The small town of Wytheville, Virginia, sits up against the Blue Ridge Mountains and is at first glance a peaceful, somewhat rural slice of small town America. Not much typically happens here, and it is mostly a quiet place with historical buildings and quaint streets. Yet back in 1987 this normally placid town would be beset with a series of strange sightings of things in the sky that have remained unexplained to this day, peppered with bizarre accounts, tales of cover-ups, and very sinister goings on.
It all seems to have begun with a man named Danny Gordon, who at the time was a local radio reporter and news director for the station WYVE. On October 7, 1987, Wythe County Sheriff Wayne Pike called in his usual police report, but this time it was a bit more bizarre than usual, in that he told Gordon that four police officers had seen a UFO. At the time, Gordon thought it was a sort of tongue in cheek news story that he could share for laughs, so he reported it on the air as almost like a big joke, but it would soon turn out that this was very serious, indeed. As soon as the report went out, the station was deluged with people calling in the give their own UFO reports from the area, which shocked Gordon because it had been merely meant to be a sort of light, throwaway report. He would later say of his astonishment:
It was a filler piece that came on at the end of the news which I usually relegate to something that’s may be unusual, like we had one police officer who killed five chickens at once with two shots, and that was a story that ran as kind of a ‘ha ha’ piece, and this was another ‘ha ha’ piece and being a very skeptical newsman, it was definitely not in my lead part of my news.
Despite the phones ringing off the hook and people talking about alien spaceships, Gordon was skeptical. For one, the descriptions of the objects people were seeing were varied, with some reporting an egg-shaped object, while others were saying it was cigar-shaped or more like a huge, cylindrical object. Gordon believed that people were probably just seeing things after his initial news report, or that they were misidentifying airplanes refueling or maybe an experimental aircraft, but his calls to the nearby air base showed that nothing of that sort was going on in the area at the time. In the meantime, over the following days the reports continued to flood in, and one reporter Paul Dellinger, with The Roanoke Times, would say, “All of a sudden, everybody started seeing things.”
Gordon was still skeptical, thinking there must be some rational explanation for this wave of sightings, so out of curiosity he decided to go check things out for himself. On October 21, Danny and a friend, Roger Hall, went out to the area where most of the reports were originating from, in the southern part of Wythe County, to see if they could see a UFO themselves, bringing along a 35-millimeter still camera and a video camera for good measure. At first it was a bust, they saw nothing, but as they were leaving they noticed an anomalous light in the sky, which caused them to stop the car and get out. When the object approached them, they could see it was some sort of dome-shaped craft with a flashing light on top, and the right side of the object adorned with multi-colored strobing lights. As they stared in disbelief trying to figure out what it was, a smaller red light apparently approached it to merge with the domed object as if docking, before the whole of it flew off to leave the two witnesses spellbound. Gordon would say of what they saw:
We were headed home, after two hours of fruitless searching… And I just happened to look to my left and saw a very unusual object coming across the horizon. I pulled off to the side of the road in a hurry, jumped out, he got out of the right side, and as he got out I noticed the craft coming at me was very large, it had a dome shape to the top of it, and no wings, and had what appeared to be a strobe putting out multi-colored lights on the right side of the craft. As I watched the sky, from the left came the red ball. As the big mothership went into a small skiff of clouds, the red ball docked with the craft. We looked at each other and realized, no pictures. The camera was not in my hand, the camera was not in his hand, and we both knew we blew it.
Frustrated that they had dropped the ball on taking any photographic evidence, the two ventured out to the same spot the following evening, this time mentally prepared to take photos. Much to their astonishment, they were able to witness the UFO once again, this time taking a series of photographs, and that evening Gordon would claim that he had received a call from an anonymous man who told him that the federal government was interested in the UFO flap, and warned him not to report on what he had seen as it was a matter of national security. Gordon would receive several more calls along these lines that night, with his wife becoming increasingly worried. Despite these menacing calls, the next day Gordon excitedly held a press conference that propelled the story into national news, but things would get very intense from there, as that very evening he would return to find his home ransacked. It would appear that nothing had been stolen, leading Gordon to believe that someone had been looking for the photos he had taken.
