Was TWA 800 Destroyed by Meteor Impact?

"The Death Ray From Outer Space"

(Dedicated to Captain Thomas Mantell, KANG, d. January 7th, 1948)

By  R.D. Morningstar  (Copyright 2000, rdm*)

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Music: Mars


Meteor-Aircraft Close Encounter Over Connecticut

(Part 1)

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Saturday, May 6, 2000 approximately 9:16-17 p.m.

Bolide Meteor Misses Airplane Southwest of Hartford: Closest Airborne Scientific Observation Made of In-flight Meteor Provides an Alternative Possibility for the Crashes of TWA 800, and the Los Alamos Fires.

The plane, a Piper T-Tail Arrow (# N29310), left Hanscom Field, Massachusetts near Boston, around 8 p.m. enroute to Caldwell Airport, New Jersey with 3 aboard. The 8 to 10 second encounter and observation occurred around 9:16 p.m. at an altitude of 6500 feet, 20 miles southwest of Hartford, Connecticut, just north of Waterbury.

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The pilot of the craft, R. D. Morningstar (AOPA # 90011644 0), of New York City, estimates the trajectory of the meteor observed during its most luminous cometary-tail period brought it from no more than 500 feet away to as close as 75 feet below the aircraft.

This encounter reveals grave concerns and deep implications affecting National Security and world peace.



The pilot, Robert D. Morningstar, filed the following PIREP (Pilot’s Report) with the National Transportation Safety Board on May 8th, 2000 (amended May 12th, 2000):

It was a brilliant meteor, which first appeared just aft of our 9 o’clock position. Due to its apparent proximity, it manifested the intense luminosity of a noon-day sun and first appeared to be several thousand feet higher than our cruise altitude, approaching rapidly to less than 500 feet away, closing with us and passing quickly forward of our aircraft.

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A deep, boiling roar accompanied its passage throughout our crossing. The meteor sank rapidly, closing with us and passing under us while leaving a scorching trail of plasma and airglow of ionized air and steam behind it.

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It changed colors quickly from a bright acetylene torch-like, neon-halogen white plasma with bursts of bright red from a "ruby ring" around its center, into a variety of intense emerald greens along the body as it decelerated along the port side passing below the aircraft. It exuded plasma-like vapors and green fumes of various hues. It was easy to distinguish luminous white ionized airglow gases trailing comet-like along its path from emerald and jade green vapors waving wildly within intense convection currents topside. They rose vertically, dancing upright as sinuous standing waves.


The Eye of a "Black Hole"

The trail of vapors and its airglow were so bright that I could see the charred body of the meteor clearly in stark, black contrast and changing shape from somewhat round to roughly elliptical. It looked like a small "Black Hole" except that it was radiating energy and light not absorbing them. I had the impression of looking at a nuclear core.

I banked the Arrow slightly to get a final "tail-on" view. It seemed to be rotating quickly (nearly 3 times per second judging by spin of the ruby node) as it disappeared below the wing into the night. I estimated the size at interception point as over 4 feet long, having dissolved from a tremendous size (Solar Stage) in the first 5 seconds of observation and continuing to shrink while creating an "atmospheric tunneling effect". I clearly observed the rippling of 2 and 3 bow waves preceding and "preparing" its passage. As my perspective changed to vertical, its diameter appeared as an eccentric oval about 2 and half to 3 feet wide across the long axis of the oval, spinning 75 feet below me. The shape of an apple seed would be an ideal comparison.

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The meteor’s incandescence and airglow tail illuminated the cockpit and canopy of the aircraft in a variety of unusual yellow-white-greenish colors. After sprouting its tail, it blazed across from a point above our 9 o’clock arching gracefully angling through 30 to 45 degrees at our own altitude (level at 6500 feet) at our 10 o’clock, and finally, to 75-100 feet below us at 11 o’clock as we closed on it.


Hypersonic through Supersonic to Terminal Velocity

I estimate the meteor’s airspeed as decelerating from hypersonic speeds through supersonic at high altitude. Changing direction due to aerodynamic forces when it first presented its cometary tail, it was arching and decelerating quickly through 500 mph as it passed forward of us rapidly at first. Slowing as we caught up with it to the speed of an airliner on approach below me. Its deceleration appeared proportional to its dissolution, as it dissolved... it slowed.

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Though I initially thought the fireball was heading west, as our course was exactly 240 degrees, I can state now with certainty (having reflown the route by day) that it’s trajectory was approximately 320-330 degrees, or North by North-West. When its path became defined the descent angle of its trajectory appeared at first approximating 45 degrees, then arching through 52 degrees. Its arc was ballistic, steepening as it slowed to a near vertical final plummet. As it fell it appeared to be "boring" a ringed tunnel through the atmosphere, which I observed by banking the plane and craning my neck forward into the windshield to see it disappearing under the Arrow’s left wing.

