Records on Kecksburg 1965 event an unsolved mystery
Whatever dropped out of the sky in Kecksburg more than 40 years ago, NASA officials insist they have no records documenting its origin, recovery or supposed removal by the military.
No records of a meteor, as state police immediately described it to reporters.
No records of a Russian space satellite, as some conspiracy theorists claim it might have been.
No records of anything related to the incident, actually, despite a large network of eyewitness reports of an orange fireball over the Mt. Pleasant Township community on Dec. 9, 1965.
A New York investigative journalist's seven-year campaign to seek available documents from the federal agency, supported by the recently renamed SyFy channel, turned up nothing about Kecksburg.
It became the first case for Leslie Kean in forming the volunteer advocacy group, Coalition for Freedom of Information. She filed a federal lawsuit under the federal Freedom of Information Act, alleging NASA was inadequately responding to her requests.
Kean insists it's "highly unlikely" that NASA had no documentation about the object, though she received NASA files on other fireball meteors around the same time.
She claims NASA's historical records were "inventoried in a cursory, seemingly arbitrary way" after learning that some of the files she requested were missing, including paperwork apparently signed out but never returned by a now-retired employee.
Four of the missing 20 boxes Kean sought were supposed to have files pertaining to NASA's agreements with the Department of Defense.
"The whole time, you just feel like you're down the rabbit hole, like in 'Alice in Wonderland,'" she said Tuesday.
Kean said the case illustrates what citizens face in requesting greater government openness. In 2007, a federal judge presiding over the lawsuit approved a settlement, awarding Kean $50,000 to cover her attorney's fees and outlining a schedule for NASA to respond to her requests.
A NASA spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on litigation.
The missing documents call to mind NASA's disclosure four months ago that it is spending $230,000 to refurbish footage of the 1969 moon landing after officials discovered nobody preserved the original video of the live TV transmission.
While a tiny group of conspiracy theorists long has challenged the veracity of the moon landing, residents in several states and Canada reported seeing something fiery in the sky four years earlier.
When it fell, state police responded to the scene in Kecksburg, as did the Army and Air Force.
Some of the locals in Kecksburg claim the military removed an acorn-shaped object the size of a Volkswagen on a tarpaulin-covered flatbed.
Greensburg resident Stan Gordon, who was 16 at the time, has researched the incident by interviewing hundreds of people who claim they witnessed it. In 1998, he produced a documentary about Kecksburg.
"We were always quietly hopeful, but at the same time, there was some doubt in the back of my mind that we would find anything" from NASA's records, Gordon said. "I have no doubt that an object of undetermined origin landed in Kecksburg in 1965, and what that object was is still open to interpretation."
Bob Gatty, the Tribune-Review reporter who covered the incident that night, said officials at the scene told him there was nothing there, but threatened to arrest him if he tried to get closer.
"I've always just kind of said something landed there, they were lying about it, but I don't know what it is," said Gatty, now a communications consultant who lives in Maryland. "I just like to see the story stay alive."
As chairman of the annual Old Fashion Days & UFO Festival in Kecksburg, Ron Struble says he doesn't care if anybody ever learns the truth about what happened.
The festival helps to raise cash for the local fire department, as do sales of UFO-related merchandise at the fire hall.
"It's helping us get a little bit of money," Struble said. "We're not going to make a killing, but little by little it keeps growing each year."