For over ten years after the initial Kenneth Arnold sighting of 1947, UFO researchers tried to work out what the UFOs were and what their purpose was. It was gradually accepted by mainstream investigators that UFOs were highly advanced technological machines, almost certainly from another planet, and that they were crewed by beings with a deep interest in humanity.
At first the contactee experiences of George Adamski and others seemed to offer a solution to the UFO mystery. But as the number of contactees grew, and the points of agreement between their tales became fewer, that hope faded. Researchers began to look around for other sources of explanation, not a few beginning to suspect that the authorities, and in particular the US government, were covering up the truth.
Then a case came to light that seemed to offer a new perspective on the whole UFO experience - and a disturbing one at that. At first the encounter stood alone as a unique event, but soon it was joined by many others.
The story of the abduction of Betty and Barney Hill has become one of the great classics of the UFO story. It is worth retelling not only as it is interesting in itself, but to highlight a few points that are sometimes ignored by those more keen on the sensational aspects of the encounter.
On the evening of 19 September 1961 Barney and Betty Hill set off home from a holiday in Canada to their home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They expected to arrive home around 3am. The long night drive passed without incident until the couple were south of Lancaster, New Hampshire. Then Betty spotted a bright white light in the sky that looked like a large star, but which was tracking them.
Barney, who was driving, pulled over to have a look. He thought it was an airplane, and pulled out a pair of binoculars he kept handy in the car and climbed out to get a better look. Through the binoculars he saw that the flying object had no wings, but was large and dark with a row of windows through which peered a number of humanoid faces. The creatures seemed to be taking a deep interest in the Hills.
Suddenly frightened, Barney leapt back in the car, fired up the engine and raced off. There followed some strange beeping sounds coming from behind the car, which sounded out twice. Then the UFO was gone and the Hills were motoring home. They got home around 5am, two hours later than they expected and neither could account for the delay.
And that, so far as the Hills were concerned, was that - at least at first. As the study of UFOs stood at the time the sighting of humanoids inside a UFO would make this an interesting sighting in itself but it would have been unlikely to make any headlines. In any case, the Hills did not report the encounter. But events would soon take a radical and terrifying turn.