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Out of this world

Reports of UFO sightings still swirl around from time to time in region

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On a July night last summer, after watching the Elizabethton Twins beat the Bristol Pirates 6-3, a man in Bristol, Tennessee, reported seeing a slow-moving red orb floating above Volunteer Parkway, making its way northeast toward Walmart.

The man was walking his dog after the game and saw the orb coming toward his house, located just behind the store.

“I ran inside the house to get my girlfriend so that she could also see it as it passed over,” the man told the Davenport, Washington-based National UFO Reporting Center, which doesn’t release the identity of those who report UFO sightings. “As I came back outside, I observed [the orb] traveling at a high rate of speed, heading southeast … as it became a small dot and went out of sight.”

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Paul Dellinger, who retired from The Roanoke Times in 2007. Dellinger covered some of the 1987 UFO sightings in Wytheville, Virginia.

Such close encounters of the third kind have popped up from time to time in the Mountain Empire. In the Tri-Cities area, at least 26 unidentified flying objects have been reported to the National UFO Reporting Center since 2015, according to the center’s reporting database.

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Roswell, New Mexico, UFO incident, when an “unidentified object” crashed on a ranch northwest of the city. Air Force officials at the time claimed it was a weather balloon. In the 1990s, the U.S. military revealed it involved a top-secret atomic espionage project called Project Mogul.

Alternate theories about the event have shrouded it ever since the crash.

This fall will be the 30th anniversary of the wave of UFO sightings near Wytheville, Virginia, in 1987, when scores of people reported various strange lights in the sky.

So, is there truth to these extraterrestrial tales? You’ll have to decide. Come along for the ride anyway. It’ll be out of this world.

‘Strange lights in the sky’

After Wythe County Sheriff Wayne Pike told the public in October 1987 that four of his deputies, including some with military experience, had witnessed a UFO, the floodgates were open.

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In the following months and well into 1988, a wave of people reported seeing strange lights and objects in the sky.

Danny Gordon, then the news director of radio station WYVE, also reported seeing a strange craft. A news conference in mid-October drew national attention and by the following year, Gordon personally received more than 3,000 reports, according to news reports.

Paul Dellinger worked as a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than 40 years, covering counties in Southwest Virginia out of the paper’s Wytheville office. After Gordon’s first radio story, Dellinger began reporting the events, like when Sheriff Pike said some of his deputies saw strange objects in the sky.

“All of a sudden, everybody started seeing things,” Dellinger said.

Gordon and Dellinger started working together. Gordon had people who claimed to have witnessed UFOs on his radio show. Dellinger was there to take notes.

Dellinger said there were “some strange lights in the sky.” He even saw something odd one night.

“I was driving home at night and saw a light down at end of our road that looked like a streetlight, but like a scintillating light,” he said.

Dellinger said the light came down very slowly over the road and moved at the speed of a balloon. He also described hearing a very quiet motor.

The Wytheville hype gained national attention. Dellinger said a reporter from the National Inquirer came to look into the reports, but left without a story.

“He said it wasn’t sensational enough,” Dellinger said, laughing.

Despite his own experience, Dellinger said he’s not sure anyone saw actual UFOs.

“I don’t believe this particular set of sightings were extraterrestrial, but I don’t know what it was,” he said.

People have come up with explanations from balloons to blimps to experimental aircraft by the government.

“But nobody has ever come to a conclusion on it,” he said.

Gordon and Dellinger wrote a book about the ordeal called “Don't Look Up: The Real Story Behind the Virginia UFO Sightings.”  

Seeking hard evidence

Is the truth out there? Peter Davenport thinks so. Davenport is the director of the National UFO Reporting Center. It was started in 1974 by a retired Seattle fireman who was interested in the UFO phenomenon and believed the issue needed a central headquarters to gather information, Davenport said.

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Inflated aliens sun themselves at the Washington County Fair in Abingdon, Virginia.

In 1994, Davenport took over. He said he fields anywhere from 15 to 30 reports of UFOs per day. The online database that he maintains has more than 100,000 entries from all 50 states, the territories of Canada and some other countries.

“Once you start seeing the data and seeing what people are seeing and observing and experiencing, you begin to realize there is a larger reality than what our mere five senses suggest is the case,” he said.

When he was 6, Davenport, surrounded by his family and hundreds of other people, said he saw a UFO at a drive-in theater in St. Louis.

“I’ve been hooked by the subject ever since, I’m afraid,” he said.

Davenport is aware there are skeptics out there. His response to those who doubt the existence of UFOs is to look at the data; he’s not a fan of the term “belief.”

