1973 was, according to many accounts, one of the most significant years in the history of UFO sightings.

Observations from all over the nation would begin to become even more concentrated in the Autumn of that year, as Tennessee residents began to report sightings of strange lights and triangular objects in early September. Interest in the subject perhaps also influenced future President Jimmy Carter, who filed a report with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) about an observation he had made four years earlier.

Several sightings of the strange, egg-shaped craft were also logged beginning in October of that year. The Pulaski Citizen carried a story about a trio of teenage boys who observed such a craft land near the Anthony Hill community in Giles County, Tennessee, from which they claimed “a large, hairy, stiffly walking occupant” emerged.

Arguably, the most celebrated incident from October 1973 occurred on the evening of October 11, when a pair of coworkers at a local shipyard near Pascagoula, Mississippi, were fishing together after hours when they observed an oval-shaped craft swing low over the river nearby, producing a whirring noise as blue lights emanated from it. The events that followed would account for what is widely recognized as one of the most famous purported abduction incidents involving a UFO craft, and one notable for its dissimilarity to other such cases that would occur in the years to follow.

Walter Sullivan, writing for the New York Times in October of that year, noted that, “Rarely, if ever, since Kenneth Arnold reported in 1947 seeing what came to be known as ‘flying saucers’ during flight near Mount Rainier in Washington State have there been such widespread reports of unidentified flying objects, or UFO’s, as in recent days.”

Sullivan’s article in the Times was by no means all that had been appearing in newspapers. In Ohio, the Monday, 22 Oct 1973 edition of the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette carried the bizarre headline, “Helicopter Nearly Tangles With UFO,” recounting the story of an Army Captain, Lawrence Coyne, and three other servicemen who had the fright of their lives a few days earlier, while flying back to Cleveland after a routine medical examination earlier that evening.

Shortly before 11 PM local time, Mr. Healy, the rear left passenger with Coyne at the time, observed a red light in the distance to their south. As UFO chronicler Jerome Clark would later recount, the object resembled “the port-wing light of an aircraft but seemed brighter than normal,” and possessed none of the requisite lights in accordance with FAA regulations.

Several minutes later, Spec. 5 Robert Yanacek, who was copiloting at the time from the front right seat, observed the bright red light to the east. Initially thinking it had been a radio tower, the light was not blinking and appeared to be moving as he observed the light over the course of the next minute. Yanacek brought Captain Coyne’s attention to the object, though initially Coyne had merely suggested they “keep an eye on it.”

Coyne UFO Incident
Coyne recounts his experience six years later in 1979 for a television documentary (Fair Use/Sandler Institutional Films/VCI Home Video)

Coyne’s attitude would soon change, however. As he told reporter Lee Spiegel two years later in 1975, it quickly became evident that “the light was closing on the helicopter,” and that “it was coming at us on a collision course.”

Coyne recalled the events of the next several moments as follows:

“I looked to the right and observed that the object became bigger and the light became brighter, and I began to descend the helicopter toward the ground, to get out of the collision course path. We were descending and this object was like a missile locked onto the helicopter, only it came at us on a perpendicular angle, to hit us almost broadside.”

Coyne, depressing his heel microphone on board the Huey, reported to Mansfield Approach Control, asking if they had “any high-performance aircraft” in the area. Mansfield Approach had apparently been aware that Coyne and his company were operating on the given frequency, and responded; however, asking his question again Coyne received no further response. The crew aboard the Huey were unable to reach Mansfield either on UHF or VHF frequencies.

“It looked like we were going to collide with it and we braced for impact,” Coyne told Spiegel in 1975, “and then I heard the crewmen in the back say, ‘Look up!’ and I observed this craft stopped directly in front of us — stopped — it was hovering, right over the helicopter!”

As the strange object hovered above them, they were able to observe it clearly. The craft was an elongated ellipsoid or “cigar” shape, with what appeared to be a dome of some kind on top. In addition to the red light the craft produced, the four men could now see a bright green light, which was bright enough that it illuminated the entire cabin of the Huey. As Coyne noted to Spiegel, “all of the red night lights that we utilize for night navigation were dissolved in this green light — the whole cabin turned green. It hit all of us directly in the face.”

cockpit
Credit: USAF/Public Domain.

“We assumed it was a high-performance fighter, but when it stopped directly in front of us, then all four of us realized that was no high-performance aircraft,” Coyne said. It had no wings, rudder, or apparent means of propulsion.

Within moments, the craft began to move away toward the northwest. Soon afterward, Coyne noticed his altimeter, which showed that his craft had ascended 1800 feet while he and the others had been observing the object.

“Our helicopter was at 3,500 feet, climbing 1,000 feet a minute with no changes in the control,” Coyne recalled. “We went from 1,700 feet to 3,500 feet in a matter of seconds and never knew it.” This seemed to have implied that they had somehow been “pulled” toward the craft during the time they were observing it. After the craft departed, the four men skipped an opportunity to refuel at Mansfield and proceeded on to Cleveland, arriving with a near-empty tank.

In the video clip below, archival footage detailing actual interviews with Coyne and his crew are featured, as they appeared in the 1979 documentary UFOs: It Has Begun narrated by Rod Serling:

The story would go on to become one of the most widely discussed of the many UFO incidents that occurred that year, and Coyne even appeared before the United Nations several years later to recount the harrowing events of that October evening. Despite the testimony of the four men as to what they observed, debunker Phillip J. Klass had been confident that the crew had merely been startled by an Orionid meteor streaking through the sky above them; as for the strange upward ascent that occurred while watching it, this could most easily be accounted for by “operator error.”

This “explanation” strained credulity even for Klass, with his remarkable 100% hit rate for purportedly being able to debunk any UFO report he came across. However, it was complicated by the fact that witnesses on the ground observed not just the helicopter as it flew low in an attempt to avoid a collision, but also the UFO itself. One group of motorists who stopped to observe the spectacle described it as resembling a blimp in shape as it appeared to hover over the helicopter.

The fact remains that there is no simple explanation for the events of that October evening, remembered today as either the “Coyne Encounter” or the “Mansfield Incident.” And, like more widely publicized UFO incidents of modern times, it involves an interaction between a military aircraft and an unidentified flying vehicle in controlled airspace that, under any other circumstances, should be recognized as a national security threat, if not an outright act of war.

The Coyne Encounter is one of many such incidents that have been logged over the years, which prompt questions as to why our government seems to have downplayed the UFO phenomenon for so long. It is high time that the problem, and the potential threats to aviation that it poses, be recognized.

This article originally appeared in the TSL Telepath Newsletter. 

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Micah Hanks

Author: Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, researcher, and podcaster. His interests include areas of history, science, archaeology, philosophy, and the study of anomalous phenomena in nature. He can be reached at info@micahhanks.com.

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