Wednesday, June 25, 1947
Reporters Nolan Skiff and Bill Bequette interviewed Arnold at the East Oregonian office in Pendleton. Judging by the time it took the objects to fly from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Adams, Arnold estimated “they traveled 48 to 50 miles in one minute and 42 seconds.” That’s 1692 miles per hour, he calculated, much faster than the speed of sound. This was unthinkable in 1947, since the world record was 647 mph. Arnold found the figure so hard to believe, he lowered it to 1200. He never called them “saucers” but told reporters the thin craft moved “like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.”
Bequette wrote the story. The next morning, the Associated Press ran it in 140 newspapers. Somewhere in the transmission, either by Bequette or the AP writer, the half-moon-shaped craft became round, and the terms “flying disks” and “flying saucers” made headlines.
Thursday, June 26, 1947
A page-two story in the Chicago Sun: “Supersonic Flying Saucers Sighted by Idaho Pilot.”
San Diego Union: “AT INCREDIBLE SPEED: Forest Service Man Sees Mystery Objects.” Along with Arnold’s story, the Union reported that a man in Ukiah, California, saw similar objects over the mountains. Another saw “mystery missiles” high above Portland, and a woman in Vancouver found a strange, egg-shaped object in her backyard. A meteorite?
According to the Union story, officials in Washington, DC, denied knowledge of objects able to fly 1200 miles per hour. “As far as we know,” said an unnamed spokesman, “nothing flies that fast except a V-2 rocket, which travels at about 3500 miles an hour — and that’s too fast to be seen.”
Friday, June 27, 1947
San Diego Union headline: “Fast Disc-Like Objects Noted in Wide Areas.” Five or six weeks before Arnold’s sighting, Byron Savage of Oklahoma City watched a flat disk shape, larger than any known airplane, “hurtling through the sky at tremendous speed.” Savage was an experienced pilot. When his wife said it must have been lightning, he kept quiet. But when he “read about that man seeing nine of the same things, I thought it only fair to back him up.”
Savage’s wife saw how “worked up” he became after he “read about the man in Washington,” and she changed her mind about the object being lightning.
While repairing a roof in Kansas City, W.I. Davenport, a carpenter, watched nine aluminum-colored objects racing overhead. Contrary to other sightings, he heard “the faint sound of motors,” and they left a vapor trail and appeared to be “radio-controlled.”
After Arnold’s story broke, 20 people across the Northwest reported flashing disks. A woman near Tacoma identified “nine bright objects flying near Mt. Rainier” around the time of Arnold’s encounter. Elvira Forsyth, of Seattle, drew a heel-shaped object for reporters, the curved part facing forward.
At 3:00 p.m. on June 24, Fred M. Johnson was prospecting on Mt. Adams. He noticed five or six oval-shaped objects a minute after Arnold saw his. They moved in a straight line. Whenever they banked in a turn, sunlight flashed.
“Having a telescope with me,” he said, “I can assure you they are real and nothing like them I ever saw before.” He watched for almost a minute. When they passed overhead at 1000 feet, they looked “about 30 foot in diameter, tapering sharply to a point in the head and in an oval shape.” He heard no noise but noticed an object on the tail “like a big hand of a clock shifting from side to side like a big magnet.” They moved like nothing he’d ever seen. His watch had a compass. When he checked the time he noticed that the needle “spun wildly.”
According to researcher Donald Keyhoe, “Johnson insisted he had not heard of the Arnold report, which was not broadcast until early evening.”
Newspapers began to offer explanations: Arnold saw “reflections from his instrument panel”; he had “a touch of snow blindness from a mountain peak.” These were: “guided missiles,” “mirages,” “illusions,” or “a flock of swans.” There were “whisperings of secret Russian weapons.”
“I haven’t had a moment of peace since I first told the story,” Arnold told the Oregon Journal. A minister from Texas phoned him to say that the objects were a “harbinger of doomsday.” The man was preparing his flock for the end of the world.
Arnold kept to his story. “It’s God’s truth — I will swear it on a Bible.” At a café in Pendleton, a woman couldn’t take her eyes off him. Then she jumped up and screamed, “There’s the man who saw the men from Mars!”
“She ran out sobbing,” Arnold shuddered, “as if she went to protect her kids.”
“This whole thing has gotten out of hand,” he added. “I want to talk to the FBI or someone. Half the people look at me as a combination of Einstein, Flash Gordon, and screwball. I wonder what my wife back in Idaho thinks.”
That day Arnold cabled the commanding general of Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. He’d mailed a complete account, days before, and received no reply. “It is with considerable disappointment you cannot give the explanation of these aircraft, as I felt certain they belonged to our government,” he wrote. “They have apparently meant no harm, but used as an instrument of destruction in combination with our atomic bomb, the effects could destroy life on our planet.”
Saturday, June 28, 1947
The San Diego Union printed three short paragraphs: “Flying Discs Might Be Jet Airplanes.” Lt. Col. Harold Turner, of White Sands, New Mexico, said that “jet planes have circular exhaust pipes” and that “when heated might give an illusion of discs.” (Two days later he changed his mind and said they were meteorites.)
The story added that “the area over which ‘flying saucers’ were reported seen widened to Southwestern New Mexico today.”
Arnold stayed in Pendleton, Oregon, to gather information. He flew home to Boise on the 27th. The next day his hometown paper, the Idaho Statesman, quoted Arnold: “I saw what I saw. No one can change my mind. If I was running the country and someone reported something unusual, I’d certainly want to know more about it.”
Read more: Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4