I could see the black core within several rings, rotating, changing diameter, glowing around the red belt with ruby red nodes flashing like beacons on the back of jumbo jets. An innermost vortex of of molten metal with flaming rings of white airglow gases, green plasma, vapors around it, trailed a broad, outermost plume of dense black smoke . The scorching heat of the trail was palpable. Instinctively, I sought to evade it by using cross-control forces (left bank, right rudder, down elevator) in order to bank and sink without turning into its vortex or tail gases. I believe that the Arrow could have exploded if the left wing tank area had crossed the meteor’s convection trail, simply penetrated or sliced off as with a welding torch.

The meteor was also seen by the co-pilot, Sagar Samrat, and a retired flight engineer and "KC-10 Boomer", TechSgt. William Larrea (USAFR).



I discovered on Monday, May 8, 2000, that the meteor was an "eta Aquarid" meteor formed by cometary debris left by Halley’s Comet. I have looked into the eye Halley’s Comet (the black core looked like a pupil) and I remain awed and humbled by this privilege which my crew and I have received. We plan an aerial survey to map the fall zone.


Post-flight Analysis: May 10-June 6th, 2000

Some Dire Implications for Air Safety & Plans for Recovery


(Part 2)

On the evening of May 10th, 2000, the 3 crewmen aboard Piper Arrow # N29310 met again for a night flight: a sightseeing tour of New York City with a visiting member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor Tatiana Vassilieva.

At that time, I was able to reassess my estimates of the position and distance of the Aquarid Meteor encounter of May 6th, 2000. By taxiing and positioning another Piper Aircraft, Archer # N229DM, I was able use high floodlights in a hanger and other light sources on the Caldwell Airport taxi ways to reassess my previous estimates of the meteor’s distance. The previous estimates of the crossing were made at closure speeds of approximately 400-300 knots for the meteor and 140 KIA (knots indicated airspeed) for the Piper Arrow approaching the same altitude.

In retrospect, I recall that the exact sequence of the metamorphosis of the meteor’s shape and silhouette was from a still and brilliant round object (Solar Stage), to a smaller diameter just smaller than a full moon (in Supernova Phase), dissolving to oval (in the Cometary Phase), disintegrating in diameter to a tapering egg shape. Finally, the meteor transformed into a somewhat eccentric oval form rotating in its final plunge (during the Terminal Phase to landfall).

The corrected estimate of the distances is as follows. As I was closing on the meteor at 140 knots, the distance shrank radically during convergence. So one might say that the encounter was "marginally tangential". "Fully tangential" would have meant complete annihilation (but what a way to go!).



When I first sighted the meteor I thought it was the sun! As it approached, growing smaller, I thought it was a star exploding. When it was just over a mile away and still high above our 9 o'clock position, I realized it was a meteor. That it was as bright as the sun, I confirmed as well on May 6th on my drive to Caldwell Airport. The exception is that the observation was at nighttime, which made it seem far brighter. I now can recall the old Mexican's statement in Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounter's of the 3rd Kind": "A noche el sol salio y me canto", which means "Last night the sun came out and sang to me"


The Singing Sun: A Head-on Approach

I recall another brief impression that a new star had appeared suddenly in the night sky, perhaps one going "Supernova". It appeared to be still for a few seconds (meaning that we were momentarily "head-on" before aerodynamic forces induced a course change). However, the boiling roar of the clouds and of the atmosphere itself eliminated that possibility.


The "Singe-ing" Sun: A Cometary Side-View

Then, its true and final trajectory became distinctly defined by the extension of a comet-like, acetylene torch-bright tail (by the 5th second of observation). It was clear to me that our paths, though very close, would not intersect. Thus, I felt quite at ease, during the encounter, but that is not to say that I was not excited at the sight, bellowing out loudly ‘Whooooohoo...! A Shooting Star!" to draw the crew’s attention to the sight....they turned to look quickly and their ears were ringing. The flight engineer, a 22-year USAF veteran, thought we were on a collision course with the landing lights of a huge C-5 Galaxy aircraft, "We’re all going to die..." he thought. But this has always been "true" and I find find comfort in that truth. He was right about the "galaxy aircraft", wrong about the C-5 landing lights.


