The Tragic Tale of Captain Thomas Mantell

Air Force Captain Thomas F. Mantell

With everything that’s been happening on our planet the last month, you may have missed some of these headlines: “CIA Declassifies Hundreds of Official Docs on UFO Sightings”, “US Intelligence Agencies Have 180 Days to Share What They Know About UFOs”, “Astronomer Avi Loeb Says Aliens Have Visited” and “Clear Shots of UFO Spotted Above Freeway on Outskirts of Los Angeles”.

The truth is out there. It’s getting harder and harder to deny the fact that we are not alone in this universe. There are hundreds upon hundreds of reports detailing sightings, visitations, and abductions. Some of them have been well-publicized, most have been dismissed and swept under the rug.

In my opinion, one of the most credible stories erroneously debunked occurred on January 7, 1948, near Franklin, Kentucky. It involved a bona fide war hero whose country he dedicated his life to, disgraced his memory and legacy.

Between 1947 and 1952, there were over 17 credible and unexplainable observations of unidentified flying objects. They included Kenneth Arnold’s sighting north of Mount Ranier, Washington in June of ’47, which gave birth to the term UFO, the well-known Roswell incident, also in ’47, and the infamous UFOs over Washington in 1952 that led to the CIA forming the Robertson Panel.

The Robertson Panel worked with the Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigating UFOs to determine if they were a threat to national security. The Robertson Panel eventually decided to discuss UFOs only if they could be explained and classify them if they were unsolved. Although Project Blue Book determined a handful of sightings to be unexplained, the Air Force ultimately decided that any sighting deemed as such was not extra-terrestrial nor beyond the limits of modern technology.

This type of dismissive and clandestine behavior by the Air Force tarnished Captain Thomas F. Mantell’s reputation and accomplishments. He was the first member of the Kentucky Air National Guard to die in flight after being ordered to pursue an unidentified flying object. He was 25-years old.

Mantell was a decorated United States Air Force officer and World War II hero who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. He survived Operation Market Garden and flew a successful mission over Normandy while flying a C-47 Skytrain.

After the war, he returned home to Kentucky to join the newly formed Kentucky Air National Guard. Captain Mantell had flown over 3,000 hours at the time of his encounter. 2,300 in military service, and close to 70 hours of flight time in the P-51 Mustang he flew in the Air National Guard, starting in May of ’47. He also co-owned a flight school and had trained Chinese pilots in the war. To say that he was an expert and experienced pilot is an understatement.

The Kentucky National Guard’s P-51 Mustang

While on guard duty with three other pilots near Fort Knox on January 7, Mantell received orders to identify an unknown flying object. It had been seen near Madisonville by a Kentucky Highway Patrolman and numerous other witnesses in neighboring towns. The object, reportedly 250 to 300 feet in diameter, had first been spotted in Tennessee and was progressing westbound.

The Highway Patrolman contacted Goodman Air Force Base in Fort Knox. Colonel Guy Hix, who was stationed in the tower, caught sight of it and observed it for some time as he and his men wanted to be sure it wasn’t a weather balloon or another airplane. Hix later said the object “could be plainly seen with the naked eye, and appeared to be about one-quarter the size of a full moon, white in color. Through eight-power binoculars, the object seemed to have a red border at the bottom, at times, and a red border at the top at times. It remained stationary for 1½ hours.”

Other witnesses described the object as “moving side to side and up and down” and then hovering close to the ground before accelerating at high speeds back to its original altitude. Estimates had the object moving at speeds close to 500 miles an hour with a gaseous green mist and glowing red top.

It was at this point that Mantell and three other P-51s came into view of the tower. They had been on patrol in the area. One of the unit’s planes had to land at Goodman AFB due to being low on fuel. The tower then directed the three remaining pilots to the object’s coordinates.

Mantell and the two other pilots observed the object at 10,000 feet and started to pursue it. Multiple enlisted men later stated that “the leader (Mantell) reported that ‘The object is directly ahead of and above me now, moving about half my speed.’” He replied, “It appears (to be a) metallic object of tremendous size” when asked for a description. At 15,000 ft, he stated, “I’m still climbing, the object is above and ahead of me moving at about my speed or faster, I’m trying to close in for a better look.”

