On the evening of November 9, 1974, police in the quiet town of Carbondale, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, got a curious call from some scared teens. The group of friends, consisting of John Lloyd, 14, William Lloyd, 16, and Robert Gillette, 15, claimed that they had been outside playing in a park when they saw a fiery object “like a shooting star” come speeding over the nearby Salem Mountain to plummet to earth behind some trees, showering a trail of sparks behind it and emitting a “whistling noise” the whole way. When the curious boys excitedly ran over to see what had happened, they realized that the object had come down into a pond, or more accurately a large coal breaker pit filled with water. When they approached the pond’s edge, they claimed to have seen something down in the depths eerily glowing in the water about 20 feet from shore. They also claimed that there was a fizzing sound from the pond for a few minutes, as if “someone had thrown a cigarette in the water.” Police at first thought it was an obvious prank, but officers were sent to check it out anyway. This would be the beginning of one of the strangest UFO cases in Pennsylvania history.
When police arrived, they were surprised to see that there indeed was something out under the surface emanating a spooky glow, with the teens even claiming that it seemed to have changed positions since they had first called it in. The police had no idea what it could be, and they quickly cordoned off the area just to be safe. It seems as if they still sort of thought of it as a joke, though, because one policeman even apparently fired off four shots into the pond at the mysterious object, to no effect. A closer look at the glow seemed to suggest that it was coming from a circular or spherical object, perhaps 5 feet in diameter, and that this glow seemed to be pulsating with a white-yellowish light. Police speculated that it was perhaps a downed plane, but the speed with which it had hit the water and the description from the boys seemed to discount this. Another idea was that it was a meteorite, some sort of space junk or even a downed Soviet missile. However, none of these explanations can explain one police report that a boat sent to investigate had seen the light seemingly rush towards them before returning to its original resting spot. What was going on here? No one had a clue. By the next morning the glowing had stopped.
Before long word had gotten out about a “UFO crash” at the pond, and police had their hands full trying to keep the flow of hundreds of congregating gawkers from approaching the water. In the meantime, Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s Center for UFO Studies in Evanston, Illinois was contacted by police about the strange incident and he suggested that it was likely a meteor or a meteor fragment, as well as recommending that Geiger counter readings be taken at the site just in case. Hynek would also send a UFO field investigator to the site. Another investigator who would be called in was M.J. Graeber, ufologist and founder of UFORIC, a Philadelphia-based UFO Report and Information Center. By this time the area was flooded with thousands of curiosity seekers and UFO enthusiasts, with many more clogging up the roads leading into the city, and all sorts of rumors were heavily making the rounds. Graeber would say of the scene and the flying rumors:
It looked just like a scene from a science fiction movie and fears grew that emergency vehicles could not have got through if they were needed. To make matters worse, although we hadn’t a ghost of an idea of what was actually in the water, rumors were spreading like a brush-fire and a few very vocal UFO enthusiasts who were milling about at the site were questioning the effectiveness of the police, fire companies and UFO researchers’ retrieval efforts. There was a rumor that an alien space ship had landed – not crashed – in the silt pond and that the military had managed to recover whatever was in the water and spirit it away before anyone had an opportunity to see it. In one rumor scenario, the UFO was loaded upon a flatbed railcar that was brought to the site on a nearby (albeit, long abandoned) railroad spur – and in another account, two military helicopters were used to lift the object from the water and place it in an armored truck. Curiously, I too became linked to a rather ridiculous rumor which placed me at the scene as a government agent or high ranking Air Force officer disguised as a UFO field investigator. But the truth was that I was just a guy who had an interest in the UFO phenomenon and had been investigating sighting reports for about two years prior to the incident.
Curiously, Graeber would report that there were only police at the scene and a single Air Force officer, with no armed military men present, despite what others would later claim. While the investigation was being carried out, the local Fire Department made efforts to pump and drain the pond to find out if anything was in there, but they faced many difficulties with debris and silt, making the process extremely slow going and basically useless. Another idea was to try and use a crane fitted with a magnet to lift whatever it was out, but this proved to be impractical and there was still the fear that whatever it was could be leaking dangerous substances. They ended up calling in a diver by the name of Mark Stamey to come in and take a look, and in the meantime some of the UFO investigators were being interviewed about their thoughts on the matter. Most of them were beginning to think this was perhaps a hoax, or at most a meteor. Graeber would say:
The UFO researchers were being interviewed by the press and a TV station’s helicopter circled the pond churning up the water. Although we still hadn’t any solid information on what the object in the water might be, Dr. Hynek’s representative and I were starting to suspect that the incident might be a prank that the teens had perpetrated on a nothing else to do Saturday night whim. We thought that perhaps their hoax simply got out of control and took on a life of its own – and that the boys may have been too scared to fess up to what they had done. Of course, it may have been that the boys had witnessed a meteor or a bolide (a large and occasionally exploding meteor) streaking across the night sky and mistakenly assumed that it was the same luminous object that they discovered moments later in the pond. This seemed to be a reasonable notion, as the boys’ description of the aerial phenomenon they had observed was absolutely meteoric in character. However, my inspection of the alleged crash site revealed that there were no topographical indicators to suggest that something like a plane, a large piece of space junk or a meteor had impacted the pond or the area surrounding it. There wasn’t any obvious displacement of earth; there was no displacement of water from the pond; there were no indicators of a fire, downed tree limbs or skid marks creating a gouge in the soil.
It is quite possible that this is correct, as when Stamey finally suited up and dove in, he returned a short while later with a 12‐inch miner’s lantern. After this, the whole thing would fall apart. Robert Gillette Jr. would admit that he had thrown the lantern into the water to scare his sister, although the other two boys insisted that what they had seen was true, that an object really had come down from the sky. Nevertheless, the news soon hit that it was all a hoax, the disappointed crowds quickly dissipated, and the UFO researchers packed their bags and went home. However, there were still many who believed that a UFO, or at least something strange, had really come down, and there were many reports from people who insisted that they had seen a big flatbed truck on the road near the pond with something large on it and surrounded by the military, with the lantern planted there to make people go away and cover up the fact that they had retrieved an alien ship. This whole conspiracy would be fueled when years later Gillette would recant his confession to throwing the lantern into the pond and admit that something larger had been removed, although he shies away from aliens and thinks it was likely some Soviet tech. Gillette has said of this:
My girlfriend broke up with me, so I was in a bad mood. I just told them what they wanted to hear, that it was a lantern. It wasn’t a lantern. Something was pulled out of the pond. I don’t think it was aliens. Some people do. I never called it a UFO. The official people did.
The case has become quite the piece of lore in the area, and there are still plenty of people who think there is more to it than meets the eye. While it seems on the surface that it must surely be just a prank that got out of control, is that really what is going on here? Did these kids just pull off a hoax that managed to pretty much shut the whole town down? If so, why are there so many other reports of something strange going on? Did something come down into that pond or not, and if so, what was it? Was this a plane, meteor, satellite, or something all together stranger? Was there someone who wanted to cover it all up by orchestrating it as a hoax? The case is so long ago now, and so written off as just a prank, even by many ufologists, that it hasn’t really been investigated any further, and so it is left up to the imagination.