In the wee hours of last Monday morning, Andrew Atcheson and a friend were driving down Butte’s dark streets after a long Memorial Day weekend.
They had returned to Butte from Virginia City, where they’d spent a few days taking in the Brewery Follies and spending time at the Pioneer Bar. Atcheson, who was the designated driver, had not been drinking, but his friend had imbibed a bit earlier in the night. Atcheson was dropping his friend off at his house in a neighborhood near the Chamber of Commerce office on George Street.
At about 2:30 a.m., while turning north onto Gaylord Street from Taft Street, something unusual caught Atcheson’s eye. Up on the hill, hovering above the skyline, was … something spherical. Something glowing neon blue.
Still driving north on Gaylord Street, Atcheson pondered what he saw for a moment before pointing it out to his passenger.
He said his friend saw the same thing, and a chill ran up his spine.
“His gut was telling him something was wrong,” Atcheson said.
The ball, Atcheson said, had a dim, neon pink bottom, but the rest of it was a deep, vivid blue. It was about the size of a car, he said, and it was — hovering? suspended? — about 1,000 feet above Uptown Butte. From Atcheson’s vantage point, it looked as if the ball was approximately above Platinum Street.
Suddenly, the ball shot directly downward and out of sight. Atcheson said the rate of speed was far too fast for a human to survive.
“We thought it surely hit the ground,” Atcheson said.
The two decided to explore further.
While driving west onto George Street by the Chamber of Commerce, the ball suddenly appeared again, brighter and lower to the ground, about 500 feet above Platinum Street. But as soon as it appeared, it shot swiftly to ground level once again, and then popped back up to the east faster than anything Atcheson has seen.
“You really try to rationalize it, but at those speeds it’s hard,” Atcheson said.
It repeated that dramatic movement again before appearing in the sky one more time and “blinking out.”
Atcheson, who graduated in 2008 with a degree in petroleum engineering from Montana Tech, said he’s seen shooting stars with bright colors, but they don’t stand still and then abruptly move the way this thing did. He said at first he thought it may be the lights from a police car reflecting off of glass, but he ruled that out because what would the light be reflecting off of?
Laser? Nope, too solid, too material, Atcheson said. A plane? Though it looked to be in the flight path planes take south into Butte, “the color was all wrong,” Atcheson said.
“Ninety-five percent of sightings are just misidentification of planes or other things,” Atcheson said. “But I’m really familiar with airplanes, remote control helicopters,” and FAA regulations, he said. “I make it a point to know.”
Butte Undersheriff George Skuletich said nobody reported seeing anything odd early Memorial Day morning. He said the office doesn’t get many calls about UFOs.
“I haven’t seen one in years, to tell you the truth,” Skuletich said.
At the National Weather Service’s Missoula office, a meteorologist who preferred not to be named said in more than 20 years of work, he can count the number of UFO calls on one hand. Those that do come in usually happen between 2 and 2:30 in the morning, the meteorologist said.
Though it’s not something the National Weather Service is involved in, sometimes someone in the office can provide an explanation.
“There’s times where someone who happens to be here happens to be a little into astronomy and it might be … a planet is in a position where it might be a little brighter,” the meteorologist said.
Atcheson said he’s sure people will doubt his story or think the event can be easily disproven. But he said he knows what he and his friend saw, and he knows he can’t explain it.
“I know what it’s not,” Atcheson said. “Which leaves the rest open.”