Scary fireside stories are as much of the outdoor experience as pitching your tent. The next time you are covered in the warm eerie glow of the campfire (or stove), share this fireside story of Washington’s role in popular UFO mythology.
On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold, a respected business man and experienced pilot from Idaho, was on his way from Chehalis to Yakima in his CallAir A-2 airplane on a business trip. At around 3 p.m. at an altitude over 9000 ft., Arnold spotted nine shiny objects flying towards Mount Rainier from the direction of Mount Baker to the north.
In an effort to identify the objects, Arnold conducted several maneuvers to confirm that the objects were not birds, sun reflections off his cockpit windshield, or another known aircraft. During these maneuvers Arnold estimated that the UFOs were flying around 1,700 mph (faster than any aircraft of the time) and were over 100ft long. Arnold described the objects as thin and crescent shaped – later reporting on the sightings coined the term “flying saucer” for the first time.
Arnold said the objects darted in and out of the mountainous terrain before heading south to Mount Adams. Arnold observed the objects around both peaks over the span of almost two minutes. When Arnold landed he reported his sighting and was interviewed by multiple news outlets and his sighting became part of an extensive Army Air Force intelligence investigation. Ten days after Arnold’s sighting, a United Airlines crew over Idaho flying to Seattle spotted UFOs similar to the ones identified by Arnold. These UFOs paced the United Airlines flight for 15 minutes before suddenly disappeared. The captain of the United Airlines flight, Emil J. Smith, met with Arnold and the Army Air Force intelligence to discuss the encounters. Arnold and Smith became friends and later teamed up to investigate an early UFO hoax that involved the mysterious Men in Black.
Like two X-File agents, Arnold and Smith are reported to have teamed up to investigate the mysterious close encounter known as the Maury Island incident. In June of 1947 two men reported to have had molten metal dropped on their boat in Puget Sound off Maury Island. The men also reported an encounter with a man in a dark suit that told them not to talk about the UFO incident. This story was later revealed as a hoax, but is considered the genesis of the Men in Black phenomenon associated with modern UFO mythology.
Who knows what really happened over the skies of Mount Rainier on that clear June day in 1947? My theory is that what Arnold really saw were early interstellar peak-baggers planning an epic single-day ascent of Washington’s three highest peaks (Baker, Rainier, and Adams)…I could be wrong.