Editor’s note: This is part of our monthly Club Hub series highlighting the community service and social clubs operating in the Herald-Standard readership area.
Unidentified flying objects, otherwise known as UFOs, have captivated the public for decades.
Sightings that include unexplained lights and objects have been reported all over the world. They’ve become the subject of government studies and a theme in pop culture.
Are they real? Can they be explained? Are we alone in the universe?
In response to these questions, those interested in studying the phenomena started MUFON in 1969 in the state of Indiana. Then known as the Midwest UFO Network, it eventually became the Mutual UFO Network and is headquartered in Irvine, California. Branches include MUFON PA, which was founded circa 1970.
One of the oldest and largest UFO investigative organizations in the United States, according to its website, MUFON operates a network of field investigators, holds conferences and publishes a monthly journal. Its mission is the scientific study of UFOs for the benefit of society. About 3,000 people belong, with members coming from all walks of life.
“Our goal is to make it comfortable for people to come forward and report what they saw,’’ said John Ventre of Greensburg, former Pennsylvania director, who said there are about 130 members who belong to the state chapter.
Ventre answered questions about the organization as people signed in at MUFON Pennsylvania’s annual fall conference, held at Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood.
Fred Saluga, a Luzerne Township native now living in New Cumberland, West Virginia, who is Pennsylvania assistant state director and West Virginia state director, checked in participants along with Robert Behanna of Uniontown, who is the section director for Fayette and Greene Counties. This was the Pittsburgh conference, one of three held annually across Pennsylvania — the others include Philadelphia and Erie.
Meanwhile, Roger Marsh of Scottdale kept busy at a nearby table selling books and answering questions. Marsh is national director of communications for MUFON and editor of the monthly MUFON Journal and UFO Cases of Interest 2018 Edition.
“There’s nobody like them,’’ Marsh said of MUFON. “They’re in all 50 states with a director, assistant director, chief investigator, state section directors and any number of investigators.’’
The appeal of MUFON is the ability to share information with experts and other members.
Ventre explained when people report sightings to MUFON, the cases are sorted by zip code and given to investigators, who are members who must pass a test in order to take this position. Ventre said 80 percent of the time, the cases can be explained. About 10 percent of the cases are hoaxes.
“But 10 percent of the cases, we can’t figure out what it is,’’ said Ventre, “and the people seem believable.’’
The national MUFON website (www.mufon.com) publishes information on these cases. A link on the home page leads to a page called “Track UFOs’’ where the latest reports are listed.
Ventre said the number of reported sightings has risen in Pennsylvania since MUFON started the conferences 11 years ago, going up from 90 to 300 a year. The conferences include speakers who discuss cases as well as members of related organizations. The Youngwood conference is small enough for people to easily talk to experts and organization officials.
The advent of television shows, such as Ventre’s “Hangar I’’ that ran for two seasons on the History Channel, have also encouraged people to come forward.
George Medich of Aliquippa, a MUFON member with the Experiencer Research Team, said, “We patiently listen to what people say. We don’t ridicule. We listen to what people tell us and try to help when we can.’’
Behanna has belonged to MUFON for about eight years and is also an investigator.
“If you would like to make a report of a sighting, go to www.mufon.com. There are links there to report the sighting. It’s confidential. It will be given to somebody within your area to do an investigation,’’ remarked Behanna. “You can choose to talk to that individual or just report it and we’ll just take the information from you.’’
Behanna, a mental health therapist whose investigations include reports of alien abduction, said people who want talk to an investigator can do so on the phone or at their home.
“It’s up to the individual. We want them to tell their story, to express what they saw or may have seen,’’ said Behanna, who investigates about 15 sightings a year.
Behanna agrees that most sightings can be explained, noting when a possible sighting happened during a vacation by his family in Michigan, it turned out to be Chinese lanterns.
“You weed out the ones that can be explained but there are a small percentage that can’t be explained,’’ said Behanna. “That’s why I’m interested, because something’s there.’’
While people are welcome to use the MUFON and MUFON PA websites, Behanna said people who are interested in more information can also contact Saluga or him directly through email. Behanna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Saluga at email@example.com.
Saluga, who has been with MUFON 20 years, said there are about 20 sightings a month reported throughout Pennsylvania and 10 a month in West Virginia.
What do members think of UFOs?
Medich said, “I think ETs who show up are explorers and scientists and are trying to learn about people on Earth.’’
Ventre noted scientists say that mathematically there should be life in space beyond Earth but that none has yet been found. Ventre raises the possibility that aliens could be inter-dimensional.
“I believe it’s a mistake to say that because they fly, they come from space. They’ve been seen underwater, too,’’ said Ventre. “They could come from another dimension.’’
Saluga is also director of the Fayette County Pennsylvania Bigfoot Research Project, which held a Bigfoot Day at Patsy Hillman Park in Hiller last spring and plans another in 2019, He believes there may be a connection between UFOs and Bigfoot.
“A lot of UFO and Bigfoot sightings are together,’’ said Saluga, who is interested in cryptids, which are creatures such as Bigfoot that are often part of folklore.
Saluga called over Dan Hageman, a former MUFON member now director of Butler Organization for Research of the Unexplained, who has investigated sightings an 8- to 10-foot-tall, winged creature said to look like a gargoyle, in the Chicora area of Butler County since 2011.
Hageman also believes it’s possible unexplained beings could be inter-dimensional and he doesn’t think UFOs want to harm people.
“I believe if they meant to,’’ said Hageman, “they would have done so a long time ago.’’