kind of abduction incident occurred that evening in Schenley Park. However, despite UFO researchers contacting him and offering to arrange hypnotic regression in order to unlock any potential memories, he declined to do so.

A depiction of a UFO over Pittsburgh

Why might Pittsburgh have so many UFO sightings on record?

Whether this was a UFO or extraterrestrial encounter remains open to debate, as does whether there is a connection to the other sightings we have highlighted here. Perhaps one particularly interesting detail is the way Ralph recalled the voice appearing to “vibrate in his head”. Although this is speculation, might it be that what the witness was experiencing was telepathic communication? After all, this comes up a lot in many close encounter incidents.

We should perhaps also note that 1973 saw waves of UFO and, in particular, humanoid sightings were reported throughout the United States and around the world. It would appear that this incident was almost certainly connected to those sightings. Just why so many humanoid encounters are on record for 1973 remains unknown, but it would appear there was a significant extraterrestrial presence here during this time.

For his part, Ralph was left quite traumatized by the incident for the rest of his life.

Object Witness By Multiple Motorists Over The Penn and Manor Highway

It is also worth our time examining another encounter from Pittsburgh in 1973, around a month before Ralph’s encounter on 15th April. According to the research of the previously mentioned Patty Wilson, on the night in question, somewhere between 10 pm and 11 pm, multiple motorists witnessed a “large disc-shaped object” as drove along the highway between the Penn and Manor just to the east of Pittsburgh.

General estimations of the object stated it was around 50 feet across and at an approximate altitude of 250 feet. All witnesses agreed that the exterior appeared to be metallic, with many witnesses also noting how their headlights appeared to malfunction while the UFO was within sight.

On the same night in the nearby town of Jeanette, again at around 11 pm, another witness claimed to have seen a “large glowing craft” that was hovering over the top of the rail tracks near to the power plant. Like the descriptions of the motorists on the highway, the witness would claim the object was approximately 40 to 50 feet across and that it was metallic disc-shape that appeared to have a domed top.

A depiction of a UFO over Pittsburgh

Many UFO sightings are witnessed by motorists

Despite the time, so bright was the object that it lit up the entire area as if it was daylight. In fact, the light was so bright that the witness struggled to keep their sight on it. When they did manage to, they could clearly make out square portholes and noticed that multicolored lights along its surface.

At this point, the witness pulled their car to the side of the road and exited the vehicle in order to get a clearer look. They noticed that the headlights would keep dimming while he was in such close proximity of the object, a distance of around 100 feet. They noticed how the object was so close to the treetops that they were clearly swaying below it. Then, they witnessed the strangest thing of all.

From the bottom of the craft, a tube-like extension hung down. At the end of it, however, was a “human-shaped figure” at least around 10 feet tall and glowing a bizarre red-purple color. What’s more, it moved very similar to how the witness had seen astronauts move in space on their television.

Suddenly, the tube-like device dimmed, and the figure disappeared. A moment later, amid a whining sound that the witness described as being “like a spinning top”, the craft lights went out and it essentially vanished.

The Bizarre Encounter Of Ross Guidotti

Another incident in Pittsburgh that happened half a decade after the reservoir sighting was also documented by Wilson in the same book. According to the account, on the evening of 26th February 1983 16-year-old Ross Guidotti was babysitting his little sister, Katie. While his sister played he was speaking to a friend on the telephone. It as he was idly chatting that his attention was drawn to a “bright dot of light” in the night sky that was moving at quite a pace.

He at first thought it was simply a plane or helicopter, but after watching the “odd movements” it made as well as the pace with which it moved, he began to suspect he was witnessing something a little more remarkable. By the time the light began to grow in size right before his eyes he was no longer paying any attention to the voice of his friend on the phone.

A depiction of a UFO over Pittsburgh

Just what did Ross Guidotti see over Pittsburgh in 1983?

He was suddenly overwhelmed with fear as he thought whatever the object was it was going to hit the house. The closer it got, the more he could make it a roundness to its dimensions and he estimated it was at least 100 feet wide. He blurted out to his friend that “something was coming toward the house” and that he had to go before hanging up the phone.

The lights in the living room began to blink on and off and the family dog began to whine, clearly agitated by the unfolding events. This was quickly followed by Katie’s own cries at the chaos around her. Ross peered out of the window and noted that none of the other houses appeared to be having problems with the houselights flashing, only theirs.

