#: 91 S0/EasyPlex
18-Dec-87 18:53 MST
Sb: APky 12/14 0155 Strange Lights
Fm: Executive News Svc. [72135,424]
By The Associated Press
People from Montana to Mississippi reported vivid streaks of light in the
night sky when a disintegrating rocket used to launch a Soviet satellite burned
up in the atmosphere, putting on a fireworks show with "spectacular, beautiful
Scores of startled people called police, the news media and air traffic
controllers to report the phenomenon late Saturday.
"We weren't really scared. If it had landed, it would have been a different
story," said Joe Beverly, a policeman at Marion, Ky., who saw reddish-orange
lights while driving with his family.
The light show was caused by the re-entry of a Soviet rocket body that had
been used to launch the Raduga 21 communications satellite on Thursday, said
Maj. Alex Mondragon of the U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"Something re-entering like that can be mistaken for a missile coming in"
but the space command knew it wasn't because it had tracked the object since
launch, Mondragon said. The agency uses a network of radar, telescopes and
sensors to track about 7,000 man-made objects in orbit, he said.
Trackers spotted the falling rocket over the coast of western Canada and
followed its southeastward course across the United States past the Florida
Gulf Coast, Mondragon said.
"There were some initial indications that debris may have landed, but nobody
has found anything," Mondragon said Sunday. "Realistically, we would have
received a report by now if anything had hit the Earth."
He said the likelihood of finding any debris is "fairly remote. Only 5
percent or less of a space object typically survives re-entry."
"I've never seen anything like it. It was spectacular, beautiful colors,"
said Paul Kellenbarger of Pea Ridge, Ark., who ran outside with his wife to
watch. "It looked like a helicopter, with red and green lights."
Some callers to WPSD-TV in Paducah, Ky., reported blue lights while others
reported reddish-orange hues and white lights. Sam Burrage, executive producer
and anchorman at WPSD, said the station received 25 to 35 calls about the
lights from viewers in western Kentucky, southeastern Missouri and northern
Some callers reported seeing more than one object flaming across the sky.
"They say it was two main lights, a reddish orange color," said Bart Ryan of
KBLT radio near Galena, Kan.
"I've had about 30 calls up here about it," said Todd Glaese, an air traffic
controller at the Fayetteville, Ark., airport. "It was something to see, and I
had a good view."
"They had tails of fire, traveling from west to east ... they lit up part of
the ground," said Steve Matt, an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officer.
Tom DeMont of Siloam Springs, Ark., said he saw two sets of lights, "maybe
100 feet long, twin sets of light."
"We had about 30 people out Christmas caroling and we saw these lights going
across the sky. ... I thought they were three jet planes flying in formation
with their lights on but there was no sound," said Lincoln-Lancaster County
(Neb.) Planning director Garner Stoll.
Mark Brockeveldt was working at the Lincoln, Neb., airport when he saw four
immense lights approach. He said the lights were elongated and bathed in a
white and gold light with reddish-gold tails like comets. As the objects
crossed the airport, one dropped below the other three and its light went out,
"I've worked out here for nine years and have never seen anything like it,"
said crew chief Mark Shoemaker at the Lincoln airport. "It was freaky."
The National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle got calls from "almost every
state east of the Rocky Mountains" to Indiana and Mississippi, said spokesman
In October, a display of lights over the West was attributed to a Soviet
rocket re-entering the atmosphere and pieces fell to earth in California.
Weld County, Colo., sheriff's dispatchers were deluged with calls by people
who thought they had seen a plane going down in flames.
In Paducah, Burrage said a woman from Charleston, Mo., reported seeing
objects that seemed to be 100 to 200 feet above her.
"She was in her car and just sat there dumbfounded," Burrage said. "She said
the lights were unlike anything she'd seen before. She said it had an oval
shape to it and there were lights beaming from it.
"She said she just sat there and froze."
Copyright 1987 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.