COLUMBIA — Daniel Mitchell said he was outside Porterville, Calif., in 2002 when he saw it: a boomerang-shaped UFO longer than three football fields, gliding silently just over the treetops. He said he felt like he'd been kicked in the gut.
“You can’t explain the trauma, the impact,” Mitchell said of such an experience. "My knees were shaking. Suddenly your ego is in question. Are they going to do anything to me?” But it just flew away, he said.
UFO investigator Gary Hart of Bloomington, Ill., one of the conference's speakers, thinks the government suppresses UFO information.
By Hart's account, he has checked out more than 300 UFO cases in the last 25 years. He outlined his investigation of a case that took place Nov. 30, 2009, outside of Wheatland, Mo., in Hickory County. He interviewed a witness, who told him she saw a 300-foot-long UFO hovering over a field. She saw jets approach, which flew around the UFO, and then the UFO flew off, Hart said.
Hart said he attempted to verify the reports by requesting Federal Aviation Administration radar information for the sighting using the Freedom of Information Act.
"I was turned down for national security reasons," he said.
His appeal of the request's denial — mailed certified return receipt mail — disappeared from the FAA office in Washington, D.C., and he has never received the data, he said.
Hart said he requested the data after witness accounts of a Stephenville, Texas, UFO sighting were corroborated by a radar information request received by UFO investigators.
Since the Stephenville report was published, other UFO investigators have also been denied FAA radar data, Hart said.
Other governments worldwide have been more forthcoming with UFO information, he said, and the U.S. should do the same.
"I want to break the lock the government's got on this," Hart said. "If we're trying to reach into space, we should be using their technology."
Mitchell, who is from Springfield, is among about 100 participants registered for the Midwest UFO Conference being held Saturday and Sunday at the Days Inn Conference Center at 1900 I-70 Drive S.W. The event is sponsored by several UFO interest groups. Speakers include investigators who have looked into alleged UFO sightings, cattle mutilations and the 1947 UFO crash near Roswell, N.M.
The keynote speaker scheduled for Saturday evening is Travis Walton, a nationally known lecturer who was slated to discuss his account of being abducted by aliens in 1975. His story was later dramatized in the 1993 movie “Fire in the Sky."
Margie Kay, a conference organizer from Kansas City, said some people at the event are merely curious; others have personal stories of unnerving UFO scenes.
Of the latter, she said, “They’re looking for answers, but many keep quiet about what happened to themselves.”
Others attending are very open about their experiences, including the conference speakers. What attendees have in common, Kay said, is a desire to know “what’s going on, who’s doing it and why.”
“I’d like to have some answers,” said Barb Becker of Columbia, member of the Missouri Investigators Group, a conference sponsor.
She talked about following up on reports of triangle-shaped UFO sightings in Columbia in late 1999. She said she spoke to witnesses who saw UFOs on U.S. 63 near Highway AC. Another was seen on St. Charles Road, and a third on Locust Street, she said.
“Investigation is at the heart of it,” Hayde said of the group’s mission. Accuracy and the scientific method are crucial, he said.
Ridicule and disinformation are hindering serious UFO study, said Bill Wickersham, professor of peace studies at MU. He criticized the media for advancing “the giggle factor,” meaning snickering at talk of UFOs.
In light of thousands of sightings worldwide, with witnesses including top-level scientists and military officers, he said, “Either we have mass hysteria or a real, live phenomenon.”
“This is a very serious human issue that deserves full attention by all citizens and especially members of the academic community,” Wickersham added. “If it’s nonsense, let’s prove it, but at least read the data.”
Mitchell’s sighting in California is one of those thousands. He is not a conference speaker, and said he’s not seeking attention.
“I served in the military," he said. "I went to college. I stand by what I saw."
Of fellow participants, he said: “We’re not weird. We’re just people. We come here to pinch each other, and say, 'Yeah, it’s real.'"
Visit the Vox website for a related story about the conference.