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The Kecksburg UFO incident occurred on December 9, 1965, at Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, United States when a fireball was reported by citizens of six U.S. states and Canada over Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Canada. Astronomers said it was likely a meteor bolide burning up in the atmosphere and descending at a steep angle. NASA released a statement in 2005 reporting that experts had examined fragments from the area and determined they were from a Russian satellite, but records of their findings were lost in the 1990s. NASA responded to court orders and Freedom of Information Act requests to search for the records. The incident gained wide notoriety in popular culture and UFOlogy, with speculations ranging from alien craft to debris from the Soviet space probe Kosmos 96, and is often referred to as "Pennsylvania's Roswell."
On the evening of December 9, 1965, a large, brilliant fireball was seen by thousands in at least six U.S. states and Ontario, Canada. It streaked over the Detroit, Michigan – Windsor, Canada area. Reports of hot metal debris over Michigan and northern Ohio, grass fires, and sonic booms in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area were attributed to the fireball. Some people in the village of Kecksburg, about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, reported something crashing in the woods, wisps of blue smoke, vibrations and a "thump".
According to an initial story in the Greensburg Tribune-Review "The area where the object landed was immediately sealed off on the order of U.S. Army and State Police officials, reportedly in anticipation of a 'close inspection' of whatever may have fallen ... State Police officials there ordered the area roped off to await the expected arrival of both U.S. Army engineers and possibly, civilian scientists." When State troopers and Air Force personnel searched the woods, they reportedly found "absolutely nothing". A subsequent edition in the Tribune-Review bore the headline “Searchers Fail To Find Object”.
Authorities discounted proposed explanations such as a plane crash, errant missile test, or reentering satellite debris and generally assumed it to be a meteor. Astronomer Paul Annear said the fireball was likely a meteor entering the Earth's atmosphere. Geophysicist George Wetherilo discounted speculations that it was debris from a satellite and agreed the reports were probably due to a meteor. Astronomers William P. Bidelman and Fred Hess said it undoubtedly was a meteor bolide. A spokesman for the Defense Department in Washington said first reports indicated the reported fireball was a natural phenomenon.
Several articles were written about the fireball in science journals. The February 1966 issue of Sky & Telescope reported that the fireball was seen over the Detroit-Windsor area at about 4:44 p.m. EST. The Federal Aviation Administration had received 23 reports from aircraft pilots, the first starting at 4:44 p.m. A seismograph 25 miles southwest of Detroit had recorded the shock waves created by the fireball as it passed through the atmosphere. The Sky & Telescope article concluded that "the path of the fireball extended roughly from northwest to southeast" and ended "in or near the western part of Lake Erie".
A 1967 article by two astronomers in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (JRASC) used the seismographic record to pinpoint the time of passage over the Detroit area to 4:43 p.m. In addition, they used photographs of the trail taken north of Detroit at two different locations to triangulate the trajectory of the object. They concluded that the fireball was descending at a steep angle, moving from the southwest to the northeast, and likely impacted on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie near Windsor, Ontario.
In December 2005, just before the 40th anniversary of the Kecksburg incident, NASA released a statement reporting that experts had examined metallic fragments from the area and determined they were from a Russian satellite that re-entered the atmosphere and broke up, but records of their findings were lost in the 1990s.
Leslie Kean, described as "an investigative reporter backed by the Sci-Fi Channel", reportedly "sued NASA under the Freedom of Information Act" for the lost NASA records. On October 26, 2007, NASA agreed to search for those records after being ordered by a court. During the hearing, Steve McConnell, NASA's public liaison officer, testified that two boxes of papers from the time of the Kecksburg incident were missing. Loss of records is not a unique case for NASA; for example, the original tapes recorded during the televised Apollo 11 Moon landing were misplaced or reused.
In 2008, space writer James Oberg suggested that NASA was unlikely to possess any such documents since, in his view, it was highly likely that the supposed NASA team that investigated the site were in fact Air Force personnel who identified themselves as NASA personnel, something regularly done by military personnel in civilian clothes during the 1960s. He further suggested that Kean's action was no more than a "publicity stunt" for the benefit of Kean's employers.