The Sinking Midnight Sun: A Tail-on View

The meteor descended past our altitude 100 feet away at our 10 o'clock position and 75 feet below us at our 11 o’clock when I banked the plane to extend the observation of the "atmospheric tunneling effect". We probably descended another 150-200 feet after it in evading the vapors, convection and smoking trail, prolonging the chase for 3 or 4 more seconds. When I leveled after it had passed below us, I recall that my altitude was just above 6300 feet whereas at the outset we had been straight and level at 6500.

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It is also certain that we were on 2 precise radial beacons from 2 VOR stations having been redirected to a southwest radial by Bradley Approach a minute or so before. There was a slight curve in the highway below not far from a meandering creek as I saw it plummeting away. I fixed the image in my mind trying to embed the image in my psyche for a return flight and future search. I hope to pare its fall zone down to a small area of high probability for possible recovery.

The event was over so quickly that I thought it better not to contact Bradley Approach and get into long explanations after the fact though I wish now that I had in order to have gotten a precise position for the encounter. I thought of the plight of many well-intentioned airline pilots and their stories of ridicule and harassment after reporting unusual sightings. So, I decided to "clam up" on the radio.



To my knowledge, this is the first time anyone has made a Head-on, Side-view and Tail-on in-flight scientific observation of a bolide meteor entering the atmosphere to landfall (...and lived to tell the story).

In the aftermath of this encounter, I felt it incumbent upon myself as a member of the world aviation community to bring this to public attention. I feel this way especially in view of unsatisfactory explanations given for 2 recent aviation tragedies which have occurred in this area. These are the destruction of TWA 800 on July 17, 1996 and the crash of a Piper Saratoga on July 16, 1999 piloted by the late John F. Kennedy Jr. This phenomenon may answer other older mysteries as well.


TWA 800

The explanations given by the National Transportation Safety Board have not been satisfactory in light of the evidence and eyewitnesses testimonies. The computer generated scenario (exploding center fuel tank) provided by the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency have left many with raised eyebrows, unanswered questions. This is especially true among many pilots, especially those with TWA. Many TWA pilots are still dissatisfied and resent rough treatment given to TWA captains who did not go along with the original investigation’s slanted courseline. This included browbeating and threats if they did not tow the official line. Many TWA pilots believe that the exploding fuel tank tests were rigged, starting with the choice of a 120 degree temperature of the desert where the tests were done. It is NOT very good science to run the simulation tests in 120 degree temperatures when the OAT at 7,000 to 13,000 feet on the night of the disaster was much less than half of that.



In May, 2000, the government finally released the TWA 800 witness list containing the identities of 260 people who saw a streak across the night skies which they believed to be a missile or a flare, which some researchers interpreted as a plasma beam weapon being secretly tested by the government.

Boeing Aircraft, the manufacturer, has been stigmatized with another blight on a great engineering record without concrete evidence of a real flaw in the fuel tank or lines. Alterations to the central fuel tanks of jumbo jets are being forced on Boeing and the airlines along with millions of dollars in expenses which are sure to be passed on to the public with no assurance of success if the cause really wasn’t the explosion of the central fuel. The government investigative process and, sadly, the general public always require a strawman they can beat, an explanation that can be turned into a computer cartoon, like the Zapruder Film and the CIA/FBI computer animation of the TWA 800 disaster. They are of the same genre, they proceed from the same "thought form" and "mindset". Someone must be blamed, you can’t sue GOD (no one makes any money, especially the lawyers).


The FBI, CIA and NTSB are "guessing" at the cause as much as anyone and, in this case, this aviator's "guesstimate" is as valid as any other is. Moreover, we are 3 living witnesses to this event but, unfortunately, there are none to tell the tale from TWA 800. Those (260) eyewitnesses who offered their accounts of watching from the beaches and the coastline were discredited, disbelieved, ignored because their collective testimony (260 missile streaks) would conflict with the cartoon created by expert computer image generators at FBI and CIA. This is a disservice both to pilots and the public.

Many witnesses to TWA 800 crash who viewed the disaster from vantage points on the beaches and coasts along Long Island cited the appearance of a missile rising from the ocean to strike TWA 800. This embroiled the U.S. Navy as a very unlikely culprit. This also led to a "Terrorist Missile Theory" or the alternative U.S. Navy "friendly fire" scenario touted by Pierre Salinger and Paris Match newspaper of Paris, France.

I would point out to those concerned that a meteor, which entered the atmosphere below the viewer’s horizon line-of-sight would appear to the viewer to have risen from the sea UPWARD INTO THE SKY like a sea-launched missile, creating an optical illusion.

In fact, the "shooting star" would be descending to strike the airliner flying 10 miles off the coast and 7,000 to 13,000 feet above the viewer’s horizon line.