At the head of the formation, Mantell accelerated. He was flying way ahead of his wingmen, so much so they lost sight of him. They were low on oxygen and knew that flying past 15,000 feet would be risky, considering the P-51’s weren’t built to fly at high altitudes. They decided to turn back.

Mantell continued the chase. His P-51 was traveling at a rate of 360 mph, which meant the object was at least flying at 180 mph. Despite this, he couldn’t gain ground on it and relayed that the “object (is) going up and forward as fast as I am.” Captain Mantell then stated he was going to 20,000 feet and if no closer, he would abandon the chase. That was the last transmission he made.

The next time he was seen was by a witness in Franklin, Kentucky (100 miles from Fort Knox) who saw his plane in a circling descent. He died when it crashed near the border of Tennessee, just a few miles from where he was born. Investigators later determined he passed out from lack of oxygen. The way the plane was discovered, on its belly, led to speculation that he regained consciousness but could not stop his fall.

Crash site photograph showing the wreckage of Capt. Mantell’s P-51

Being an experienced pilot, he knew he was at risk of passing out from hypoxia but continued his chase nevertheless. He was familiar with the use of oxygen at high altitudes, as the plane he flew in the war reached heights of 32,000 feet. A close friend of his who served with him later stated afterward Mantell must-have, “seen something more than a star or balloon” and that he “did respect the airplane and the dangers of (hypoxia).” “The only thing I can think,” he commented, “was that he was after something that he believed to be more important than his life or his family.”

Air Force investigators, despite written testimony and sworn statements from their own enlisted officers, at first determined Mantell was “chasing Venus.” Never mind the fact that it was a hazy, cloudy day and that even if you could see the light from Venus, it would merely be a pinpoint of light in the sky. To suggest an expert pilot and war hero would ignore safety protocols and put his life in danger pursuing a tiny point of light is ludicrous.

They then explained Mantell’s death by saying he was chasing a Skyhook weather balloon and didn’t realize what he saw because the secret program was classified, and he had no knowledge of it. This also flies in the face of reason.

First, there are no records of a Skyhook balloon launched the day in question. One was on the day before from Minnesota, but its location would have been 140 miles from Mantell’s on January 7. That balloon was also only 75 feet in diameter, far smaller than the object’s reported size of 250 to 300 feet.

Secondly, even though the Skyhook was an advanced balloon, I highly doubt that it could move side to side, up and down, and hover above the ground before rocketing into the sky at over 300 mph. Mantell reported that the object was traveling at his speed or faster, and he could never gain on it.

There are also reports of the red lights and green mist trailing the object. Skyhook balloons were made of transparent plastic. The sun’s reflection would only cause a fractional amount of sheen, which would not in any way create a steady light of any hue, much less red or green.

Captain Mantell and the officers and enlisted men who witnessed this incident were made of strong stuff. These were members of ‘The Greatest Generation’ and weren’t prone to folly or making irrational decisions. They would never lie or exaggerate to superior officers or in sworn statements.

During Operation Market Garden, Mantell’s C-47 was tasked with flying a glider over enemy territory. His plane was under heavy fire, but he completed his mission and released his cargo. Once he got back to base, the Skytrain was so riddled with bullet holes that it appeared unable to fly.

This is the man we are to believe disregarded his own life in chasing a reflection of Venus or a weather balloon. Captain Thomas F. Mantell risked his life and survived the horrors of World War II to help save the world. He arrived back home and then sacrificed himself in pursuit of a knowledge that might very well have changed the world.

In return, the Air Force tarnished his achievements and made his death seem trivial in their attempt to cover up the truth. They disparaged his character and judgment in order to perpetuate a lie. I believe Captain Mantell deserved better. I choose to believe he died as he lived. A hero in pursuit of a truth that hopefully, one day will be evident to all of us.

(Thanks for reading. If you dug it, feel free to explore my other posts via the menu categories above. Please subscribe, leave a like, and comment below so we can continue the discussion.)



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