The Levelland UFO Case occurred on November 2–3, 1957 in and around the small town of Levelland, Texas. Levelland, which in 1957 had a population of about 10,000, is located west of Lubbock on the flat prairie of the Texas panhandle. The case is considered by ufologists to be one of the most impressive in UFO history, mainly because of the large number of witnesses involved over a relatively short period of time.
The incident began late on the evening of November 2 when two immigrant farm workers, Pedro Saucedo and Joe Salaz, called the Levelland police department to report a UFO sighting. Saucedo told police officer A.J. Fowler, who was working the night desk at the police station, that they had been driving four miles west of Levelland when they saw a blue flash of light near the road. They claimed their truck’s engine died, and a rocket-shaped object rose up and approached the truck. According to Saucedo, “I jumped out of the truck and hit the dirt because I was afraid. I called to Joe but he didn’t get out. The thing passed directly over my truck with a great sound and rush of wind. It sounded like thunder and my truck rocked from the flash…I felt a lot of heat.” As the object moved away the truck’s engine restarted and worked normally. Believing the story to be a joke, Fowler ignored it. An hour later, motorist Jim Wheeler reported a “brilliantly lit, egg-shaped object, about 200 feet long” was sitting in the road, four miles east of Levelland, blocking his path. He claimed his vehicle died and as he got out of his car the object took off and its lights went out. As it moved away, Wheeler’s car restarted and worked normally.
At 10:55 pm a married couple driving northeast of Levelland reported that they saw a bright flash of light moving across the sky and their headlights and radio died for three seconds. Five minutes later Jose Alvarez claimed he met the strange object sitting on the road 11 miles north of Levelland, and his vehicle’s engine died until the object departed. At 12:05 am (November 3), a Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) student named Newell Wright was surprised when, driving 10 miles east of Levelland, his “car engine began to sputter, the ammeter on the dash jumped to discharge and then back to normal, and the motor started cutting out like it was out of gas…the car rolled to a stop; then the headlights dimmed and several seconds later went out.” When he got out to check on the problem, he saw a “100-foot-long” egg-shaped object sitting in the road. It took off, and his engine started running again. At 12:15 am Officer Fowler received another call, this time from a farmer named Frank Williams who claimed he had encountered a brightly glowing object sitting in the road, and “as his car approached it, its lights went out and its motor stopped.” The object flew away, and his car’s lights and motor started working again. Other callers were Ronald Martin at 12:45 am and James Long at 1:15 am, and they both reported seeing a brightly lit object sitting in the road in front of them, and they also claimed that their engines and headlights died until the object flew away.
By this time, several Levelland police officers were actively investigating the incident. Among them was Sheriff Weir Clem, who saw a brilliant red object moving across the sky at 1:30 am. At 1:45 am Levelland’s Fire Chief, Ray Jones, also saw the object and his vehicle’s lights and engine sputtered. The sightings apparently ended soon after this incident. During the night of November 2–3, the Levelland police department received a total of 15 phone calls concerning the strange object, and Officer Fowler noted that “everybody who called was very excited.”
Report on the Levelland Incident by KDFW Television’s Richard Ray:
The Levelland sightings received national publicity, and were soon investigated by Project Blue Book. Started in 1947 as Project Sign, Project Blue Book was the official US Air Force research group assigned to investigate UFO reports. An Air Force sergeant was sent to Levelland, and spent seven hours in the city investigating the incident. After interviewing three of the eyewitnesses – Saucedo, Wheeler, and Wright – and after learning that thunderstorms were present in the area earlier in the day, the Air Force investigator concluded that a severe electrical storm – most probably ball lightning or St. Elmo’s fire – was the major cause for the sightings and reported auto failures. According to UFO historian Curtis Peebles, “the Air Force found only three persons who had witnessed the ‘blue light’…there was no uniform description of the object.” Additionally, Project Blue Book believed that “Saucedo’s account could not be relied upon – he had only a grade school education and had no concept of direction and was conflicting in his answers…in view of the stormy weather conditions, an electrical phenomenon such as ball lightning or St. Elmo’s fire seemed to be the most probable cause.” The engine failures mentioned by the eyewitnesses were blamed on “wet electrical circuits.” Dr. Donald H. Menzel, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University and a prominent UFO researcher of that era, agreed with the Air Force explanation: “members of civilian saucer groups complained that, since [the Air Force investigator] had spent only seven hours in the area, he had obviously not taken the problem seriously and could not have found the correct solution. Even seventy hours of labor, however, could not have produced a clearer picture…the evidence leads to an overwhelming probability: the fiery unknown at Levelland was ball lightning.” Dr. Menzel argued that “in Levelland on the night of November 2 conditions were ideal for the formation of ball lightning. For several days the area had been experiencing freak weather, and on the night in question had been visited by rain, thunderstorms and lightning.” Menzel admitted that “since ball lightning is short-lived and cannot be preserved as tangible evidence, its appearance on the night of November 2 can never be absolutely proved.” However, he also argued that “only the saucer proponents could have converted so trivial a series of events – a few stalled automobiles, balls of flame in the sky at the end of the thunderstorm – into a national mystery.”
Google Map below shows the Levelland area:
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However, not everyone agreed with the Air Force explanation. Critics of the Air Force explanation pointed out that the Air Force investigator did not interview nine of the fifteen witnesses, nor were they mentioned in Blue Book’s final report on the incident. In later years two prominent UFO researchers – Dr. James E. McDonald, a physicist at the University of Arizona, and Dr. J. Allen Hynek, an astronomer at Northwestern University and, at the time, a top scientific consultant to Project Blue Book, would also dispute the Air Force ball lightning/electrical storm explanation. Both men argued that there was no electrical storm in the area when the sightings occurred. Dr. Hynek wrote that “as the person responsible for the tracking of the new Soviet satellite Sputnik, I was on a virtual around-the-clock duty and was unable to give it any attention whatever. I am not proud today that I hastily concurred in [the Air Force’s] evaluation as “ball lightning” on the basis of information that an electrical storm had been in progress in the Levelland area at the time. This was shown not to be the case. Observers reported overcast and mist but no lightning.” Hynek also noted that “had I given it any thought whatsoever, I would soon have recognized the absence of any evidence that ball lightning can stop cars and put out headlights.” In 1999 UFO researcher Antonio Rullan published a detailed analysis of the Levelland sightings. After examining various weather records and the competing claims of the Air Force, Dr. McDonald, and others, he concluded that “there was no severe thunderstorm in Levelland during the time of the sightings…there could have been a few clouds with light rain in Levelland despite no rain being reported at the [nearby] Lubbock weather station.” Rullan also added that “conditions for scattered lightning, however, cannot be discounted…lightning conditions did exist” and that “data sheets from the US Weather Bureau show that thunder and lightning were observed in [nearby] Lubbock one hour after the sightings ended.”
To read Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s report on the Levelland case, click here.
In March 2002, Dallas-based television station KDFW aired a report about the Levelland UFO case. Reporter Richard Ray’s piece recounts how at least 15 people, including Sheriff Weir Clem, claimed to have seen the strange object. Ray spoke to Weir’s widow and friends, who believe that the lawman definitely saw something unusual. The story also detailed the investigation and controversial conclusion issued by the Air Force – that weather phenomena known as ball lightning was to blame.