Memphis may be far from Area 51 in Nevada, but some locals claim unidentified flying objects are making an appearance in the skies above the Bluff City.
Strange sightings (and even alien abductions) were the hot topic last Saturday at "The UFO Experience" conference at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn.
The event, which featured ufologist Richard Hoffman as the keynote speaker, was sponsored by the Tennessee division of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), a national organization that investigates UFO sighting claims.
Memphian Julia Dennis attended the conference. She claims to have spotted several UFOs in the city and said she believes she's been abducted.
"There was one large aircraft that came down low, above the tops of my neighbor's trees. It had lights and windows on it. I saw beings inside," Dennis said. "I don't have any memory after that, but I have a feeling that I went traveling with them."
Throughout the month of February, MUFON claims there have been more than 20 UFO sightings in Tennessee. About five of those alleged sightings were in Memphis or within a 20-mile radius of the city.
Memphian Leon Freeman also attended the conference. He claimed to have seen greenish-orange smoke coming from an unidentified object silently moving through the sky one night near the corner of Southern and Willett.
"I was getting into my truck when I saw this big piece of metal about as big as a house with smoke like I've never seen before," Freeman said. "At first, I thought it was an airplane that exploded, but if it was, it would have been coming toward the ground. This object was going above the trees, but they didn't move. It was going fast, and it was going straight."
Hoffman said 80 percent of UFO sightings are objects that can be identified as something conventional, meteorological, or astronomical. He said there's another 20 percent that remain unidentified after an investigation. Those are categorized as UFOs.
"When I talk to a person who's picked up debris from a crash, that's one thing," Hoffman said. "When I talk to an air pilot who's witnessed an aircraft dematerialize or materialize out of nothing, that's another."
Hoffman said some things that are commonly misidentified as UFOs include blimps, helicopters and airplanes, meteors, satellites, kites, and other planets in the solar system.
University of Memphis biology major Jacquis McNary is a skeptic who believes UFO sightings have logical explanations. "Someone might see something that looks weird. But if you pay attention, you realize that it's a shooting star or an airplane or some other ordinary object," McNary said. "Some people are looking for stuff out of the ordinary, and they let their imagination get the best of them."
Those who do believe in UFO sightings have reported all sorts of shapes and sizes, ranging from discoid shapes like the flying saucer to cigar-shaped crafts. Over the last decade, MUFON has also received reports of black triangles in the sky that are twice as big as a football field. Some people have even reported seeing physical occupants aboard the aircrafts.
TN-MUFON will host another conference called "UFO Abductions Unveiled" on March 10th from 2 to 9 p.m. at Southwest Tennessee Community College's Macon Cove branch. It will feature self-professed abductees Travis Walton and Thomas Reed, as well and UFO abduction expert David Jacobs.