UFO sighting

This screenshot of the History Channel program UFO Hunters depicts lights in the sky some Kokomo residents claim to have seen on April 16, 2008, the night of the Kokomo Boom.

More than 40 UFO sightings from across Howard County have been reported to a national research center since the mid-1990s, according to a database published late last year.

The Associated Press released the database in December outlining sightings collected by the National UFO Research Center, an investigative organization based in a decommissioned U.S. Air Force ICBM base in eastern Washington.

In total, 41 reports from Kokomo were collected by the center, also known as NUFORC, from 1996 to 2017. Two more were received from Greentown.

Meanwhile, 19 UFO sightings were reported in Peru. Tipton had just two UFO reports.

It’s the latest chapter for an area that has received national attention in past years for a 2008 boom that left law enforcement searching for a nonexistent downed aircraft; a persistent hum that some residents say caused mysterious health problems; and its role in Project Blue Book, an inquiry into unidentified flying objects by the U.S. Air Force that ran from 1952 to 1969.

Declassified government documents posted online show at least eight Kokomo sightings reported to the Air Force as part of Project Blue Book. Each was ultimately given a credible explanation by government officials.

Explanations sometimes referenced activity at Bunker Hill Air Force Base – now called Grissom Air Reserve Base – and other regular aircraft movement. Similar conclusions have been given to more recent controversies.

But those reality checks have not slowed down the trend of UFO sightings in Kokomo and surrounding communities.

NUFORC mostly receives sighting reports through its public telephone hotline. Records detailing Kokomo sightings outline conversations between a NUFORC investigator and a feverish local resident, describing the latest strange, seemingly unexplainable phenomenon.

“I was driving down Markland, by Markland Mall and 31 when I noticed a shining circular disk in the sky, pulled over to make sure and just as I did that, it started spinning faster and two other disks came out and formed a triangular shape, while continuing to spin…” reads one 2014 sighting.

“They dispersed millions of ‘ball’ like things which were glowing, then disks flew off very quickly and the glowing balls vanished. I’m still very shocked.”

A 2017 sighting – reports can also be filed online – described a similarly bizarre situation.

“10 or more red-orangish lights squirmishing, then would vanish and reappear brighter and form a triangle,” explains the Kokomo-based report. “Some moved in a zig-zag motion, then would dart from left to right and then stay motionless.

“Half hour into witnessing this and all disappeared into thin air, after shooing upwards as a bright white light, 10 minutes later reappeared in same spot as they have been.”

Unsurprisingly, a chunk of Kokomo’s reports in the NUFORC database – eight, in total – took place on the night of the Kokomo Boom.

Remembering the boom

It was a strange end to 2018.

People in Kosciusko and St. Joseph counties, and as far north as Michigan, reported hearing a loud boom Sunday evening, Dec. 30, that caused homes to shake and dogs to lose control.

Days later, there is still no explanation.

“I heard a boom and it wasn’t a firework, it wasn’t a gunshot,” Evan Bordner, a Mishawaka resident, told WSBT-22. “It went on for a little bit. It extended out for a little bit.”

Some people told the TV station they heard multiple booms, while others spotted helicopters in the Warsaw area.

It mirrors the mystery of the Kokomo Boom, which gripped the city more than a decade ago.

On April 16, 2008, Howard County 911 dispatchers were inundated with 146 phone calls within a 15-minute timeframe between 10:25 and 10:40 p.m., about 120 more than normal for an entire night.

The reason?

A boom. A really big boom, said callers. Homes had been rocked; the sky was on fire.

But what was it?

An aircraft crash? That’s probably it, said police. But there was no crash site, no debris, no evidence at all of a plane falling from the sky.

“I tried calling news stations, but lines were busy. Channel 6 News helicopter is flying over the area right now,” reads one report from NUFORC.

“It's kind of weird because we heard a loud explosion, the lights moved and did their thing, and then they fell crashing down. … The police are looking in fields and in homes with flashlights and they originally thought a plane crashed, but they can't find a plane?”

Another report described the moments after spotting lights in the sky: “This followed an incredible explosive sound, that got the whole town thinking a plane had crashed. Over 1,000 other people in 3 county area reported seeing something and everyone felt the percussion for 3 counties.”

Officers – police and fire units had both scrambled to the area of U.S. 31 and 300 North in Tipton County upon hearing numerous reports of a loud boom and strange lights in the sky – were puzzled.

Speculation ran rampant, as some people theorized that the boom and bright lights were a meteor shower, the Tribune reported at the time.

Or, maybe, just maybe, there was an alien invasion.

Current Howard County Emergency Management Agency Director Janice Hart, then the active director’s secretary, initially thought an explosion had rocked a nearby factory, according to a Tribune article from April 18, 2008.

She then spent the next morning handling calls about the noise and lights – and even fireballs.

“That’s all they’re talking about. I had numerous calls asking if it was a sonic boom, a meteor, even some people joking that it was a UFO,” she said.

Ultimately, an Indiana National Guard representative ruined everyone’s fun, telling local media – albeit 15 hours later – that the still-famous boom, accompanied by flashing lights and sightings of falling debris, were the result of training exercises for National Guard aircraft headquartered in Fort Wayne.

The string of lights, the official said, came from the dropping of flares from several thousand feet above ground, a technique used by jets to evade heat-seeking missiles while in combat.

The sonic boom? An inadvertent breaking of the sound barrier. The jets routinely trained in airspace known as Hilltop Military Operations Area, spanning from West Lafayette to Logansport, including parts of Howard and Tipton counties, according to the official’s statement.

But many local residents, specifically eyewitnesses, fail to accept that explanation, evidenced by national programs on Discovery Channel’s Investigation X and History Channel’s UFO Hunters.

So what really happened? The government says Kokomo has its answers.

Not everyone agrees.

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gmyerskt.

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George Myers covers city and county government. He joined the Kokomo Tribune on November 18, 2014.