“What I seek is evidence,” he said. “Photographic evidence, radar evidence — multiple eye witnesses, all of whom seem to be independent and reliable, reporting the same thing — that is the type of data I aspire to collect.”

Occasionally, instead of taking a page from E.T. and phoning home or phoning the NUFORC, those who claim to spot UFOs call the police.

Chief Deputy Byron Ashbrook of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said calls about UFOs are rare, but they do occur — maybe once or twice a year.

Ashbrook said the calls are treated like any other air traffic incident, like a report of a low-flying plane, for instance. Deputies ask for a detailed description and any identifying marks. Sometimes, they’ll call local airports for information.

Capt. Charlie Thomas, of the Bristol Tennessee Police Department, said in the time he has been at the department, since 1992, he hasn’t witnessed anything inexplicable.

If something were reported, “we’d go look and see if we observe whatever it was they were reporting and go from there,” he said.

Thomas said he knows of one UFO story from sometime in the late ’70s or ’80s, when a man wrecked his car near King College.

“His excuse was a UFO ran him off the road,” Thomas said.

Blountville’s own UFO

Drivers who pass Blountville Boulevard and Birch Street may run off the road if they’re unprepared for the UFO and two aliens resting in Gail Cooke’s front yard.

It’s an odd sight: The silver UFO is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Each alien is painted silver and stands about 4 feet tall. These days, one of the aliens is missing a head.

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The UFO and the aliens in the yard of Gail Cooke have seen better days with effects of weather. The scene is photographed several times a week by passers-by and those who seek out the location.

The otherworldly scene has been in the area for 40 years, since Cooke’s husband, Bruce, built it from a variety of parts. It has become something of a famous photo opp. Cooke, 77, said most days, two or three groups stop to take a photo by the UFO.

Cooke said the site has been on the internet since the internet’s inception.

“People may not remember anybody’s name, but they know where the spaceship is,” she said.

Cooke’s husband, Bruce, died six years ago. Many years ago, he told her he saw a UFO near his work at Holston Ordinance Works.

“I don’t know whether he did or not or whether he was just sleeping or dreaming,” Cooke said, laughing.

As for her own belief, Cooke said she doesn’t think about it too much.

“It makes sense that we’re not here by ourself,” she said. “I don’t know what’s out there, but I’m not going to worry about it — I have a hard time taking care of my little corner.

“There’s a lot of things in the world and in the universe that we don’t know, and we’re not meant to know and not meant to understand,” she said. “But you can’t say no to anything.”

Cooke’s UFO is made from two large fiberglass satellite dishes and a furnace top. Its legs came off a big TV camera. The aliens are plastic mannequins with foam heads.

Cooke said a lot of people have offered to buy the UFO.

“It’ll be there until I’m gone,” she said. “Somebody else can sell it.”

The truth

Davenport said a lot of witnesses want to call and talk at length about what they saw.

He prefers to get them off the phone and start writing.

“The more you talk to a witness, the more you risk including information on the final report that may not have been there,” he said. “The more you talk to a witness, the less likely you are to get a written follow-up report.”

He receives photos nearly every day, but he’s often let down.

“The overwhelming majority of the photos are not very satisfying,” Davenport said. “They’re vague, of poor quality and often taken with a cell phone.”

When asked if he worries that people are calling in hoaxes, Davenport said he can’t know for sure that every call is legitimate, but that doesn’t matter.

“That’s the same in journalism, it’s the same in law, in business, in government service — that is a problem that plagues every aspect of our existence on this planet: a person telling you the truth.”

