Case 18

South Mountain

Spring 1967

Investigators: Low, Wadsworth

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Several reports of lights in the sky traveling slowly and emitting sparks as they disappeared were attributed to hot air balloons set off as a scientific experiment by neighborhood boys.


One night in the spring of 1967 four hot air balloons were released by several college students. These balloons set off a small wave of UFO sightings. Accounts of some of the sightings were reported in local newspapers, and for several days the source of the objects was unknown except to the students who launched them. Because of the unexpected publicity, the students decided to come forth and give an account of the event to this project.

This report is intended primarily to examine the degree of correspondence between the reports of the event and the event itself. A description of the event based on an interview with the students is presented, followed by report summaries of a number of the sightings. It should be noted that the students were not attempting to make careful observations when they launched the balloons. Their accounts were somewhat general and lacking in details.

Description of Event as reported by Students

Four balloons of the type recently publicized in various news media and magazines were released. These balloons consisted of plastic dry-cleaners' suit covers, sealed at the top and held open at the bottom by crossed drinking straws attached to the edge of the opening. Hot air was generated by a cluster of birthday candles


mounted along the straws where they crossed near the center of the opening.

The first balloon was launched at 9:15 p.m. There was no ground wind, and the sky was clear except for scattered patches of thin haze. This balloon did not travel far from the launching site. It went up a fairly short distance and then went out. The object appeared to the students to be larger than a star. Duration of the event was estimated at five to ten minutes.

By 10:00 o'clock, three more balloons were ready and were launched one after another. They appeared to maintain three different altitudes as they rose, and showed some flickering, growing dim and then brightening up again. The balloons quickly became unrecognizable as balloons and showed only as fire-colored lights. The plastic envelopes were faintly visible as dim shapes. The lights appeared the size of bright stars or larger.

One of the most obvious features of the event was the triangular formation that the balloons assumed upon gaining altitude. This triangle endured for some minutes; then upper level winds apparently began to take the balloons in different directions. The lower one drifted apart and went out. Duration of the entire event was estimated at 20 to 25 minutes.

Summaries of Observers' Reports:

  1. Time: 9:15 p.m.

    Observers: mathematics professor and wife.

    Location: 0.25 mile WSW of launch site.

    Description: gold or orange-yellow light, larger than a star but smaller than a dime at arm's length, brighter than anything else in the sky; through binoculars, observers could see an area of "stronger density" adjacent to the light source. Direction and disappearance: object first seen at an elevation of 45o in the east; began moving north, receded toward the east and faded out.

    Duration: 5 minutes


  1. Time: 9:15 p.m.

    Observers: language professor and public school teacher.

    Location: 0.4 mile ENE of launch site.

    Description: orange-yellow object larger than a star, smaller than a plane (which passed by at the time) but larger than the lights of the plane.

    Direction and disappearance: object stopped, light varied and seemed to fizzle out, sparks dropped and light disappeared.

    Duration: 10 minutes

  2. Time: 9:15 p.m.

    Observers: two students

    Location: Same as (2) above.

    Description: gold-yellow object, little larger than a star, first thought it was a satellite.

    Direction and disappearance: object was first seen slightly south of west and moving slowly eastward toward observers. Object came nearly overhead, dimmed, brightened, emitted sparks and went out.

    Duration: 5 minutes

  3. Time: 10:00 p.m.

    Observers: two women.

    Location: 0.7 mile ENE of launch site.

    Description: three lights in triangular formation; two on left were yellowish, one on right was reddish. Objects were about the size of a star when first seen, but grew larger as they moved toward the observers. Other people in the parking lot seemed not to notice the objects.

    Direction and disappearance: Objects were first seen in southwest at about 45 to 60o elevation. They then seemed to move north, shifting from the triangle to a vertical line formation and rising. Observers left while objects were still visible. The objects seemed to have moved back to their original positions and become smaller.

    Duration: 15 minutes


  1. Time: 10:05 p.m.

    Observers: fine arts professor and wife.

    Location: 0.7 mile SE of launch site.

    Description: three red or pink lights in triangular formation at 45° elevation. Size and speed compared to Echo satellite.

    Direction and disappearance: Objects first observed in northwest, then began to move southeast and shift from triangle to straight line formation. Movement continued till objects were approximately overhead and seemed to stop. Then one went south and went out, one north and went out, and one west and went out.

    Duration: 15 minutes

  2. Time: 10:13 p.m.

    Observer: chemical research assistant.

    Location: 0.5 mile ESE of launch site.

    Description: three lights like large stars in the form of a triangle. One appeared red, the others orange.

    Direction and disappearance: objects were overhead and somewhat to the south when first seen. One moved to the southeast and disappeared in haze. One stayed overhead, then flickered, moved west, and blinked out. One arched away to the east and disappeared.