The collision would create a thunderous sound or dull explosion and a white-hot flash (the liquid part of the meteor meteor disintegrating) before a secondary explosion of the solid core inside the fuel tanks. Several witnesses along the coast reported two sounds: the first sound drew their attention to the airliner and was white BEFORE the explosion of the center fuel tank, which was red-orange.



There is one more curious point to consider. A New York Air National Guardsman in a C-130, flying behind and above TWA 800 saw something that appeared to him as a flare approaching (falling) alongside the airliner. Two airline pilots flying as passengers on other commercial flights saw what they thought was a missile’s trail approach the airliner. All these testimonies were disregarded in the official FAA-FBI-CIA-NTSB conclusion because they conflicted with the cartoon scenario which was being generated by the cooperating government agencies.



I would point out that one meteor or " shooting star", which could appear to a coastal witness as rising from the sea upward to strike the airliner, could also appear as a "flare" falling to a airborne witness, the Air National Guardsman, above and behind the collision, while appearing as a missile trail to the two pilot-passengers flying along the same commercial routes and at similar altitudes flown by TWA 800.

Seen from distances greater than this writer has described for our encounter of May 6th, 2000, a similar conclusion might have been drawn by other observers farther away, above and behind or on the ground, i.e., that we had flown by a flare which left a fuming reddish, white, green trail as it fell beside us.


Personal Views of Meteor Activity 1975-2000

The closeness of the dates July 16th and July 17th (though 3 years apart) could be suggestive of the presence unnamed meteor swarms which may visit and traverse the earth’s orbit erratically or irregularly in mid-July.


Central America, 1975

While on the eastern "Mosquito Coast" of Nicaragua in early July, 1975, I observed in the eastern Caribbean sky, a bright reddish-orange star of unusual magnitude which caught and held my attention. Its bright orange luminosity drew my attention for it was the brightest red star I’d ever seen. I watched it continuously for nearly 2 minutes as it sat motionless 30 degrees or so above the moonlit horizon. The assumption that I was watching an unusually bright star in the eastern night sky was suddenly shaken when "the star" fell abruptly, trailing a squiggly orange tail as it dropped vertically into the Caribbean Sea.

It was perplexing until I realized that I had been looking at a meteor "head-on" for quite a while before it slowed and plummeted into the sea.


Fire Island, N.Y. 1978

I recall that in July of 1978 on Fire Island, N.Y., lying on my back, gazing at the zenith around midnight at midsummer, I witnessed a dull gray meteor enter the atmosphere at extremely high altitude. It ignited, leaving a luminous trail across 20-25 degrees of arc before extinguishing as it re-entered outer space, blackened and charred. This must have occurred between 50 to 60 miles high in the atmosphere and the size of the meteor appeared to be the size of a match head held at arm’s length. This translates into a rather large chunk celestial real estate. The possibility exists of an erratic, irregularly visiting and unidentified meteor swarm occurring in mid-July. This activity over the northeast United States should be thoroughly investigated both by NASA and independent space researchers.


The Perseid Showers, 1981

Pilot’s love speed. We stand in awe and admiration of it but there are speeds at which awe will be transformed fear and terror. No man is beyond it. I witnessed such speed from a vantage point along the Hudson River in the autumn of 1981 while observing the Perseid Meteor Shower.

There was a strange, uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw a Perseid enter at zenith to cross the western horizon in less than 2 seconds.

I know first hand the meaning of "astronomical speed". It was disturbing to think of what a larger meteor or asteroid would do to earth at the speed I had just witnessed.


Perseid Showers, 1991

From a vantage point in Yonkers, N.Y looking into the eastern sky near midnight, beautiful clusters and formations of Perseids where seen to arrive in groups of 4 to 7, emerging suddenly and intermittently from the constellation Perseus.


1996: Comet Hiyakutake and "Dark Matter"

In March of 1996, early-on during a 10 day telescopic study of Comet Hiyakutake, I observed not only the coma for several days but observed also the presence of unilluminated "dark matter" around Comet Hiyakutake. I observed that certain background stars would be occulted (disappear) and then would reappear after the passage of unseen "dark matter" orbiting the comet and trailing behind it. I thought to myself that if the earth were to pass through these invisible companions of Hiyakutake, we might see in coming weeks a proliferation of meteor activity.


