Close Encounters

If you’ve seen a UFO in the sky over Bethesda, you're not alone

The night sky has long fascinated people. They name the stars. They trace the shapes of gods and animals in the constellations. They see UFOs.
The recent discovery of seven Earth-size planets—three of which possibly have conditions favorable for water and maybe even creatures—gave fresh life to the idea of living beings beyond our planet. But stories of unidentified objects and alien encounters are long told—and not restricted to Nevada.Bethesda has had its share of sightings since World War II. Most people are skeptical of the stories; those who’ve seen, believe.

In July 1952, residents of the D.C. area were alarmed by reports of UFOs menacing the nation’s capital. Strange shapes and lights were seen in the sky from Arlington to Rockville. “Invasion of Washington” yelled headlines as far away as Iowa. Radar at Washington National Airport (now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) indeed picked up unidentifiable blips. Fighter jets were scrambled; the blips disappeared. The jets returned to base; the blips reappeared. It lasted for weeks—but no invasion.

The National UFO Reporting Center is a Washington state organization dedicated to the collection and dissemination of objective UFO data. Among its thousands of reported encounters are dozens in the Bethesda area collected over the past 40 years. All accounts—reported online or to hotline operators—are vetted for errors and pranks, stamped with a date and time, and posted anonymously. 
Multicolored lights darting, hovering, zooming high above roads and buildings is a recurring theme among local sightings. Since 2000, reports have included peculiar white lights moving in improbable patterns above Bethesda at night, and pulsating lights converging above Potomac Village, then speeding into the night. 

Not all observations come after dark. In 2016, a couple reported seeing three white lights above Bethesda at 3 p.m., the objects round like comets but with short tails, silently moving in a widespread formation. At 8 a.m. one day in 1996, a federal employee claimed to see “an extremely bright cylinder, or the side of something, hovering in the sky, then streaking off” in Bethesda.
In January 2016, a Metro rider waiting on the platform of the Rockville station noticed two small white objects in the cloudless blue sky, “unusual looking since they had a shiny metallic and reflective texture. I turned to my friends to see if they saw it as well. They confirmed the two objects, and found them very strange in appearance.”

A few months later, a driver on Rockville Pike at the I-270 on-ramp saw “three or four huge oval shapes darting in zigzag fashion at split-second speed, about airplane level.” It was late afternoon. “There was no light coming from the earth, no searchlights or reflections,” the report reads. “Compared to the airplane that flew by, these shapes seemed 10 times as large.”

The area’s only alien abduction reportedly occurred in Rockville in 1975. The abductee recalled moving “as if in a dream” through odd spaces, ending up in a large room. Aliens conversed nearby. “The words are not understandable, but I can sense their communication,” the abductee said. “I felt ‘bodylessness,’ ” a sensation described as the brain being detached. The abductee reported being unconcious and then waking up in bed. “For the next 30 years or so, I would never discuss this with a single soul,” said the Rockville resident who reported the abduction in 2000. “Seeing the culture start to talk about this kind of thing, I can freely discuss it without too much distress,” the abductee said. Seeing, after all, is believing. 

Author and historian Mark Walston was raised in Bethesda and lives in Olney.

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