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UFO conference lights up subject for believers, the curious

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:02 p.m.
John Ventre Credit: Courtesy of John Ventre

If you've seen something suspicious in the skies over Pennsylvania, you're probably not alone. The state has played host to more UFO sightings — in the past 50 years — than all but two other states.

So, there's either a lot of aliens out there who are curious about football and giant sandwiches, or Pennsylvanians are just always out there, looking.

You'll find a lot of them— Pennsylvanians, not aliens (well, probably not)— at the 2012 Pittsburgh UFO Conference, hosted by the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) of Pennsylvania. It's being held at the Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood this weekend.

John Ventre, state director of the network, says Westmoreland County is something of a hub for UFO activity.

“ ‘Popular Mechanics' did an article saying it has the most UFO sightings of any county in the country over the past 50 years without a major city,” he says.

That's not all. Apparently, Westmoreland County has weirdness to burn.

“You've got Bigfoot sightings, and a lot of paranormal activity.”

“You've got 260 ghost-hunting groups in Pennsylvania. I was trying to recruit them to become (UFO) investigators.”

That didn't really work out.

“The ghost people don't like the UFO people,” Ventre says. “The Bigfoot people don't like the ghost people. And so on. But they know how to investigate.”

UFO investigations are fairly simple. Someone reports a sighting to the MUFON website (www.mufonpa.com), and Ventre assigns one of 30 or so investigators in the state to check it out. Investigators start by eliminating other explanations through sources like the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We're able to eliminate 80 percent as man-made right off the bat,” he says.

Ventre has actually never seen a UFO.

“I saw something one night while out walking my dog,” he says. “It ended up being an asteroid.”

His interest in the subject actually came from his studies of other subjects.

“It wasn't until I was about 40 years old,” Ventre says. “I was researching Mayan end-times prophecy, and wrote two books about it. I kept coming across other, different cultures talking about ‘people from the stars,' ‘people on flying shields,' — the Mayans, the Hopi, the Dogon tribe from Africa.”

At the conference this weekend, Ventre will be speaking, one of 10 noted UFO researchers, including publisher/author/“UFO Hunters” host Bill Birnes, and Travis Walton, whose story of alien abduction became the movie “Fire in the Sky” (1993).

Ventre thinks the interest in UFOs is growing, helped along by popular shows on the History Channel, like “Ancient Aliens.”

“I have to applaud the History channel because it helps educate the people what's out there,” he says. “But when they get to Season 3 and 4, they're out of material. When they're saying Da Vinci was an extraterrestrial — you're out of material at that point. But they do give you a lot of information.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com.

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