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Feb 20th 2023

Unsolved Mysteries: Michigan UFOs or Massive Misunderstanding?


What happened on March 1994, near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan? The Netflix series, “Unsolved Mysteries,” explores this question in its third episode. Was this a UFO sighting or something less spectacular? Was it some type of never-before-seen natural weather phenomenon or simply a mass hallucination that had hundreds of residents convinced they saw something impossible in the night sky?

Here’s a look at what we know about the 1994 UFO sighting, what we don’t and what might really have happened in Michigan.

A State of Alien-nation?

According to the National UFO Reporting Center, there have been 3,485 unexplained encounters in Michigan since 1940. And Michigan isn’t the only state with a long history of possible UFO sightings. In Arizona, 4,735 potential sightings have been reported, while in California, the number tops 15,000.

There’s also the recent release of an unclassified report by the federal government that speaks to the efforts of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force in collecting and analyzing UFO reports from military aviators and reliable defensive systems. In other words, while there’s no definitive proof that aliens have visited Earth, the government isn’t ruling out the possibility.

The Michigan Mystery

On the night of March 8, 1994, more than 300 residents living along Lake Michigan called 911 to report oddities in the night sky. Citizens reported seeing four large lights moving across the lake shore at high speed, periodically combining together and then splitting apart again. The stories told by residents were consistent, if hard to believe, and suggested that something strange really was happening.

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss these reports as the sort of shared perceptive problems that can happen when large groups of people get together and compare notes. At least, it would be, if it weren’t for a very interesting phone call between Holland, Michigan, police officer Jeff Velthouse and National Weather Service meteorologist Jack Bushong, who was stationed in Muskegon County.

After being contacted by residents and seeing the lights for himself, Velthouse called Bushong and asked him to take a look at his radar. What he saw was shocking: thumbnail-sized blips on the radar screen that were moving fast and unpredictably. Given that planes appear as small dots on weather radar scopes, the thumbnail size suggested something much bigger.

“There were three and sometimes four blips,” said Bushong. “And they weren’t planes. Planes show up as pinpoints on the scope; these were the size of half a thumbnail. They were from 5 to 12,000 feet at times, moving all over the place. Three were moving toward Chicago. I never saw anything like it before, not even when I’m doing severe weather.”

He tracked them until they reached the south end of Lake Michigan, where he observed about a dozen similar objects that remained stationary for two hours. Then — as quick as they came — they were gone.

Unpacking the UFO Encounter

To this day, there’s no adequate explanation for the 1994 UFO sighting. A year after the event, the Chicago Tribune reported that researchers had ruled out small planes, weather balloons, marsh gases, falling stars and military aircraft as the source of the sighting. Leo Grenier, director of the National Weather Service in Muskegon at the time of the incident, believed there was an “earthly explanation” for what happened but refused to elaborate, saying, “Once I retire from the National Weather Service, I might tell somebody.” He never did.

Bushong, meanwhile, went largely silent after the event for fear that he’d be fired for his comments about it and the fact that the comments were recorded. “I’m supposed to be a scientist and skeptical,” he said in an interview with WOODTV. But with the government going public about potential UFO sightings, Bushong said he feels vindicated. “Now, with the military coming out and saying the same thing I was 30 years ago, I can finally say to people, ‘I told you so,'” he said.

What really happened that fateful March night in Michigan? We may never know for sure. The consistent nature of resident reports combined with National Weather Service radar evidence makes it clear that something strange was going on, but lacking details beyond the fact that these objects were fast, bright and moving erratically, there’s not much to go on. The result is a frustrating lack of satisfactory answers. Could the mystery have an earthbound explanation? Absolutely. Could it be the work of alien observers? Possibly.

Either way, the incident ranks as one of the country’s top unsolved mysteries, and it’s a night that residents, law enforcement and radar operators will never forget.

Are you interested in science and innovation? We are, too. Check out Northrop Grumman career opportunities to see how you can participate in this fascinating time of discovery.