Even in the face of these ominous new developments, Gordon continued his crusade to get to the bottom of what was going on, and reports continued to come in from all over the area unabated. Some witnesses reported seeing something that looked like “a spinning carousel,” another said they had sighted what appeared to be “a cross between a helicopter and an airplane,” and many others. Gordon would also get a chance to photograph the objects again, when he and his wife and daughter all saw a huge object that broke into four smaller objects above the parking lot of a mall, a sighting which was made by over 100 other witnesses at the scene, including a whole school bus full of children. Once again, Gordon was able to take some photographs before the objects sped off into the night. The reports continued on well into 1988, by which time there had been at least 3,000 confirmed sightings of the UFOs, from people of all walks of life including numerous police officers, pilots, and others. Gordon followed it all with great interest, personally collecting many of the reports himself, but things were about to get even weirder.
On March 19, 1988, Gordon had been invited to a broadcasters’ conference in Virginia Beach in order to discuss the amazing photographs he had taken of the mysterious objects. Up until then, the menacing anonymous phone calls had ceased, and he was daring to think that whoever had been threatening him had perhaps backed off and resigned themselves to the fact that the story had been blown wide open. He was wrong. That evening as he packed for his trip the phone rang, and on the other end was a man claiming to be a retired military intelligence officer, who had a rather ominous message for Gordon. He would say of the mysterious call:
I received a phone call at home from a retired military intelligence officer, and first he told me to make sure that I taped the conversation so he could put the date, and everyone to be aware, and I said, why do you want to tape this? And he said, I want your friends to know, that if something happens to you, that I forewarned you. He told me that because of his investigations into the UFO field that they had hit his son and caused his son to die with some kind of virus connected to leukemia. He said that he had information that the federal government was not very happy with my UFO investigations. He said, ‘they want to quiet you…’
Unsettling indeed, and it would only get stranger. Possibly unconnected but still rather odd is the fact that during that same period while Gordon was in Virginia Beach the area was gripped by an epidemic of hepatitis. Coincidence or not? Then, one month later, two men arrived at Gordon’s home, well-dressed and identifying themselves as newspaper reporters who wanted to interview him for an article. At first Gordon believed them, allowing them inside, but somewhat suspicious when one of the reporters wandered around the house taking photos as the other questioned him about the strange events in town and his photographs. It sent up a red flag for Gordon, so when they were gone he called the newspaper they claimed to have been from to ask about it, but the paper denied having any knowledge of the article in question or the two men who had gone to his house. Curious. Even more curious was that the following month when he was looking through the photos he had taken he noticed that four of the original negatives were mysteriously missing. Why those four? No one knows, and Gordon has said of it:
When I got to the canister which had the UFO negatives, I quickly opened it up and found some UFO negatives, but the one negative with the shots from the shopping mall was missing. Now I felt like maybe there was something in those photographs that I was not seeing, so I took the photographs to some other people to look at. We used magnifying glasses and we measured angles trying to find out why these photographs were so important. And we’ve yet to discover why anyone would want to steal that… a set of four in a series of photographs of the UFOs.
Less than a month after this, the stress this was putting Gordon through took its toll, and he collapsed from a heart attack. Although he survived, he decided that it was in both his and his family’s best interests to back off from the story. There had been too many spooky calls, intruders in his house, and that sense of constant foreboding in the background, that he was being watched all the time, and so he dropped his pursuit of the sightings and indeed UFOs in general, warning others who would do the same, “Don’t look up. Because once you look up and you tell somebody what you saw, your life is changed forever.” Danny Gordon’s story and the mass wave of sightings in Wytheville in 1987 and 1988 have been made into the book Don’t Look Up: The Real Story Behind the Virginia UFO Sightings and feature in the documentary Strange Country: A Different Kind of UFO Documentary, directed by Sean Kotz and Chris Valluzzo. Co-director and producer of the doc, Valluzzo, has said of the his film and the remarkable case it covers:
Most of the time, UFO documentaries focus on the most outlandish aspects and are often marked by wild speculations or unfounded assumptions. Instead, we are interested in the human story which is typically forgotten in these cases. What happened to the town and in particular, Danny Gordon, whose life was turned upside down by the ensuing attention and excitement? It is a compelling case because there were hundreds, if not thousands, of individual witnesses and a variety of craft over the course of several months. The witnesses were reliable people. In fact, the National Enquirer sent a reporter who decided not to run a story because the people were just not weird enough!
The UFO wave came and went, it has largely been swept under the carpet, Gordon kept his head low to hide from the perceived parties stalking him, and we are left to wonder what was going on here. What were all of these people seeing during that time period? Was this aliens, atmospheric phenomena, experimental aircraft, or what? Who were the creepy people threatening Gordon, what did they know, and what did they really want? It is all quite the intriguing sequence of events, and whether we ever get answers or not, it certainly ranks high among some of the more compelling mass UFO sightings out there.