UFO claims debunked; lights in Carmel sky explained

Lower Hudson, New York/Feruary 20, 2012

By Ned P. Rauch

A family's touching memorial for a fallen loved one Saturday night may have led some drivers to think they'd had a close encounter with the third kind.

Among those who witnessed unusual lights was David Murphy, a 53-year-old contractor from Carmel who said he's the kind of guy who notices things. So when something didn't seem right about the night sky over Carmel on Saturday, he noticed.

Murphy was driving home with his 7-year-old daughter at around 8:30 p.m. Saturday when unusual lights in the sky caught his eye. At first he thought reflections from the surface of the West Branch Reservoir were playing tricks on him. Then he thought something was wrong with his windshield. Soon enough, though, he'd ruled out both possibilities.

He pulled off Route 6 and joined more than a dozen other motorists who had stopped their cars to stare at the bright orange lights gliding across the sky. There were at least 20 of them, and they flew silently from west to east, Murphy said.

"In the last month, I've seen a bald eagle and a bobcat," Murphy said in an interview Sunday. "Now I can say I've seen 20 UFOs. I'm a guy who notices things, but I can honestly say I've never seen anything like this before."

Murphy said although it had been raining earlier that evening, the night sky was so clear the constellations stood out. There was just one cloud, and several of the orbs vanished as they flew behind it before reappearing seconds later.

They moved in a loose formation, flying at about the speed of an airplane. Each light shone constantly; none blinked or flashed.

Murphy figured what he saw was one of two things: a secret military operation or something not of this world. He later ran into a Carmel police officer who said three people had called in to report the sightings. He said the cop had no explanation.

In fact, the UFOs were most likely balloon lanterns, released into the sky by Frances Altomare and about 45 family members in honor of Altomare's son, Scott Kravis, who died in January of 2011 as a result of injuries he suffered in a car crash.

"The lights were beautiful," Altomare said. "Absolutely gorgeous."

She said her son would have found the confusion amusing.

"He would have been hysterical laughing. It's sad, but funny. He's still making a ruckus, my son," Altomare said.

The lower Hudson Valley has a long history of alleged UFO visits. In 1983, thousands of area residents reported seeing a giant boomerang-shaped object glowing in the sky.

"I've kept an open mind about it," Murphy said about the question of UFOs. "I think it's arrogant to think we're the only people in the universe."

The rest of his family isn't as intrigued with Saturday night's light show.

His daughter wanted to get home and watch television. And his wife has been urging him just to accept what he saw as one of life's many oddities.

"Well, I can't dismiss things that easy," Murphy said. "I really want to know what it is."

Carmel Police confirmed early Monday that they were sent out after an anonymous caller reported lights in the sky and people pulled off Route 6 about 8:30 p.m. Saturday. A police officer sent to the scene didn't see anything.

The report was filed under "suspicious activity" because the police department doesn't have a code number for UFOs, a dispatcher said. Later, the dispatcher confirmed what Altomare had said: the lights weren't aliens; they were balloons.

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