New York City, March 1996: "Dark Matter" comes to Earth

In mid-March, as I stepped out onto a rooftop 24 stories above New York City for one of our last observations, my friends and I were stunned to see a brilliant shooting star disintegrate over the Hudson River VFR corridor. As I fly it frequently, I can state that the meteor was a quarter mile to half a mile away and descended through 1600 feet AGL (the common airliner altitude on approach to LaGuardia Airport) to 600 feet above the river before its extinction. The brightness and speed were stunning. It descended through the last 1,000 feet in less than .5 seconds, I calculate its speed was circa 1364 mph. It was extremely energetic, with well over multi-million-candle power luminosity. Plus, it had a very strong electromagnetic pulse palpable to the entire nervous system. I remarked to myself "Glad I’m not flying the Hudson VFR corridor tonight!"


New York City, 1998: "Hale-Boppids" on Fifth Avenue

In the summer of 1997, a good friend, colleague in space studies, and science writer, informed me of his intention to leave New York City and the northeast for the southwest. He believed that the "Hale-Bopp Meteor Shower" which would arrive on the night of January 3rd, 1998 could unleash a meteor storm capable of devastating the city and surrounding areas. He relocated in July, ’97 to Los Alamos, N.M.

On the morning of January 3rd, 1998, at around 5:20 a.m., a huge explosion rocked lower Manhattan. Fifth Avenue between 19th Street and 21st Street collapsed under a fireball explosion, which severed both gas mains and water mains under the avenue. The two entire streets collapsed along with scores of cars sinking into a pit. A torrent of water flooded Fifth Avenue, which simultaneously burned, from open gas mains. The floodwaters washed away all evidence of the cause of the fireball and street collapse. The New York Fire Department remains at a loss to explain the cause. I believe my colleague had foreknowledge and acted well upon his information. I hope my pilot colleagues will do as well, "Forewarned is forearmed".



Ironically, the Los Alamos Fires (May 4 through 18, 2000) could very easily have been caused by the eta Aquarid meteor showers. The shower began on May 4th , 2000 and continued unabated through the 7th of May. The rapidity with which the fires spread over so wide an area suggests to this writer that we should study eta Aquarid meteor activity over Los Alamos before accepting the government’s recent findings as "gospel truth". The firefighters who stand accused of starting the conflagration by mistake may be scapegoats for flawed government investigative policies and poor science.


The frequency of meteors (per hour) predicted for the Los Alamos latitude was 60 per hour, whereas the frequency predicted for the Northeast U.S., where our encounter occurred, was only 20 per hour. The meteor,which we witnessed and as I saw it, burned all the way down to landfall. After heavy rains recently, Connecticut was not a tinderbox, New Mexico around Los Alamos was.


I bring these facts and observations to light in the hope that they may help other pilots under similar circumstances to be better prepared to deal with such phenomena and navigate their aircraft and passengers to safety. For this reason, I make the following recommendations:


1. Communications: A liaison bureau should be established for closer and regular communication between "skywatchers", both governmental and independent astronomers (amateurs as well as professionals) with Regional Air Traffic Control Centers.

Pilot’s who are passed at altitude by meteor activity could give a simple warning to aircraft "down range" by announcing the passage and trajectory using a simple nomenclature to ATC such as "Incoming Easterly 270 degrees, Latitude 50 N, Mach 3" (or "265, Lat. 60N, Mach 2" or "Easterly 275 degrees, Latitude 42 N, Mach 1", etc).  Pilots over the Atlantic could give fair warning (up to 3 minutes) of the arrival of clusters or showers to aircraft navigating the congested airways of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern Coast of the United Stated, one of the most densely traveled areas of the world.

The adoption of this nomenclature and procedure would remove the inhibition commercial pilots feel at reporting unusual aerial phenomena for fear of ridicule or disciplinary action for having seen a "UFO". Furthermore, no paperwork, explanation, "debriefing" or "Government/military inquisition" should be mandatory, necessary or disciplinary action for having seen a "UFO". Furthermore, no paperwork, explanation, "debriefing" or "Government/military inquisition" should be mandatory, necessary or associated with reporting such aerial phenomena ("Its not a ‘UFO’, it’s called an ‘Easterly’... ". No further explanation necessary.).

If just a single aircraft is saved from catastrophe with timely warning the entire procedure would be justified. With many hundreds of meteors entering the atmosphere daily, combined with hundreds of commercial, military and civilian aircraft flying the northeastern Washington to Boston corridor, I dare say that the probability of meteor/aircraft encounters is far, far greater than was the likelihood of the Titanic striking an iceberg in 1912 or the likelihood of the S.S. Stockholm striking and sinking the S.S. Andrea Doria in 1955.


2. Tracking: Known meteor showers such as the "Leonids", "Taurids", "Perseids", "Hale-Boppids" and, as herein reported, the "eta Aquarids", debris from Halley’s Comet, should all be tracked and monitored. The Federal Aviation Agency and the NASA should coordinate a joint government/military/civilian effort, along with independent "skywatchers", like the U.S. Meteoritic Society and The New Mars Mission (the source of this report).


