Swamp Gas: UFOs and the Ford Administration

by Larry Holcombe

Swamp Gas

Over a period of six days in March 1966, UFOs were seen by hundreds of people in southern Michigan and Ohio, in an area between and around Toledo and Detroit. Later classified as swamp gas, on March 14, in the early morning darkness a number of police officers from Washtenaw, Livingston, and Monroe counties viewed objects that darted about the sky moving very fast and making sharp turns. The objects would dive, hover, and shoot straight up while changing colors. Citizens were also seeing the objects and were calling the various police departments to report the sightings. Monroe County sheriff’s office contacted Selfridge Air Force base and was told that the base had uncorrelated targets over Lake Erie.

Hector Quintanilla; Swamp Gas

In the late 1960s, Project Blue Book was headed by Lt. Colonel Hector Quintanilla, Jr. (seated); assisted by Lt. Carmon L. Marano (standing center); duty officer S/Sgt. Harold T. Jones (left); and Miss Marilyn H. Stanscombe (U.S. Air Force photo). Image is in the public domain via Sign Oral History Project

On March 17 at 4:25 a.m. in Milan, Michigan, two police officers, Sgt. Neil Schneider and Dep. David Fitzpatrick, saw three or four top-like objects dart about the sky glowing red, white, and green. Willow Run Airport could not confirm the sighting on their radar.

On March 20, Dexter, Michigan, patrolman Robert Huniwell spotted an object in the sky around 9:30 p.m. He reported that the object, flashing red and green, hovered over a car, then was joined by another object and shot up into the night sky. The county sheriff ordered all deputies to the scene and they later chased an object but were unable to catch up to it.

A local, Frank Mannor, and his family saw the lights from their home and went to investigate. An object appeared to touch down in a nearby swamp. Mannor stated, “I got within five hundred yards of the thing and it looked pyramid- shaped. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Mannor said the object appeared to be about the size of a car. It had a haze under it as it hovered then rose to treetop level and came back down while changing colors.

The event was viewed by Mannor’s wife and son. The object emitted a noise like a very high- pitched siren. Mannor’s wife called the police.

Presidents and UFOs; Swamp Gas

Chief Robert Taylor and Patrolman N. G. Lee came to the scene and heard the sounds and saw the object in the sky around 10:30 p.m. Taylor watched the object through binoculars pulsating red with a light on each end. Washtenaw County Deputy Sheriff BuFord Bushroe also observed the object. “It looked like an arc. It was round. We turned around and starting following it through Dexter for five miles. It was headed west and we stopped. We lost it in the trees. Either the lights went off or it took off with a tremendous burst of speed. It was about fifteen hundred feet above the ground. It moved along at about one hundred miles per hour.

We were doing seventy before losing it.” There is no doubt that some very unusual sightings took place in southeastern Michigan and in Ohio in March 1966. What makes this group of sightings of special interest, besides being excellent sightings by hundreds of people, including many police officers, is that it brought into the investigation a member of the United States House of Representatives from Michigan Gerald R. Ford, and Dr. J. Allen Hynek, professor and chairman of the astronomy department at Northwestern University, and con sul tant to the Air
Force’s Project Blue Book.

As a consultant to the Air Force, Hynek was sent to Michigan by Blue Book head, Maj. Hector Quintanilla, to investigate the sightings. It was while in Michigan that Hynek made the biggest blunder of his professional career.

Read more about the two most critical events in UFO history here

Quintanilla pushed Hynek to come up with a debunking press statement about what the sightings “really” were before the population got too excited (Swords and Powell 2012, 307). At a news conference after studying the sightings and going to the Mannor farm to view the site where the Mannors said the UFO landed, Hynek opined that swamp gas may be the cause of some of the sightings. He repeatedly stated that swamp gas was a possible explanation for only a few of the sightings. Hynek’s admonishment that swamp gas was a possible explanation for only a few of the sightings was overlooked and his comments were ridiculed by citizens and scientists alike.

Allen Hynek; Swamp Gas

Allen Hynek (left). By United States Government – United States Government. Image is in the public domain via Wikimedia.com

There are unconfirmed reports on the Internet that, while reviewing sightings in Michigan in the presence of others, he was told he had a call from Washington. He took the call in private and when he returned he seemed out of sorts. It thus has been speculated that he was directed by Washington to use the swamp gas theory in his later news conference. Whether that story is based on fact or hearsay is conjecture, but the swamp gas explanation at the news conference haunted Hynek the rest of his life.

The swamp gas fiasco caused worldwide outrage, and brought Rep. Gerald Ford of Michigan into the controversy. Hynek, for his part, was disgusted with the Air Force. He felt he had been used by the Air Force and from that point on his relationship with the Air Force and Quintanilla went into a rapid decline.


LARRY HOLCOMBE was first introduced to the world of ufology in the late 1950’s after reading Major Donald Keyhoe’s, Flying Saucers Are Real and Flying Saucers from Outer Space. These books started a 50 plus year study and avocation into mainstream research on the subject. His writing, speaking efforts and interviews now center on bringing light to bear on the continued United States denial and cover-up of UFO issues. He currently resides in Callao, Virginia. His latest work is The Presidents and UFOs: A secret History from FDR to Obama

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