Fireball in sky baffles authorities
Published 1:39 am Wednesday, December 29, 1999
By By Sherry Digmon
Some people described it as a fireball, some a bright light. Some are sure it was a meteor, and some say it was a missile. Some even thought it was a crashing plane.
Whatever went across the sky over Davisville, Atmore and Canoe Sunday night has everybody talking. But nobody has the answer.
Tina Lowell didn't see the bright light. She just knows her dogs were acting funny.
Lowell, who lives off Butler Street, said she heard a noise, too, not like an explosion, but just a loud noise. She hears a lot of interstate noise, she said, but this was not the usual highway noise. A little while later, she heard a helicopter flying overhead.
At about 7 p.m., Chad Cook was seeing two friends off at his Davisville home.
State Trooper Jimmy Dean was patrolling near Canoe when he saw the bright light crossing the sky.
Dean said there was a flame coming out of the back or side. There were no running lights and no engine noise.
The bright light was sighted in Escambia County, Florida, and Alabama, and in Conecuh County. It was thought at first to be a plane crashing, but following an extensive search, the Escambia County (Ala.) Sheriff's Department has determined that it was not a plane.
Authorities say they may know what it was not. But they may never know what it was.
Escambia County (Ala.) Sheriff's Department Major Mike Murphy said Tuesday morning the department is assuming the fireball was a meteor.
There was no question in Cook's mind it was a meteor.
Cook watched it burn for 20 to 30 seconds, only to see it burn out twice as it crossed the sky. His theory is that the meteor was trying to enter the earth's atmosphere but was unable to. That would account for the fire going out and re-igniting.
Cook could actually make out the shape.
There is equally no question in Dean's mind it was not a meteor. He's not sure what it is, but he's sure it wasn't a meteor.
Dean estimated the fireball was 300 to 500 feet off the ground, adding that that was his perception, and it could have been higher.
Dean said the fire suddenly disappeared and he could no longer see anything in the sky. He thought it might have banked and turned toward Atmore.
A short time later, Dean joined other search and rescue personnel and law enforcement agencies scrambling to the Amoco station on Highway 97 as reports of a possible plane crash came in.
Pat Still and Wanda Smith of Atmore Ambulance were among the first to respond. Still got the call from Florida radio dispatch and called Atmore fire and police departments.
Meanwhile, other agencies were being dispatched to the staging area at the Amoco station. Those responding were Escambia County sheriffs' departments from Florida and Alabama, Alabama State Troopers, Florida Highway Patrol, Atmore Ambulance, Atmore Fire Department, Walnut Hill Volunteer Fire Department, Molino VFD, Century VFD, McDavid VFD, Poarch VFD, Atmore Police Department, LifeFlight and the Brewton Rescue Squad.
The response reassured Smith that area agencies could handle a disaster.
Cook stopped at the station a short time later to purchase gas and asked one of the deputies what was going on. When he was told there was a possible plane crash, Cook told them what he had seen.
Unable to confirm the report of a downed plane, personnel disbanded only to regroup at Escambia Academy when Brookley Field in Mobile reported a lost plane. That report was recanted a short time later, and personnel disbanded for the night.
On Monday morning, the Escambia County (Ala.) Sheriff's Department requested assistance from the state troopers post in Montgomery for an aerial search of the area.
Doris Teague with the troopers public information office confirmed that two pilots with the trooper aviation division assisted in the search.
Escambia County (Ala.) Sheriff's Deputy Chuck Brooks worked with the two helicopter pilots.
One of the pilots told Brooks that it might have been a missile from Eglin Air Force Base near Ft. Walton, Fla.
The pilot said that missiles are tested in this area sometimes but they are usually escorted by jets.
Major Murphy said testing by Eglin has been done in this area, but Eglin personnel have always notified all agencies affected.
On Monday afternoon, Senior Airman Cathy Lirette at Eglin AFB said that whatever came over Atmore didn't come from Eglin.
Eglin AFB does not track weather and space surveillance, Ligette said.
Marty Mayeaux with the National Weather Service in Mobile had no information on the strange occurrence. He said he had gotten a few calls Monday afternoon asking about a possible meteor in Escambia County. The weather service doesn't track meteors.
Meanwhile, the town and outlying areas buzzed Monday as residents recounted what they had seen and heard n or not heard. Making the incident even more strange is that a similar situation occurred about three weeks ago when people from Atlanta to south Alabama reported seeing a bright light or ball of fire in the sky.
One East Brewton man said the ball of fire passed over his house. A few other people have reported seeing another fireball Monday night, similar to the sighting Sunday.