FRANKLIN, Ky. (WKRN) — The recent balloon sightings over North America have sparked a lot of new buzz about UFOs. This past weekend, the commander of the Pentagon’s Northern Command would not rule out the possibility that they could be connected to extraterrestrials.

75 years ago, an unidentified flying object was reportedly seen over Franklin, Kentucky—and a decorated pilot with the Kentucky Air National Guard died trying to investigate it.

January 7, 1948, Captain Thomas F. Mantell Jr. was on a training flight over Kentucky when he received an order to investigate an unidentified flying object.

“He spotted it and described it as a large, metallic object that was glowing. At one point, he supposedly told his other guys to go back and get some heat,” said Dr. James Henry Snider, CEO and president of the Simpson County Historical Society.

Captain Thomas F. Mantell Jr.
Photograph of Captain Thomas F. Mantell Jr. (Photo courtesy: Simpson County Historical Society in Kentucky)

Dr. Snider has been fascinated with what Mantell saw in the sky that day in 1948. “One person said that they heard him say that he saw some type of life inside it, but they never proved that that ever happened.”

And we’ll never know either. Mantell died when his plane crashed in an open field. After the crash, the military said that Mantell flew too high, lost oxygen, and crashed. But for Snider, this event is so different from other UFO sightings.

“The thing about this official incident is that it was an official sighting. It was not some quack out in the field who said, ‘I saw a flying saucer,'” said Snider. “The control tower at Goddard Army Air Field at Fort Knox actually spotted it.”

According to Snider, the military released very little information. They did say that Mantell could have been flying toward a weather balloon or even the planet Venus, but the government never makes any intergalactic connection.

“He saw something that he thought was a threat, and he didn’t think it was a weather balloon, and I think he knew it wasn’t a planet. I wouldn’t want to bet on it, but it could have very likely been something else from who knows where.”