    Duration: 5 minutes

  3. Time: 10:00-10:30 p.m.

    Observer: man.

    Location: 0.4 mile SE of launch site.

    Description: three yellow-orange lights in a rough line formation. Appeared as dull glowing objects with haze around them. Observer thought they were small and low.

    Direction and disappearance: objects were seen first in the northwest at an elevation of about 35o. Motion was southward, slow and haphazard. The first one continued to move south. The second two passed nearby overhead, seemed to move closer together, and drifted away to the southwest.

    Duration: 5-10 minutes


  1. Time: 10:40 p.m.

    Observer: astronomer.

    Location: 1.0 mile SW of launch site.

    Description: One object visible low in the east, yellow-orange and glowing continuously except several times when it dimmed. It was about 2nd or 3rd stellar magnitude, and 10°-l5° above eastern horizon. Through binoculars it remained visible only as a point of light.

    Direction and disappearance: Position when first viewed was about 10° north of east and l0-l5° above horizon. Motion was very slow and difficult to determine, because of the lack of nearby reference stars.

    Duration: 3-5 minutes

  2. Tine: 10-10:15 p.m.

    Observer: man.

    Location: about 300 yards SE of launch site.

    Description: two bright lights seen through the curtains of observers apartment. From outside, they looked like blimps with fire at one end, and were one-quarter to one-half the apparent size of full moon. A third similar object appeared shortly after the first two.

    Direction and disappearance: the first two appeared at 30-40° elevation in the northwest and drifted to an overhead position, where they separated and diminished with increasing altitude. The third behaved similarly.

    Duration: 10-20 minutes


Table 4


LAUNCH TIME 9:15 p.m. 10:00 p.m. 9:15 p.m. 10:00 p.m.

SIZE Larger than a star Size of large star or larger
1. Larger than a star
2. Larger than a star
3. Larger than a star
4. Star
5. Echo satellite
6. Star
7. Size not given
8. 2nd or 3rd Magnitude star
9. ¼ or ½ diameter of full moon, (observer could see the plastic envelope as well as the light, and his size estimate referred to the whole balloon)

SHAPE First visible as balloon; diminished to point source First visible as balloons; diminished to point sources
1. Point source light (accompanied by area of density)
2. Point source light
3. Point source light
4. Point source light
5. Point source light
6. Point source light
7. Point source (dull glow) with haze
8. Point source light
9. Like a blimp with fire at one end

COLOR Fire-colored Fire-colored
1. Gold/orange-yellow
2. Orange-yellow
3. Cold-yellow
4. Yellow/red
5. Red or pink
6. Red/orange
7. Yellow-orange
8. Yellow-orange
9. "Fire"-colored

FORMATION OF OBJECTS Single object Balloons assumed triangular formation, then dispersed.  
4. Triangular
5. Triangular
6. Triangular
7. Line
8. Only one object seen by observer
9. Objects close to observer; formation not noticed



A comparison of the event as described by the launchers with the reports of accidental witnesses reveals obvious similarities regarding size, shape, color, and relative positions of the objects. Taking into consideration the known inconsistencies inherent in most eyewitness testimony, the degree of similarity between the reports is noteworthy, especially since times of observations and locations of observers were not the same. Certain dissimilarities should be noted. For example, observer IX was located very near balloons. However, he was not able to identify the objects; nor did he mention the triangular configuration reported by other witnesses, probably because the objects seemed more scattered, suggesting separateness rather than relatedness. It is interesting to note the tendency of observers to give more detailed accounts of the event than the launchers themselves gave.

The sightings all occurred within approximately one mile of the launch site. With two exceptions, the balloons were first observed in the direction of the launch site. The exceptions were sighting number 6, in which case they are nearly overhead when first seen; and number 8, when only one object remained visible. In three other cases the balloons were reported as being overhead or nearly so at some time during the observations. These three sightings (5, 7, and 9) along with number 6 are all located in the southeast quadrant of the sighting area, indicating that the balloons drifted southeast. It should be pointed out that the balloons also were moving relative to each other, and it was this motion that the students and most witnesses referred to in their accounts. The limited area of sightings is probably characteristic of cases involving these balloons, and could be considered along with the slow aimless drifting, the flickering, and the red-orange color as identifying evidence in future cases.

In summary, we have a number of reports that are highly consistent with one another, and those differences that do occur are no greater than would be expected from situational and perceptual differences.


Many small discrepancies could be pointed out, especially with regard to estimates of distance and direction, but these are not great enough to affect the overall impression of the event.

It would be expected that a survey of witnesses' speculations about the nature of the objects would have shown much greater divergence, but this report is confined to observational data.