Fifty years or more ago, Pat Desmond saw a ball of light moving low through the air near her Washington County home.
Ever since, she’s been seeking information about such unexplained phenomena and sharing stories of sightings with like-minded folks.
That was the case Saturday at the 15th Annual Pittsburgh UFO Conference, held at the Youngwood campus of Westmoreland County Community College.
“People talk about their experiences,” Desmond said. “That’s what’s really interesting.”
Even after so many decades, she can clearly recall her experience: “I was looking out on my porch one night, and I saw a red light; it was too bright to be Mars. It felt like somebody was looking at me and knew I was looking at them.
“Then I saw this white ball of light appear not too far from me. It went up the neighbor’s driveway real slow. It was floating in the air about as tall as I am.”
When she reached the other side of her house to catch another glimpse, the object had disappeared.
“I always wanted to see one up close, so you could tell it was a UFO,” she said.
Desmond was among more than 100 people who registered for Saturday’s gathering, to hear speakers hold forth on topics ranging from unidentified flying objects to Bigfoot and paranormal incidents.
The conference was the second since the arrival of the covid-19 pandemic to be held by the Pennsylvania chapter of MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network.
“It’s a very good turnout,” said John Doucette, MUFON’s state director.
MUFON was in the national spotlight in February, when cases investigated by the organization were the focus of an episode of the “Ancient Aliens” series on the History Channel.
Drawing upon 30 years of experience in law enforcement, Doucette of Montgomery County is one of 40-some MUFON case investigators in Pennsylvania.
That number has grown from about 20 pre-pandemic, he said. “They’re everyone from scientists to retired military to housewives and even a chiropractor. It’s a field that attracts a lot of different people from all walks of life.”
Cases that Doucette has investigated include UFO sightings and claims of abduction by unidentified craft. One such abduction case remains open, but dormant, since the subject hasn’t responded in some time, Doucette said.
While he’s had no such encounters of his own, he said, “I enjoy looking into these things.” Like many other MUFON members, he said, “I was hoping to have an experience and get closer to understanding what this phenomenon is.”
According to Doucette, UFO “sightings have gone through the roof in the last two to three years on a nationwide basis. People are reporting them more now; it’s more socially acceptable, whereas it wasn’t so socially acceptable to say you saw a UFO 40 years ago.”
Smithsonian magazine reported the U.S. government has recorded more than 350 new reports of “unidentified aerial phenomena since March 2021, as noted in a report released in January by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Among those incidents, 171 weren’t categorized as balloons, drones, a weather event, birds or other “unremarkable” sightings.
According to the report, they “have demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities and require further analysis.”
Saturday’s conference attendees could purchase T-shirts and books.
Raymond Keller, UFO researcher and author who is a Cleveland native, was among the conference speakers. He was selling several books, including his latest, “Flying Saucers: From Venus They Come,” and one that he helped to edit by fellow presenter Fred Saluga: “West Virginia: Paranormal Gateway.”
Saluga of Chester, W.Va., is MUFON director in that state and assistant director in Pennsylvania. He heads the Fayette County Pennsylvania Bigfoot Research Project and focused his conference speech on Bigfoot.
He told his audience that “it’s very possible” the Bigfoot label has been applied to two different types of creatures: a species that is related to apes and a similar-looking being that is capable of traveling between dimensions.
While tales of Bigfoot-type creatures have arisen around the world among various cultures, Saluga acknowledged that “we’ve been looking for years and we don’t have a body yet.”
Missy Piper of Derry Township came to the conference in a shirt maintaining that “Bigfoot saw me but nobody believes him.” Dave Hawk of Hempfield was clad in one declaring he was “Gone Sasquatchin’ ” — in search of Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch.
Both have attended a “UFOs 101” continuing education course Saluga has offered through WCCC.
Piper said she took the class and came to the conference because she is curious about the topic.
“These events are always fun,” she said.
“I’ve never seen a Bigfoot, but my friends have,” said Hawk, who added that he isn’t sure about a connection that some purport between UFO and Bigfoot sightings.
“Originally I didn’t think there was, but some of these speakers make you question what’s going on,” he said. “I know there’s something going on in the skies. People are seeing too many things.”
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