3. Vigilance: Due to earth’s orbit and rotation, meteors tend to be "easterlies", flying from east to west. Therefore, an "above-the-cockpit level watch", especially high in the eastern sky should be maintained by airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers especially during the known transit periods of the above named meteor swarms. Particular attention should be given to suddenly appearing stars or reddish-orange "stars" of large size or unusual magnitude. Pilots of airliners on westerly courses should watch their rear quarters for similar objects as in our encounter, where the "eta Aquarid" overtook and passed us.


4. Denial: Pilots, commercial and private alike, should "train their brains" for early recognition andquick reaction to this type of aerial phenomena. The instinct or tendency toward immediate denial reactions should be checked quickly. Before I spotted the bolide meteor, my attention was drawn to it by an eerily bright green glimmering off a lake below my 10 o’clock position. This did not make sense so that when this writer first saw the sun-like brilliance of the eta Aquarid meteor, an unusual thought occurred: "Hey! The sun is out! Did I miss the dawn?", which also did not make sense.

I turned my gaze away momentarily forward to reassure myself that IT WAS still night. I could see the Connecticut landscape in a flickering yellow green light, illuminated in a false twilight, but the sky above was pitch black...it was still night.

Then I looked back, with the meteor at "Supernova Phase", thinking a star had exploded. This cost me 2 seconds of reaction time. This translates into 2 X 236 feet of flight before correct identification and reaction began (1.15 kts. X (5280 ft.) X 140 KIA divided by 3600 seconds = 236.133 ft per second), in 2 seconds nearly 500 feet.

In psychology, this state is called "cognitive dissonance" wherein contradictory information (i.e., the sun-like brightness at night time) presented to the mind momentarily stuns the brain and stunts one’s logic, thinking processes and reactions. Pilots should train themselves mentally and emotionally to recognize and overcome this state of mind quickly (if not instantly).

Any surprisingly bright or suddenly appearing high intensity light should be monitored unceasingly until positively identified, night vision be damned (...night vision impairment will not be an issue if collision occurs). Attention Pilots! Do not take your eyes off unusual lights until the identity and course are positively determined.


5. Emotions and Reactions: Emotions, either those of exhilaration and excitement or those of fear and panic must be kept under control. One of those aboard Piper Arrow #29310, a USAF flight engineer, remained "cool as a cucumber" even though he thought the meteor was the landing light of a huge aircraft and that a collision was immanent.

In addition to emotional reactions such as those cited above, one more impulse must be checked instantly: the impulse to give chase immediately to prolong the experience.

Acute Pursuit Syndrome: As described above, the meteor passed beneath us and to prolong the observation, I banked and sank slightly after it. I was considering pursuit. However, the peril which I perceived from the fiery tail, vortices, and smoke dissuaded me from "roller coasting down" after it in hot pursuit.

In hindsight, I would say that if this natural impulse is not neutralized, it too could cause an equally perilous situation and attitude. The trailing smoke had to be extremely lethal and toxic. Even evading the fiery tail, a pilot who allowed even small amounts of smoke into the aircraft’s ventilation system could be overcome by something far worse than carbon monoxide.

Furthermore, in hindsight, if under an irresistible urge, which I have dubbed "Acute Pursuit Syndrome", (or perhaps a military aviator under orders), a pilot must engage in pursuit, a descending spiral pattern, far and wide (downwind) of the smoke column should be flown, winding around the trajectory. The meteoric gases & smoke would remain lethal or toxic for several minutes after a meteor pass.


This personal insight of May 6th, 2000, may resolve the mystery surrounding the death of Kentucky Air National Guard pilot, Capt. Thomas Mantell on January 7, 1948. Capt. Mantell perished while pursuing a brilliant, unidentified object (first seen as a still, bright point at high altitude) in the skies near Fort Knox.

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Capt. Mantell’s squadron of four Kentucky National Air National Guard P-51 "Mustangs", flying nearby on patrol, were redirected by Air Traffic Controllers at Godman, AFB to intercept the object which was no longer still but traversing Fort Knox airspace at lowering altitudes and at extremely high speed. Posing a possible threat to the nation’s gold reserves held at Fort Knox, Capt. Mantell and his squadron were ordered to give chase, vectored by radar to intercept. Flying aircraft without supplemental oxygen, three of the pilots broke off the chase as they approached 10,000 feet AGL.