The lights from the object were now so bright that Ross had trouble looking at them. What amazed him was, despite the bizarre object now being directly over the house, there was no noise or sound whatsoever coming from it. As it passed over the top of the house at an approximate altitude of around 80 feet Ross tried to note further details of it. However, aside from noting that it had extremely round edges, the object suddenly shot upwards and disappeared before he could take in anything else.

“Dancing” In The Night Sky!

After looking out into the street and ensuring that the object had indeed gone Ross turned his attention to his younger sister and attempted to calm her down. After doing so, he made his way to the phone where his mother kept a list of phone numbers in cases of an emergency. He found the phone number of their next-door neighbor, Cindi Siwick, and dialed it. After blurting out what had happened, she informed the teenager that she would head straight over.

Shortly after she arrived at the property she and Ross stepped outside into the front yard. Within moments, the teenager spotted a “pinpoint of light” moving across the sky that appeared almost identical to the light he had witnessed when he was speaking on the phone. The pair stood there watching the light as it moved across the sky at a considerable pace. Then, it began to come closer once again. As it did so, it appeared to “dance” in the night sky, moving “back and forth” and from “side to side”.

Then, as the pair continued to watch from the front yard, the object began to “pulse” different colored lights before finally stopping on a soft red glow. In total, Ross and Cindi watched the object overhead for around 20 minutes, with each realizing for certain that it was not a terrestrial aircraft and was something completely unknown to both of them.

Cindi, satisfied that the light was not a threat to them, told Ross that she was quickly heading for the store. Ross, still a little unnerved and curious, remained in the yard for several more moments before heading inside to report the incident to the South Park police.

It Was “Like Nothing I Ever Saw!”

He would relay the night’s events to the officer who picked up the phone at the police station, with the officer arranging for a patrol car to stop by the property. As he did so, though, he warned the teenager that the call had better not be a joke call. Ross assured him it wasn’t.

While he waited for the police to arrive, he returned to the yard to watch the light further. However, before the police arrived, the light faded from view. Consequently, when they did finally arrive and it was not there for them to see, they were more than dubious of his claims. However, when Cindi returned, she was more than happy to corroborate his account. In fact, she had even more information to offer the police.

A depiction of a UFO over Pittsburgh

UFO sightings in Pittsburgh have happened for decades

On her journey to the store, she had witnessed a further two strange lights that were hovering relatively low to the ground. Even stranger, a beam of light had suddenly shot out of one of them into the sky above, adding that it was “like nothing I ever saw!”

The police would finish taking statements and then left the pair in the yard, with Cindi returning home a short time after. Ross would keep returning to the yard in an attempt to relocate the glowing object but without success and eventually returned to his own house.

As he was in the property though, he suddenly caught sight of a “two dinner plate-shaped craft” hovering overhead behind the houses on the street. The edges of this aerial vehicle appeared to be lit and glowed brightly. He quickly scanned the skies to see if there were any other objects present. However, almost in the instant he did so, the object simply disappeared.

No Further Corroborating Witnesses

Ultimately, unable to forget the strange events of the evening, Ross would contact the Buhl Planetarium to see if they had received any reports of strange lights in the sky that evening. They would inform him that they had received three such calls. Following this, he would contact the Pittsburgh Press newspaper to ask the same question.

Although they hadn’t received any further calls, the reporter he spoke with, Don Hopey, would contact a UFO researcher he knew, Diane Enion. Although she would confirm with the planetarium that they had indeed received three calls regarding strange lights in the sky. Unfortunately, as they do not keep such records, there is no official documentation regarding these reported sightings.

Depiction of two UFOs over Pittsburgh

Some of the most intriguing UFO encounters come from Pittsburgh

She would also speak with members of the public in an attempt to locate any further witnesses. However, this would prove fruitless, with no one from the community wishing to speak about the alleged incident.

Neither Ross or Cindi would receive a satisfactory explanation for the bizarre events that February evening in 1983, nor would they end any other people who had also witnessed the strange craft. They appeared, however, to both be credible witnesses who had no reason to manufacture the events themselves.

The Strange Encounter Of “Helen” In The Woods Outside Pittsburgh

There is another incident to examine here, one that occurred over two decades previously in the spring of 1954 just outside of Pittsburgh and is another account that was only reported years later once sightings of strange lights and, on occasion, strange creatures became a little less out of the norm, at least claims of them.

