President Carter filed two formal reports when he was governor of Georgia describing his observation of an unidentified flying object to organizations that collect and promote UFO sightings as unexplained phenomena.
Carter filed a handwritten report in July, 1973, when the International UFO Bureau in Oklahoma sent him a printed form and asked him to fill it out and describe his UFO experience. Carter filed a typewritten report three months later when the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena in Kensington, Md., sent him a similar form.
Both organizations wrote to Carter after he offhandedly mentioned it at a Southern Governors Conference. Carter was quoted as saying: "I don't laugh at people any more when they say they've seen UFOs, because I've seen one myself."
"The President's sighting was not an outstanding one," recalled Heydon Hewes, who directs the bureau out of his Oklahoma City home and has begun to give prominence to Carter's experience in speeches he has made about UFOs. "What was outstanding is that it showed a new openmindedness of people like President Carter and a breakthrough in people's attitudes toward UFOs."
A year ago during the presidential campaign, Carter laughed off a report that he had seen a UFO one night in 1969 in southwest Georgia. He admitted seeing a light in the sky he could not identify but did not call it a UFO.
"A light appeared and disappeared in the sky," he told a reporter covering the campaign. "It go brighter and brighter . . . I have no idea what it was . . . I think it was a light beckoning me to run in the California primary."
In his 1973 reports to the UFO organizations, Carter said he sighted a UFO in October, 1969, before making a dinner speech in the Lions Club of Leary, Ga. Carter said he watched the UFO with 10 members of the Leary Lions Club for 10 to 12 minutes before it disappeared.
Carter described the UFO "at one time as bright as the moon." He said it changed color and brightness. He said it also changed size from slightly larger than a planet to the "apparent size of the moon."
"It seemed to more toward us from a distance, stopped and moved partially away," Carter said. "It returned, then departed. It came close . . . maybe 300 to 1,000 yards . . . moved away, came close and then moved away."
Carter said the object was "bluish at first, then reddish." He said it was "luminous, not solid."
He said he had not been asked or told to keep the sighting secret and be freely allowed the organizations to use his name in connection with the sighting. He signed both reports: "Jimmy Carter." He gave his occupation as "governor" and his address as the "state capitol, Atlanta."
Hewes said there was a wave of UFO sightings in the South in 1973, including a report by two men in Mississippi that they had been kidnaped by reddish-looking men with wrinkled skin who landed near their home in a "weird-looking spacecraft."
By fall of 1973, the UFO sighting wave had spread to Ohio, where a deputy sheriff said he followed one for 45 minutes in his police cruiser before losing it.
On Oct. 17 of that year, Ohio Gov. John Gilligan was asked at a press conference if he had seen any UFOs. He replied: "Yeah, as a matter of fact I saw one last week." Gilligan said he was driving back to Ohio with his wife from their vacation home in Michigan when he said they saw something saucer-shaped in the sky that "darted around for a while and then went away."
"I don't remember all of his remarks because I was trying to crawl through the cracks in the floor," recalled Robert Tanenbaum, his press secretary at the time. "By the end of that weekend, he [Gillian] must have talked to 200 radio stations about what he saw.
Now administrator of the Agency for International Development, Gilligan said he never discussed his UFO sighting with Carter when they were governors and has not brought it up with Carter since he became President.