THOMAS Mantell was a 25-year-old war hero when he was killed in a plane crash after being scrambled to chase down a UFO – and almost 75 years on his family are still desperate for answers.
The official story is that he flew too high in a plane and ran out of oxygen while chasing Venus or a weather balloon, but that simply doesn’t wash for his grandson Terry and the rest of the Mantell Family.
“[The government] have tried to say he was a fly boy, that he was like Maverick in Top Gun, but he was just doing what he was told to do,” Terry told The Sun Online.
“He had two sons, he was married to his high school sweetheart, he was an experienced pilot, and he died chasing something he thought was a threat to America.
“What was it? I am not sure.”
Mantell was a decorated World War 2 veteran who had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics and even served on D-Day.
Yet despite dodging death from Nazi anti-aircraft guns, the young dad died when his P-51 Mustang mysteriously fell out of sky just miles from where he was born in Franklin, Kentucky.
Captain Mantell – who was flying a training mission at the time with three other pilots – was dispatched by Godman Army Airfield at Fort Knox after reports of an unknown object on January 7, 1948.
The mysterious shape in the sky was spotted by cops and then airmen stationed in the base’s control tower.
Some witnesses described the shape in the sky as a “300 ft disc” while others said it was a “flaming red cone trailing a gaseous green mist”.
The sighting came as UFO fever was gripping the United States – being six months after the infamous Roswell incident and the first “modern” sighting by pilot Kenneth Arnold.
But while those inflamed public curiosity and America’s newfound obsession with flying saucers, Captain Mantell’s encounter took a dark twist with a tragic end.
Thomas ordered one of his wingmen from 165th Fighter Squadron to return to base and to arm his plane with “hot guns” to prepare to engage.
The other pilots peeled off the pursuit – but war hero Mantell bravely sped on towards the UFO.
And when he hit 20,00ft, suddenly all contact was lost with Thomas.
It has been reported that some of his final radio communications to the air base control tower saw him describing a “metallic” object of “tremendous size”.
For him to come back home [from WW2] and die the way he did was very painful – and the government have not done Thomas justice.
After his final messages, there was then eerie silence before visual contact with re-established with his plane.
Shocked witnesses on the ground were horrified as they saw his Mustang spiralling back to earth – crashing into the ground on a farm at around 3.18pm.
Rescuers rushed to the crash scene – but Thomas was found dead.
He left behind his wife Peggy, his two sons Thomas and Terry, and an enduring mystery that has become a source of pain for the family that is still passed on between the generations.
And after his son Terry died last year aged 74 from Covid, his grandchildren are continuing to try and establish what happened to their grandfather.
His grandson Terry told The Sun Online: “My dad would break down and start crying even up to when he died when he spoke about Thomas.
Thomas Mantell – a hero of WW2
THOMAS Mantell was a decorated war hero who flew on D-Day as he helped drop troops into Normandy.
He won a collection of medals, but the one that gives his family most pride is the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The pilot was awarded the red, white and blue ribbon for a death defying mission over the Netherlands in September 1944.
Flying the C-47 Skytrain transport called “Vulture’s Delight”, he was towing a glider full of soldiers.
Nazi anti-aircraft guns then opened fire on the aircraft – smashing the rudder, setting the tail on fire, and disabling some of the controls.
Mantell had a choice – release the glider behind enemy lines, potentially dooming the soldiers, or risk certain death as he continued the mission to make their mark.
He carried on into the hailstorm of German gunfire – and managed to stay the course and safely release the glider.
Mantell’s plane was battered and bruised, but he managed to nurse her back over the sea to homebase in the England.
Photos show just how badly Vulture’s Delight was damaged having been shredded by the gunfire.
The C-47 looked like it shouldn’t have been able to stay airborne, but somehow Mantell kept her going on the long journey back.
It was a miracle he made it home.
His grandson Terry Mantell told The Sun Online: “His plane was hit bad and instead of releasing them and returning, he stayed the course and hit his mark on the release and made it back to the base with that plane.
“So he saved a lot of guys in the glider from getting release where they would have been destroyed for they were behind enemy lines.”
“He always just wished he got to know his dad – but he never did, and that was a source of pain for him.”
Terry went on: “My dad was only two-and-a-half when it happened, but it always affected him.
“I first heard about it when I was very young, and back then it was hard for me to talk to people about because no one would ever believe me.
“Its incredible but at the same time its sad. Thomas was not even meant to fly that day but the other pilot was sick, and it was just meant to be a practice mission.
“I feel a lot of pride when I think about [him], he accomplished so much as such a young age, he got the Distinguished Flying Cross, and he survived World War 2.
“And for him to then come back home and die the way he did was very painful, and the government have not done Thomas justice.”
With the 75th anniversary of Roswell approaching, and the conversation around UFOs becoming a national security debate in Washington – the Mantell family are calling for answers.
UFOs have stepped from the realm of fringe conspiracy theories into congressional hearings and Pentagon reports, with lots of very senior officials and politicians admitting there is something in the skies.
And so far no explanation has been given – with hundreds of sightings investigated by the Pentagon remaining as unexplained and potentially posing a national security risk.
Military pilots and other veterans are now feeling more confident to come forward and talk about their experiences.
“Some of these people have had to live with that for such a long time, it must be rewarding for them to come forward and share their story,” Terry told The Sun Online.
“Why would they lie? These are big time pilots, what do they stand to gain?
And this contrasts with previous US government investigations – such as Project Blue Book – which totally dismissed reports with UFOs.
Terry said that the air force tower controllers who witnessed Thomas’s encounter with a “saucer shaped” UFO were told not to speak about what they saw.
They were told if they did they would “lose their pensions” – and eventually the crew were dispersed across the US.
The family have even met with one for airman who confirmed this story to them.
For the Mantells’ there is no question there was a cover up surrounding Thomas’s death, but the new push for transparency in Washington has given them hope.
“I like that [UFOs] are getting on the mainstream news and the government are talking about it, but I do wish they would go back and tell us what happened to Thomas,” Terry told The Sun Online.
“They have to have something on the case – it would bring a lot of peace to the family.
“I am passing the story on to my daughters – and I am saying they have go have a lot of pride because their great grandfather is Thomas Mantell.
“He wasn’t some crop-duster joyriding who saw a UFO, he was instructed by Fort Knox to chase this thing and check it out. He was basically the first martyr.”