15 Years Ago, UFO Sightings Rocked a Small Texas Town. The Mystery Remains.

Stephenville is often referred to by locals as the “milk capital of the world.” But after the events of January 2008, the Texas town of Stephenville became known for something otherworldly.

In «Messengers», the first episode of VICE Studios and Netflix’s new series Encounters, residents of Stephenville and the surrounding area recount seeing something strange in the sky. One witness called it an orb, another referred to it as a flying Dorito—yes, as in the three-sided tortilla chip.

But even with such wild descriptions, the so-called Stephenville Lights is considered one of the most credible UFO sightings in modern times.

It began when Steve Allen and a couple friends were enjoying a few beers by a campfire one night and something caught their eye.

“All of a sudden I see some real bright, high intensity light off to the east, headed our way at a high velocity of speed. The lights was so bright it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. It was almost blinding to look at them,” said Allen. “Then what amazed me is there was no wind noise, no engine noise. There was silence. When it came past us, I developed the most peaceful, easy feeling I think I’ve ever had in my life. It was almost like a religious experience, like I was at one with whatever it was. Something I’ve never had before or since then. It was unreal.”

Then just as quickly as it arrived, it disappeared. A few seconds later, Allen claimed that two F-16 jets “came in hot pursuit.”

“And in my head I’m wondering, is it War of the Worlds? What was going on?” Allen said.

A few miles west, local police constable Lee Roy Gaitan was on his way to rent a movie for his wife’s birthday when “something caught my attention,” he said.

“I saw what appeared, I call it a bubble, or an orb, it was a reddish orange, fiery looking color, really big,” said Gaitan. “It was these bright lights, flashing, like a pulsating thing, like that. They had spread out. There was 11 or 12 lights that I was able to count. All of a sudden, these things just shoot off at a blazing speed.”

Shortly after, he too saw fighter jets, he said. “They were flying in the same direction, the same path, as these lights.“

The sightings in Stephenville quickly became the talk of the town, and the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), a U.S.-based non-profit dedicated to the research of UFOs around the world, came to investigate the sighting. The group invited people who had seen something to come and tell them their stories, expecting a handful of people. Instead, dozens of other witnesses appeared, claiming to have also seen odd things in the sky around Stephenville. Soon, TV crews from Japan to Brazil were descending on the town.

At first, the Naval Air Station in the region denied that any of its planes were in the area at the time of the sightings. The U.S. military would later change their tune and claim there actually were fighter jet training exercises in the area, blaming the initial denial on a communications error that led to the dissemination of false information.

Some witnesses also alleged that members of the government attempted to intimidate them into keeping quiet about what they saw.

What’s unique about the Stephenville sightings, said Robert Powell, a nanotechnology engineer and UFO investigator, is the accompanying radar information that appears to corroborate the sighting of Allen and Gaitan. 

Via Freedom of Information Act requests, Powell received primary radar data from five different antennas in the region from the FAA. With that information, Powell explained that he first tracked down the routes of the two F-16s, which had transponders because they are government aircrafts.

“So once I identified where the F-16s were, I went to start looking for objects that did not have transponders,” he said. “What I find is radar data that confirms what Steve Allen and Lee Roy Gaitan have told me.“

“There are two radar points that showed an object moving without a transponder…The two data points match the time and the geographical location (of Steve Allen’s sighting),” he said. “This is outside of the military operating area. So it should have a transponder if it is a military aircraft, but it doesn’t.”

“In the case of Lee Roy, I had about five data points on the radar indicating there is this object,” he said. “It’s not very often that you get radar data that just corroborates exactly what a witness said in terms of geographic location and time.”

“These stories check out with the radar data. So there’s absolutely no doubt that there’s an object in the sky and that the object that’s in the sky does not have a transponder code that tells you that you’re dealing with something real, whatever it is.”

Encounters is now streaming on Netflix.

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