UFO Sightings in Area

Date_of_sighting City State Description NUFORC_note
2/13/2017 Kingsport TN I was driving south on I-81 toward Knoxville, TN, in the vicinity of Blountville and Kingsport. Object was very bright, like a star. It never moved. It was obviously was not a plane or helicopter. Yellow in color, perhaps a triangle or cross shape. Too far to tell, it did not move. Probable sighting of Venus? 
2/9/2017 Johnson City TN Round craft seen over Johnson City. Multiple witnesses. Had the effects of egg embryo in close look through high power night scope. Circle in shape. Very bright, multiple lights. Craft had two doors. One in the northwestern section of ship and second in southeastrn section of ship. Also, had a object located in the middle spinning. Almost the way an egg embryo in a woman would look before fertilization. And there were multiple aircraft sightings going by it. None
12/15/2016 Johnson City TN Small, low flying, fast aircraft with bright lights. I was driving southwest on Cherokee Road at 8:30 p.m., just passing Cherokee Elementary Echool and there was a large object a little to my right and behind the school with little to no noticeable motion. It was a good distance away in the sky with 4 bright white lights (2 on each wing) and a small orange pulsing light in the middle. The white lights weren't blindingly bright, but was noticeably brighter than a normal aircraft. I kept driving for maybe a tenth of a mile and the trees started to block my view, once I could see it again somehow it was already over to my left, and it seemed just a little further away. I could tell the object was now directly over the road, but now it was a lot closer to me than it had been. This is when I noticed the orange light and the shape of it. For a few seconds the object was basically flying right above my car, like it was matching my speed. I rolled down my right windows, but I couldn't hear it making any noise. The shape of it reminded me of a U.S. B-2 stealth plane, but the object was narrower than that. It never had any jerky motion, it always seemed like it was kind of hovering but moving horizontally. Also it was flying low, but its size seemed relatively small. I lost sight of it when it was above my car. Witness elects to remain totally anonymous; provides no contact information.
10/16/2016 Johnson City TN Around 7:30 p.m., my husband and I were driving down the road when a bright light that flashed caught my eye. It looked as if it had 3 window panes. It changed direction and was coming toward us. When it flew over our car, it was triangle in shape with 3 lights on bottom plus a red light. Was flying too low to ground and no sound coming from it at all, looked back and was gone. None
10/2/2016 Bristol TN Orange comet-shaped fireball changing into just fireball rapidly climbing. Sighted near Bristol Motor Speedway. Sighted in moving car. 3 miles from race track (Springfield Acres subdivision). Looked like a fireball at first. Orange ball with an orange ice cream cone tail coming to a point. Out of car it had turned into just a large orange ball moving rapidly north-northeast. Looked like a jet plane at night except light size was much bigger, at least 5 times bigger, and orange like a camp fire flame. Went behind clouds. At first sight in the car I though it might be a hot air balloon. Out of car I thought it might be a rocket or a jet plane on fire because it was moving so fast. Shrunk quickly in size but not in intensity. No sound. Witness elects to remain totally anonymous; provides no contact information.
8/26/2016 Kingsport TN Seen same object twice since 07/22/16. I noticed an object that at first I thought was a plane, but based upon speed and its erratic movement, realized it to be impossible to be a plane or helicopter. I have witnessed this object twice in just a month, but this time I got it on video. The object moved in a pattern that is impossible for any aircraft I know of or have seen and it admitted no sound. I was in the Marine Corps and have never witnessed any craft capable of such flight. None
8/16/2016 Elizabethton TN I seen a round ball of orange light that shot up from the mountains up into the dark clouds then disappear it was definitely some kind of flying object. Witness elects to remain totally anonymous; provides no contact information. 
8/10/2016 Johnson City TN Flashing stationary triangles which are not stars. Multiple UFOs spotted outheast over Buffalo Mountain. Stars that aren't supposed to be there, twinkling and changing colors like jets but stationary. In the shape of triangles and flashing multiple colors--red, green, and white. None
7/30/2016 Bristol TN When I got home from the Bristol Pirates Game approximately between 9:30 and 10:30 I went to walk my dog and observed a slow moving red orb heading down Volunteer Parkway from BMS toward the Walmart on Volunteer Parkway. It appeared as if it were going to pass over the house which is located behind Walmart. I ran inside the house to get my girlfriend so that she could also see it as it passed over. As I came back outside, I observed it traveling at a high rate of speed, heading southeast, at approximately 150 on a compass and observed it as it became a small dot and went out of sight. Witness elects to remain totally anonymous; provides no contact information.
7/22/2016 Kingsport TN I was standing on my porch, when I noticed a fast moving light. At first I thought it was a lightning bug, but then watched it move and change color from green to blue to green. It moved very rapidly back and forth, and was higher altitude when I began to watch than I first believed. The object moved left to right and at angle movement very fast but would come to a hover and flash multiple color when paused. It was way too fast to record. None