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Capt. Mantell, the closest to the object, almost mesmerized, continued to climb in pursuit and reported that the extremely bright light was coming from a metallic object and that he was closing on it. Capt. Mantell’s voice sounded excited as he reported and he continued his pursuit. Mantell’s final radio transmission to the control tower was:

"It appears to be a metallic object......tremendous in size....directly ahead and slightly above .... I am trying to close for a better look."

Capt. Mantell’s ability to intercept the object and to report closure with his Mustang at full throttle indicates clearly that the object of his pursuit had to have been decelerating to allow this. This is simple logic. The object had been clocked at supersonic speeds minutes earlier, Mantell’s P-51 could hardly make 500 mph in a climb. Furthermore, if Mantell was climbing and gaining on it, the object may have been descending as well. Shortly after describing the object, all radio contact with Capt. Mantell was lost. Mantell’s plane disappeared from radar screens at Godman AFB, Kentucky.


Capt. Mantell’s Mustang was found several hours later, 9 miles away from Godman Air Force Base, smoldering in a field. Metal on the demolished fuselage was pitted and all rubber on the aircraft had disintegrated almost into powder as if exposed to extremely high radiation and/or temperatures.

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This led to many stories in the national press that Capt. Mantell’s aircraft had been exposed to a "death ray from outer space " which killed him and destroyed his aircraft, which may turn out to be true.

However, all of these details are what would be expected of a "bolide meteor" seen entering the upper atmosphere in daylight and slowing over several minutes of time to subsonic speeds. It would appear still for several minutes and then begin to arc across the sky rapidly from an apparent standstill through supersonic speeds, decelerating and descending to subsonic speeds in denser air. Capt. Mantell’s excitement and his decision to continue pursuit past 10,000 feet AGL (without supplemental oxygen) may be a good example of "Acute Pursuit Syndrome".

Furthermore, if in closing with the object, Mantell flew into or across its supersonic, vorticular contrail composed of ionized air, plasma, liquid metal and the lethal plume of smoke, his P-51 would have been torn apart by the tornadic forces and infernal heat. Its fuselage would have been struck and peppered repeatedly by many tear-like drops of molten metals, like primordial iron, copper, magnesium and other more exotic extraterrestrial elements dissolving and separating from the core of the bolide. The aircraft would then have flown through an acetylene torch-like convection trail with temperatures well over 2000 Fahrenheit.

In such an inferno, the aircraft and all rubber on it would be exposed to forces similar to a localized nuclear blast. All rubber on the aircraft would suffer "super-vulcanization", drying almost into powder. The national newspaper descriptions of a "Death Ray From Outer Space", in retrospect, appears quite accurate and not far from the truth.

The difference is the absence of "intentional hostility". And, my fellow Americans, therein lies the danger to world peace, that of mistaking, misinterpreting or misconstruing this unusual aerial phenomenon as "a hostile act" even today.


The U. S. Army Air Force, at a loss for a rational explanation in 1948 and in the grip of Cold War paranoia, as usual, placed blame on the pilot, Capt. Thomas Mantell. The Army Air Force board of inquiry claimed that Capt.Thomas Mantell had died when he passed out from hypoxia while mistakenly "chasing the planet Venus."

The U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) neglected to explain how the planet Venus could have produced a radar return to Godman Air Force Base. Nor did they explain why Godman Army Air Force air traffic controllers had ordered Mantell’s flight to intercept the planet Venus. The USAAF did not explain how air traffic controllers on radar and tower personnel with binoculars could have mistaken the planet Venus (that afternoon) for an in-flight object. Finally, they neglected to explain how the planet Venus could have traversed the Kentucky skies at high speed before returning to its rightful orbit between Mercury and Earth later that night. The simple solution was to blame Capt.Thomas Mantell.

mantell4.jpg (28174 bytes)

This writer has never forgotten the story of Capt. Mantell which was first heard in the early to mid-1950s. Having been born in October of 1948, I have felt a close kinship in time with Capt. Mantell. It may be that the story of his tragic death (archived in the root memories of my subconscious mind) may have restrained me, preventing me from flying into or across the smoking tail of the eta Aquarid.

THE MANTELL CASE: A Simple Conclusion

I now personally believe that Capt. Mantell unwittingly flew into or across the flaming, liquid metal convection trail of a bolide meteor (which would have been less visible in daylight) thus allowing lethal smoke and gases into his cockpit which overcame him quickly.

Over the last 40 years, I have seen films and photos of Capt. Mantell’s crashed Mustang. I have heard recordings of his last radio transmission as he closed on the object and I have read details of the U.S. Army report on the crash. It may be that I now owe my life to Capt. Mantell and what I learned from studying his experience. I hope other pilots may benefit from our experiences as well. Avoid "Acute Pursuit Syndrome".


