MOUNT RAINIER, Wash. — The following is a HistoryLink essay written by Walt Crowley
On June 24, 1947, the modern phenomena of UFOs and "flying saucers" begins in Washington when Kenneth Arnold (1915-1984) spots nine mysterious, high-speed objects "flying like a saucer would" along the crest of the Cascade Range. His report makes international headlines and triggers hundreds of similar accounts of flying saucers locally and across the nation.
While flying in his private airplane near Mount Rainier en route from Chehalis, Washington, to his home in Boise, Idaho, Kenneth Arnold was startled by a bright light shortly before 3 p.m., on June 24, 1947.
He looked north and saw nine gleaming objects racing southward along the crest of the Cascades. They were roughly circular in form -- except for one crescent-shaped object -- measured about 50 feet across, and appeared metallic. He watched them for approximately two minutes until they disappeared over Oregon.
During a refueling stop in Pendleton, Oregon, Arnold described his experience to East Oregonian editor Nolan Skiff. He said the vehicles flew in an undulating formation "like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water" and weaved in and out of the mountain peaks at speeds approaching 1,400 m.p.h. Skiff's report of Arnold's encounter with "nine bright saucer-like objects" was picked up by the Associated Press and made national headlines on June 26.
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An official Air Force investigation concluded that Arnold had seen a mirage or cluster of disc-shaped lenticular clouds, which often form over mountain peaks. Kenneth Arnold died in 1984, after having had several more experiences with the mysterious objects to which he had unwittingly given the name "flying saucers."
Sources: Kenneth Arnold and Ray Palmer, The Coming of the Saucers(Boise, ID, and Amherst, WI: Private, 1952); Walt Crowley, "They Came From Way Out Here," Seattle Weekly June 25, 1997; J. Allen Hynek, The Hynek Report (New York: Dell, 1977); Curtis Peebles, Watch the Skies! A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth (New York: Berkeley Press and Smithsonian Institution, 1994); Edward J. Ruppelt, Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956).