6/16/2016 Bristol TN Circle-shaped. It was massive. I noticed the lights were in and out but only in certain areas. It slowly made its way from Blountville into Bristol, Virginia. My buddy in Bristol, Virginia, said it was moving towards Abington, Virginia. We thought at first it was lightning until I did not hear thunder or anything other than a light breeze and we did not see one single lightning bolt. Witness elects to remain totally anonymous; provides no contact information. We have no means of contacting the source of the report for clarifying elements of the report.
12/10/2015 Bluff City TN 8 strange triangle-shaped craft with blinking lights. A good friend and I saw several triangular craft. They were orange-red or bluish-white and they would blink randomly. Six of them traveled in pairs. Two sets were side by side and one pair hovered over Holston Mountain, one above the other and kind of swayed side to side. Another craft flew overhead and made a faint jet-like noise. It had a lot of lights, but no visible structure, just the lights. Made no sense. A white helicopter with its searchlight on was chasing the craft. Lastly another craft flew by with two white triangles on each side and a red box in the center. We were driving but pulled over to watch. Event lasted about 20 minutes. None
9/7/2015 Kingsport TN Small white orb flying through my yard. Out in my backyard, a round oval-shaped object flew right by me and just disappeared right into the air. White glowing light. The size of the orb object was a tennis ball. I was totally shocked to see this but have read the stories on the website that these things were around. It was a glowing white orb that floated across the yard to back of neighbor's house and it just vanished. No one else saw it but I called neighbor to go out and he didn't see it at all. We did see another object back in March before I had found your website. It was black coming across the sky, triangle shaped, 2 red circles at each end of triangle shape, with white lines connecting the red circles. No noise was coming from the object, but you could see where it was lit up inside. It went south toward Asheville, North Carolina, down interstate 26 and when it reached Kingsport it just turned left and went toward Virginia. It did not turn like a plane does in flight, it just turned. None
8/17/2015 Kingsport TN A dim circle of light with red-orange lights, one at the top one at the bottom. Witness elects to remain totally anonymous; provides no contact information.
8/16/2015 Bluff City TN Bright light ever came at us and just disappeared into three pieces. Bright light came from no were no sound as big as a car and went off into three pieces left no trail. None
8/10/2015 Johnson City TN Reddish oval lights. While walking my dogs around 9:30 p.m., I observed 2 separate red light objects in the westerly sky traveling from west to east about a minute apart. The were 1 to 1 1/2 miles away initially traveling toward me. They were moving slowly without any noise. At first I thought it must be a plane but there were no flashing lights or noise. The objects appeared a few hundred feet in the sky and appeared to be as if on fire (red). It was different than a Chinese lantern, for I have seen them. They had a red glow about them and much larger than lantern. It appeared to be a small craft of sorts. After observing them travel about a 1/2 mile they each made a 90 degree turn to the north. They were under the cloud cover & clearly visible. After turning north, they seem to simply fade away, but still being under the cloud cover. I turned the block and saw my 2 neighbors in front of their house looking in the same direction. They asked if I had seen the object as they described the same objects. They said 2 similar objects had come over in same direction a few minutes earlier. These earlier objects did not make a turn as I had seen, but continued in a straight line over their house before fading away or vanishing. They said the could see an outline of a larger dark object than the reddish light as it passed over before disappearing. As we were talking another reddish object appear coming from the same direction which we all 3 observed. It faded away without turning before it came much closer. Only observed this last object 15-20 seconds. None
4/22/2015 Elizabethton TN Black cylinder craft slowly passed over head. At least the size of football field. I arrived home with my two kids and my wife came outside to help us inside. The sky was cloudy in patches when I saw the first two white lights moving slowly side by side. At first I thought it was a couple of jets really high up but directly behind the lights were two more. I thought it was multiple crafts at first.  Then I started counting, realizing this is a single object. There was fifteen rows and between some sets a single light. It looked like this : : - : : : - :::: on a long cylinder that was flat black. At the slow speed it was moving it appeared to be at least the length of a football field and lights were on each sideline. I held my hand stationary over a set of lights to make sure that it wasn't a star making an optical illusion with the clouds and the craft continued moving past my hand and through and just above low the clouds. I tried to take video but I was so excited showing my wife I flubbed it. None
2/24/2015 Kingsport TN Object (or light) yellow/orange in color seen silently traveling from west to east in Sullivan County. I was at my home of which is located out in the country. I had been shoveling snow out in the driveway and also along the front walk of our house; the sun had set. I had been looking down at the ground while I was performing the work, but upon stopping the work I lifted my head and turned towards the house. As I took a couple steps towards the house, I immediately realized that the brighter planets and stars had become visible in the evening sky, and so I paused. As I was looking toward the western sky I saw what I thought at first to be an extremely bright planet or star visible in the sky; it appeared from behind a low hanging cloud. Now there were a several clouds that were hanging low in the sky but beyond the scattered clouds was a crystal clear winter sky. When I first noticed the object it appeared to be moving and so I