6. National Security: It would behoove the United States, The National Security Council, Russia, and the United Nations Security Council to give thought to this unusual occurrence. Today, the world is fraught with terrorist activities operating under many flags. Regional, national and international tensions, such as those seen in the Kosovo "No-Fly Zone", Chechnya, the Iraq "No-Fly Zone", the Taiwan Straits between China and Taiwan or the Kashmir border conflict between India and Pakistan create danger across Eurasia.

It is not inconceivable that the downing of an airliner or military aircraft of one nation or another by a meteor impact could mistakenly cause war. A meteor/aircraft impact could be easily misinterpreted (or intentionally misrepresented by terrorists or rogue nations) as a "missile attack" from a rival nation. This could precipitate misguided retaliation and (possibly) nuclear war. This must not happen.

"The Terrorist Missile Theory" and "The U.S. Navy Friendly Fire Theory" of the downing of TWA 800 cited above are clear examples of this pitfall. The deliberate procedures and methodology of the U.S. Government and the FAA-National Transportation Safety Board investigative processes all act to forestall any precipitate or rash reactions on our part. We cannot be certain that terrorist nations or religiously fanatical or militant adversaries could be relied upon to act reasonably under similar circumstances.

Therein lies the danger to world peace: misinterpreting an "act of God" for an act of man could lead to nuclear war. This is especially true today, with so many fanatical regimes within the Eurasian Axis (along with China and North Korea) holding itchy trigger fingers on nuclear weapons.

The United States and the United Nations must be ready to consider the possibility of ‘meteor/aircraft collision" as a credible possibility in explaining any theory, assertion, or accusation of a "missile attack" on commercial airliners or military aircraft from one nation or another.

"UNKNOWNS": President Kennedy’s Most Grave Concern

The possible outbreak of war by mistake was one of President John F. Kennedy’s most grave concerns for world peace. Having stood at the brink of an infernal abyss and having stepped back from it, President Kennedy knew the dangers awaiting future leaders. These concerns are eloquently expressed in a memo which he forwarded to the CIA exactly 10 days before his death.

In a memo to "The Director, Central Intelligence Agency, President Kennedy wrote:

"Top Secret

November 12, 1963


The Director, Central Intelligence Agency

SUBJECT: Classification Review of All UFO intelligence files affecting National Security

As I have discussed with you previously , I have initiated a review and have instructed James Webb to develop a program with the Soviet Union in joint space and lunar exploration. It would be very helpful to have the high threat cases reviewed with the purpose of identification of bona fide as opposed to classified CIA and USAF sources. It is important that we make a clear distinction between the knowns and the unknowns in the event the Soviets try to mistake (Author’s Emphasis) our extended cooperation as a cover for intelligence gathering of their defense and space programs.

When this data has been sorted out, I would like you to arrange a program of data sharing with NASA where Unknowns are a factor. This will help NASA mission directors in their defensive responsibilities.

I would like an interim report on the data review no later than February, 1964.

/S/ John F. Kennedy"

Although the memo has been declassified under the Freedom of Information Act (see below), all we know of the CIA’s reaction is noted as:

"Response from CO Angleton has MJ Executive 11/20/63".

The response to this order from President Kennedy from "MJ Executive" director, James J. Angleton was blacked out and has remained "a black secret". For nearly 40 years. President Kennedy was assassinated 2 days after his memo was reviewed at CIA.

The United States and the United Nations must be ready to consider the possibility of ‘meteor/aircraft collision" as a credible possibility in explaining any theory, assertion, or accusation of a "missile attack" on commercial airliners or military aircraft from one nation or another.

Closing Remarks

It is my hope that this report will assist other pilots in dealing with unusual aerial encounters of any kind, rationally and more quickly, thus contributing to a greater degree of air safety for commercial pilots, airliners, passengers, and my colleagues in general aviation. I reassert my faith in God who gave our crew this privilege and navigated me through it safely, hopefully, to the benefit all flyers. Finally, I reaffirm my confidence in the the integrity and safety of the American civil and military aviation system.


Robert D. Morningstar

Civilian Intelligence Analyst

President & Pilot (IGI),

Morningstar Aerospace

Resources & Systems

214 West 92nd Street, #3E

New York City, NY 10025

June 6th, 2000


P.S. I thank the reader for his kind attention...

"Wings over the World"- H.G. Wells -The Shape of Things to Come


RDM*, Member: U.S. Naval Institute

COI (Center-of-Influence), USAFR

Air Force Association

Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association

Tel: 212-496-1472

E-mail address: marstar@escape.com


Links to websites on meteorites:

The Famous Meteorite that Crashed a Car

Mars Meteorites

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