Who are the people who have seen a UFO?

Scripps Howard News Service/July 26, 2008

By Daniel Collins

Helen Rhine was 16 when she saw a UFO in Amarillo.

She had just finished watching a lunar eclipse at 2 a.m. one day in 1958. Suddenly, she saw three lights traveling swiftly and silently in a V shape across the sky.

"I was instantly terrified," said Rhine, now 66 and a retired software engineer in Wylie.

Rhine's story is hardly unique.

A survey conducted by the Scripps Howard News Service and the University of Ohio found that about eight percent of Americans say they have seen a mysterious object in the sky that might have been a visitor from another world.

Earlier this year, Marshall Franks of Gulf Breeze, Fla. was at a neighbor's house when he took pictures of an unusual rain cloud passing overhead. When Franks, a 52-year-old musician, uploaded pictures of the clouds to his computer, he noticed three orange, pill-shaped objects in a V formation.

Survey respondents said they saw objects in the shape of lighted orbs, hovering without making any noise, either alone or in V formations.

"I just know I got a picture of something strange," Franks said. "I'm not going to say it's anything, but I'd like to have some professional's opinion."

Franks said he believes the government has withheld information about mysterious incidents.

He sent his photos to the Pensacola News Journal, but otherwise only told a few close friends about his experience.

Some respondents, like 53-year-old Mai-Janne Merklein, feel uncomfortable sharing their stories with others, fearing they'll think they're crazy.

The school bus driver from Springfield, Mass. said she twice saw floating orbs, the first in 1980 outside Dover, Del. when she and three friends pulled their car over to switch drivers. They noticed a vaguely spherical orb of light moving overhead; it hovered silently then quickly flew away.

"When I told my father, he said it was probably a military something or other. I didn't argue," she said.

On another occasion, while hiking with a friend in Holyoke, Mass., Merklein saw a similar object.

Rhine said she didn't tell anyone her story until nearly forty years later, when her half-brother said he also had an experience he believes was extraterrestrial.

He was in Amarillo when an extremely bright white light began pouring into his friend's home. Peering out a picture window to investigate, Rhine's half-brother and his friend saw the silhouette of a humanoid creature, just over four feet tall with a large cranium out of proportion with its small frame. Before summoning enough courage to open the door, Rhine said, the light had disappeared.

Rhine said she is no longer afraid to tell her story.

"I don't have any reservations now; I'm old," she said.

The survey revealed that people living in rural areas of the country or in suburbs were twice as likely than urban dwellers to report UFOs. Some respondents said this might be due to light pollution in urban centers blocking the night sky.

Still, seeing isn't necessarily believing.

Respondents like 69-year-old Lindsey Ivey of Ellijay, Ga. aren't convinced their sightings are actually extraterrestrial.

Ivey said on two occasions he saw four mysterious lights hovering in a T shape near his former home in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Despite this, Ivey does not believe intelligent life exists beyond earth, partly because of his Christian faith and also since he believes there are too many circumstances needed for a planet to support life.

"If God had made another planet, it would have to have the right amount of oxygen and things like that," Ivey said. "Could there be life out there? There could, but that would have to be proven to me."

The survey revealed that people who have attended church recently are also about a third less likely to report having seen a UFO.

Ivey said he believes students at nearby Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University caused the lights.

Robert Garner, a 62-year-old safety-training supervisor in Nesbit, Miss., isn't sure if his experience was extraterrestrial or divine.

He was deer hunting before sunrise one December morning in 1995 when the wooded area around him suddenly became brightly illuminated for about seven seconds before returning to normal. He said he never saw any object or source of the light.

"There was no sound, no shaking, no movement; all of a sudden, it was as if someone just turned on a light, this beautiful green, golden color," he said. "It was either an angel, or a UFO came down and took a picture of us."

Garner said for weeks after the incident he no longer needed his glasses to see.

Not all encounters with UFOs are so isolated.

On March 13, 1997, Fran Chodacki, a 62-year-old Page, Ariz. resident was one of thousands who witnessed the "Phoenix Lights," a mile-wide V-shaped formation of lights visible over Phoenix. The lights reportedly moved slowly across the city's skyline for about three hours. Chodacki was living in nearby Scottsdale, Ariz. at the time.

She said she does believe aliens exist and have visited the Earth. But she's not sure if her sighting was extraterrestrial.

"Maybe it was a military thing; I don't know. Everything is mysterious in this world," she said. "It's a possibility."

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