immediately began to assess whether it was moving or if it was a stationary planetary object with the low hanging clouds moving across the sky instead; within a second or two it was obvious that the object was traveling west to east at a rather high rate of speed. It appeared to be traveling at an altitude that was consistent with the low hanging clouds or just above them due to the clouds would momentarily block my vision of it as it traveled across the sky towards the east. Upon almost immediately realizing that this could potentially be an interesting aerial anomaly I considered running to get my binoculars, but taking into consideration how fast it was traveling I realized that it would only be visible for a few seconds unless it slowed its pace and so I just decided to try view it best I could from my current vantage point. Its appearance was like that of a bright planet except; more like a light than an object. The color of the object (or light) appeared to me as the tone of yellow/light-orange (much similar to the appearance of afterburners from a conventional fighter jet and had it been only flying away from me then I would have considered this to be a reasonable consideration). The color of the object/light stayed consistent throughout the siting; it stayed a solid tone of yellow/light orange. When I notice this object it was located looking towards the western sky; I watched it closely as it traveled from west to east. It was traveling at a speed that in my opinion is consistent of a fighter jet traveling at least normal cruise. It was quiet out and I was intently listening to see if I could hear any sound coming from the object; I heard no noise coming from or produced by the object. None
2/12/2017 Abingdon VA Faint orange lighted craft flying high and quiet over Abingdon heading toward Marion. Started at high altitude and seemed to drop like a shooting star but leveled out the flight path across the sky headed east-northeast toward Marion. One sustained glow, no flashing lights and the International Space Station was over South America at the time and there were 4 airplanes in the area at the same time. None
11/28/2016 Tazewell VA Was walking the dog. Looked up at the sky at what I thought was a satellite. It was joined by three more lights. Yellow, amber and reddish in color. Flying from east to west. Floating type movements like a bird but high speeds and very high altitude. None
11/12/2016 Bristol VA Dark Shadowy orbs floating over Bristol. My girlfriend and I witnessed 4-6 dark gray to black spheres hovering in the sky in broad daylight. We thought it was puffs of smoke, but while watching, we realized they were spinning and would grow a little and then shrink again. All of them combined into one and suddenly vanished. We drove toward the direction they were in but could not find them. Never seen anything like it. None
8/8/2016 Big Stone Gap VA Multi-colored light moving sporadically across the sky. At around 11:15 p.m. I took my dog out before going to bed. While standing in the yard, I happened to look up at the sky and saw what I thought to be an odd looking star. About 15 seconds after looking at it, it began to move across the sky faster than an airplane would. It started making all kinds of different moves in different directions at really fast speeds. Then it would stop before cutting back in a different direction. It was white when I first saw it, but as it moved it began to change colors. Not blinking... but more like shifting through many different colors. I went back into my house to get my phone so I could video it, but it was too dark for anything to show up. I sat and watched this thing for about 10 minutes while it made maneuvers all across the sky. When it was over, it was just gone... like the light just cut off. There had been an overflight of the ISS at 22:55 hrs., but it would have been in the extreme northern sky, and would have lasted for only 96 seconds.
7/20/2016 Marion VA Triangle shape with one red light in center flying low, slow, and quiet over wooded, mountainous area. My father came into the house a bit before 10 p.m. reporting a strange, triangle-shaped object in the sky. I asked him if it was still there, he said no. He said it was a dark triangle shape flying much lower than a plane would. It had only one light; a red light in the center of the object. He said that there was only the faintest sound, much fainter than what one would expect from an airplane, and especially an object flying so low. He also said that it was moving more slowly than a plane, and was a very smooth, low, & slow glide from the woods behind the house until it went out of his site. The object flew in a straight line until out of sight. The area around the house is very mountainous and wooded. None
10/29/2015 Abingdon VA Went out to feed the cattles, looked up, and out of shock, I see 2 very bright lights in sky. So, I used my cell phone to record what I myself was seeing. They made no sound, was round and was impressively bright. I haven't a clue what I was seeing or recording. We suspect Jupiter or Venus, but we have not seen the video yet.
8/31/2015 Meadowview VA A bright light caught my eye. Bigger and brighter than any star I've ever seen, besides the North Star. It showed a quick display of bright light that caught my eye and it was close to the North Star. It basically looked like a flashlight that was turned on and shone bright in your eyes but wasn't just turned off, but faded. Witness elects to remain totally anonymous; provides no contact information
7/26/2015 Bristol VA I saw a red light under the moon and then I saw another one about 30 feet away. While I was looking at them two green triangles light about 10 feet tall coming toward me and I took a video but it does show the green light but it does show a white light moving in diffrent directions. I also took a still picture. None

rristau@bristolnews.com | 276-669-2181 Extension: 3409 | Twitter: @reecereports | Facebook.com/reeceristau

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