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The U.S. government acknowledges UFOs may be real, 55 years ago, the locals found out for themselve / August 18, 2021

The year was 1967. At home, people were watching televisions shows about space travel and encounters with otherworldly beings — in episodes of Star Trek, The Invaders, Lost In Space and Doctor Who. That year on a quiet back road in South Hill, one man had his own real-life encounter with a presumed UFO.

April 21, 2022, marks the 55th anniversary of his encounter with an alien spacecraft that many believe to this day visited South Hill.

It was around 9 p.m. on April 21, 1967 that Cliff Crowder, the manager of the local Mobile Chemical Company plant, came upon an object resembling a small shiny metal storage tank sitting in the middle of East Ferrell Street.

It piqued his curiosity. The object was 15 to 20 feet tall, and 12 feet in diameter. It rested on metal legs, each about three feet in height.

Crowder would later tell local police that within seconds of happening upon the object, it disappeared in a flash of white flames — leaving behind a short-lived plume and a patch of scorched pavement.

For a short time, the story of South Hill’s UFO sighting put the town in the national spotlight. The Air Force’s chief UFO consultant, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, sent one of his top assistants, William T. Powers, to investigate. News media from across the country badgered local police and Crowder for details of the event. Members of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena — an unidentified flying object research group active in the United States from the 1950s through the 1980s — interviewed Crowder and law enforcement officers. Gawkers and UFO buffs who’d heard about the possible spacecraft landing quickly descended on the town wanting to see the evidence for themselves.

In early 1968, the publication “Flying Saucers and UFOs 1968” recounted the tale of Crowder’s chance nighttime meeting with an alien vessel. The story came out ahead of the 5th UFO convention of the Congress of Scientific Ufologists that was taking place in Cleveland, Ohio in June of that year.

One of the first people Crowder told about his encounter was Gilbert “Shine” Tolbert, a member of the South Hill Police Department. Tolbert would later become South Hill’s Police Chief from 1972 to 1985. As far as his grandson Brentley Morris knows, that 1967 incident was Tolbert’s only experience investigating UFOs. (Today, Morris serves as business development manager for the Town of South Hill.)

On the night in question, Crowder told Tolbert that his first reaction upon seeing the object in the middle of the road was to turn his headlights up to their high beams to get a better view. Shortly after doing that, white flames burst from the underside of the craft, and it darted straight up into the air like a bullet.

Recalling the events of that night for the Flying Saucers and UFOs 1968 publication, Crowder is quoted as saying the object blasted off into the sky although “there was no sound of any kind,” and he described the white flames as “like having about a thousand flash bulbs going off in your face.”

By the time Crowder said he was able to refocus, the object had vanished and all he saw were “treetops, the moon and a few drifting clouds.”

Police never doubted Crowder’s version of events. He was known as an upstanding member of the community and not given to telling wild tales. Immediately after speaking with Crowder, Tolbert and a second member of the South Hill Town Police force followed Crowder back to the site. They were soon joined by two members of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies had received calls about the potential UFO on their police radios.

As members of law enforcement continued their investigation the following morning, Crowder began an investigation of his own. He wanted to know if anyone else had seen the flash of blinding white light or the craft taking off or landing.

His friend Norman Martin, who lived near where Crowder had met up with the UFO, acknowledged that he, too, had seen a burst of light at about the same time that Crowder watched the unidentified object lift off.

The Saturday night following Crowder’s experience, residents in Henrico and Chesterfield counties told local authorities there of seeing “a strange bright light moving at a low level across the horizon.” The reports caused traffic jams throughout the Richmond area as people began looking for their own alien encounter. Back in South Hill, several residents reportedly saw “yellow balls of light on the horizon.”

Authorities in South Hill attributed these new local incidents to parachute flares fired by members of the National Guard who were training at nearby Camp Pickett, just north of town.

For his part of the probe, Air Force Investigator Powers tried to recreate the flame Crowder described, without success. Samples of the burned portion of the road were removed and sent to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio for analysis. The lab there was unable to determine what caused the burn marks on East Ferrell Street.

Powers concluded that it was unlikely the average person would have access to the type of fuel — a rapid burning hypergolic fuel used as rocket propellant — that could ignite a flame similar to the one Crowder described. Powers said he was also inclined to rule out the possibility that someone had set up a hoax, since the choice of a desolate East Ferrell Street meant that few, if any, people would witness it.

Unable to find any logical explanation for what Crowder saw that April night, Powers returned to his lab in Evanston, Ill. Before leaving Powers was reported to have told local police that “the size and appearance of the object [Crowder] reported is very similar to that of a UFO sighted in New Mexico in 1964.”

While it was never conclusively determined that a UFO had touched down in town, Powers promised that data on the South Hill sighting would be archived by the Air Force for future reference.

Many people living in the South Hill area still remember the day the alien spaceship came to town. In 2020, when the U.S. Navy officially published videos that show credible evidence of unexplained aerial phenomena — the Navy’s catch-all term for unauthorized or unidentified objects spotted in the airspace of military-controlled training ranges — South Hill residents who remember when the time the town was visited by a UFO may have felt a measure of vindication.

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I saw a UFO once. Scared the crap out of me. That's why I support my 2nd amendment rights, so I can shoot'em if they ever come back.

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