[CNI News thanks Peter Davenport and the National UFO Reporting Center (http://www.nwlink.com/~ufocntr/), Joe Murgia (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Stig Agermose for assistance with this story.]
The Seattle, Washington-based National UFO Reporting Center received numerous calls from Florida on the night of Saturday, March 7, 1998. According to a summary of events posted to the Center's web site by Director Peter Davenport, at approximately 6:40 to 6:50 pm eastern time that night, "two very bright, anomalous lights were observed by many witnesses on the ground to move across the state of Florida, coursing generally to the northwest. At times, and from some vantage points, the objects appeared to move very rapidly; at other times, and in other locations, they were observed to be moving relatively slowly."
The first witness to call the National UFO Reporting Center was Danny Oakes, a "warbird" pilot with the Confederate Air Force, who resides in Okeechobee, Florida, about five miles north of the northern tip of Lake Okeechobee. Oakes reported two brightly lighted objects approaching his location from the southeast at what seemed to be a very high velocity. The objects appeared to Oakes to slow suddenly, after which one of the objects "shot" off and then returned to its position beside the other object. Then both objects appeared to shoot up in the atmosphere and suddenly disappear, according to Davenport's posting.
Another good report was phoned in by Dr. James Acker, M.D., a former U.S. Navy flight surgeon and cardiologist vacationing in Florida from Knoxville, Tennessee. Acker, his wife and two other individuals were driving north in Ft. Myers, Florida, approximately one mile from the local airport, when they witnessed two objects moving across the sky in formation for an estimated 15 to 20 seconds. Both objects, Acker said, appeared to be bright white lights, with a "halo" around the central light. In addition, "tails" appeared to stretch behind the objects, much the way a "tail" is seen streaming behind a comet in space.
Davenport said the UFO Reporting Center also got email and phone reports from many other witnesses, stretching from West Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast, westward across Florida to the Tampa area on the Gulf of Mexico. Reports came from Port Charlotte, Tampa, Bonita Springs, Sarasota Springs, St. Petersburg, Punta Gorda, and Lehigh Acres, among other places.
"We suspect that the event was witnessed by thousands of people, both on the ground and, we presume, in the air," Davenport said.
Joe Murgia, a UFO investigator residing in Tampa, Florida, sent a detailed report of the event to CNI News. A summary of that report follows:
Sixteen witnesses, 14 adults and 2 children, had gathered on Saturday, March 7 for a house warming party that began at 5:00 pm.
Just before 7 pm, the mysterious aerial lights were first noticed by one of the juveniles, a 13 year old girl. All 16 people then saw the lights.
All agreed that the lights seemed to appear suddenly out of nowhere. Some witnesses said that the lights seemed to be a mile or less from the group, while others thought they seemed to be within 10 miles and still others thought they could have been 50 miles or more away.
All agreed on certain details: the sighting lasted 30-60 seconds, the lights appeared about 30 degrees above horizon, the lights were white in color, and there was a fog or haze around the lights.
There was some disagreement about whether the lights were moving mostly upward or partly toward their position, but they agreed that the direction of travel was from southeast toward the northwest.
The witnesses agreed that the lights appeared to be about the size of a tennis ball or grapefruit held at arms length.
At first, for about 20 seconds, the lights seemed to travel together, as if fixed to opposite ends of an aircraft wing. For the next 15 seconds or so, they seemed to separate and travel apart. For the last few seconds of the sighting, the lights faded out, then disappeared.
Joe Murgia noted that two of the witnesses were "hardened skeptics," and that one of these people thought the sighting could be caused by missiles launched on the east coast of Florida. The other skeptic, however, thought the objects seemed too close and rejected the missile explanation.
Although some elements of this mass sighting argue against the missile explanation, CNI News has learned of an extraordinary coincidental sighting of two lights over Bermuda at the same time that night. That sighting, reported in the Bermuda Royal Gazette newspaper, was claimed to have been caused by the test launching of two Trident missiles from a U.S. Navy submarine.
In a story dated March 9, reporter Gareth Finighan of the Royal Gazette said that police in Bermuda were investigating dozens of UFO sighting reports phoned in by concerned citizens on the night of Saturday, March 7.
"Police and Harbour Radio switchboards were jammed with callers who spotted the strange lights in the night sky between 7:45 and 8:00 pm," the Gazette said. Located hundreds of miles northeast of Florida, Bermuda's time zone is one hour later than Florida's. Therefore, 7:45 in Bermuda is 6:45 in Florida, and the time of the sightings matches.
Bermuda witness Jean Flath, who watched the lights with her husband, said, "It was huge, as big as a stadium arena light... It was really white and had a shaft coming down.
"Then it just evaporated. It turned into two hazy lights and took off into the air," she said. "When I realised that I had just seen something really extraordinary, I became frightened. It was the weirdest thing I have ever seen -- just phenomenal."
According to a police spokesman, "Members of the public reported that two streaks of light were seen to pass across the sky from west to east over the south shore... The streaks then went to a higher altitude through the clouds, leaving a swirling trail of light until it disappeared. This was very mysterious and we haven't been able to come up with a solution as to what it was. It's just something that can't be understood."
However, on March 10, reporter Raymond Hainey wrote in the Royal Gazette that the U.S. Navy had taken credit for the strange sightings.
"Mystery lights in the sky over Bermuda were caused by a U.S. Navy missile-firing exercise off the US East Coast. The cause of Saturday night's scare was a test launch at sea of a pair of three-stage rockets designed to carry nuclear warheads from the huge Ohio-class submarine USS West Virginia.
"U.S. Consul General Robert Farmer said he had been given a briefing by the Pentagon on the light show," Hainey wrote. "A [Navy] spokeswoman confirmed two massive Trident 2 D5 missiles were test-fired from the West Virginia off the East Coast of the USA on Saturday night."
A possible relationship between events in Bermuda and similar events in Florida is put in doubt by the contradictory reports of the direction of flight. Bermuda residents agreed the lights moved from west to east. Florida residents agreed the lights moved from southeast to northwest. Still, there are too many similarities in the sightings to dismiss a possible connection.
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