On the day in question, “Helen” was returning home from Father Brown’s Parochial School, enjoying the late afternoon spring weather. On her way, she would take a shortcut through some trees, a route she had taken many times before. However, a short time after setting off on the short-cut, she suddenly stopped dead, amazed by the sight in front of her.

There, resting on the ground, was the most bizarre “saucer-shaped craft” that appeared metallic and smooth, with no seams, joins, or windows. In fact, there were no apparent marking on the mysterious object whatsoever. She recalled how it was around the size to fit two adults inside. She stood, watching the amazing craft until something else suddenly caught her attention.

Around six feet from the futuristic vehicle, she could see a humanoid figure. However, rather than being of human proportions, this entity was distinctly out of proportion. The limbs, particularly the arms, for example, were seemingly much too long for its body, with the body itself appearing frail and thin.

She remained where she was, frozen to the spot, not daring to move in case she made it aware of her presence. Strangely, the figure also didn’t move, almost as if it was looking for something in the immediate vicinity.

Then, things took an even more bizarre turn.

A depiction of a triangular UFO over Pittsburgh

There are many UFO sightings in and around Pittsburgh

As she watched the craft and the bizarre figure, they simply faded away right in front of her eyes – as if they had never been there at all. She spun around, completely perplexed at what had just happened. Not only was the object or the strange being nowhere to be seen, there was no evidence left as to their presence.

Upon arriving home, although she kept the incident to herself, she immediately went to her room and drew a sketch of what she had seen. She would remain quiet of the incident though for years afterward, despite the incident remaining clear in their minds. She would eventually report the incident to Dr. Paul Johnson of the Pennsylvania Center for UFO Research.

What is perhaps interesting about this account, in spite of it taking pace over 20 years before the incidents of the 1970s and early eighties, is that are many details that resonate. Aside from the shape of the craft, is the fact that it disappeared right before Helen’s eyes. It would certainly suggest that UFO activity has been rife in the Quaker State for a lot longer than recent times. In fact, the state remains one of the most active for UFO sightings today in the twenty-first century.

Whether there is a connection or not, in October 2002, another sighting over the skies of Pennsylvania would result in a photograph. And what’s more, details of the sighting would echo several of those from those of the late-1970s. And it is there we will turn our attention to next.

UFO Encounter On Ice Mountain, Tyrone, 2002

Following an afternoon hiking in the woods on Ice Mountain near to Tyrone, the unnamed witness was walking back towards his car when he suddenly noticed a bright light overhead. [4] What’s more, the bright light was moving towards him. He at first believed the light to be nothing more than an airplane. That was until it stopped dead and hovered in the sky, “pulsating” as it did so. As it went brighter and dimmer the witness would report seeing and orange-red “faint haze” around the object.

As the pulsation increased the witness would report that it appeared to “flicker” as he watched. He would continue to watch until a sudden “very bright blue-white light” emerged from the bottom of the craft. The light would travel directly down to the ground below. The witness would stress that “this was no searchlight”. And furthermore, it was “a tight, bright beam from top to bottom”.

Then, the pulsating ceased, and the beam of light disappeared. The object, however, remained, hovering. The witness managed to take two pictures of the craft. However, as he went to take a third one, it “suddenly shot straight up in the air at fantastic speed. And was gone from sight”.

Following its disappearance, there was no further sound. And nothing at all, aside from his photographs to suggest it had even been there. He would state that he had “never seen anything like it before”. The sighting remains unexplained, just one of many in and around the Quaker State.

Check out the short video below. It looks at some of the most intriguing UFO sightings from Pennsylvania.


1 Dark Matters & Mysteries in Western Pennsylvania ,Ohio, W.Virginia, Dark Investigations
2 Pennsylvania man encounters UFO hovering over field next to home, UFO Evidence
3 UFOs in Pennsylvania: Encounters with Extraterrestrials in the Keystone State, Patty A. Wilson, ISBN 9780811 706483
4 UFO Emits Light Beam Near Tyrone, PA, Stan Gordon, Rense

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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1 Comment

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  • Donald L. Mercer says:

    The Todd Sees case still bothers me and PA DNR nor any other agency involved in it has ever given a definitive answer as to what they think happened. His was a closed casket ceremony and apparently the family has yet to receive any clear answers about his mysterious death. Was it a UFO and a Sasquatch encounter???

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