Fireball in the sky caused big scare
At a few minutes after 10 a.m. on October 15, 1955 — during a period when Cold War tensions were building to their highest and little men from outer space were all the rage — something brilliant, loud and scary passed overhead.
We thought at first that we were all going to die.
A pilot from Dallas, Roger Harlan, may have been the first to have the bewillikers scared out of him by what he described as “a flaming, orange‑colored object.” He was flying at about 2,300 feet across Lake Maurepas, just north of New Orleans, when the thing whizzed by.
“It came alongside right off our left wing at a tremendous rate of speed, began to slow down and then exploded in a shower of flying sparks and shrapnel,” he said. “At first we thought it was a flying saucer. Your mind is conditioned for that sort of thing.”
Military minds were conditioned otherwise. The pilots of three military planes flying over Alabama reported seeing a “red rocket,” or maybe it was “Red rocket.” Whichever, it shook them up a little.
When we discovered it wasn’t a Russian attack or a flying saucer, we thought it was a plane crash and began looking for the wreckage.
Sheriffs departments in Acadia, Vermilion, and Jeff Davis parishes were among those who received calls from citizens who thought they’d seen an airplane in flames.
After shrimp boats in the Gulf radioed reports of a blinding flash of orange and the sound of an explosion, the Coast Guard sent boats from Galveston to look for the remains of what they thought was a jet plane that had blown up.
The communications center at the Lafayette airport received reports from as far away as Jackson, Mississippi, that there had been a midair explosion.
Search pilots sent to look for the downed plane reported small fires in the marsh south of Gueydan and Delcambre and in wooded areas near Elton. A woman who lived in Bridge City, just across the Sabine River in Texas, said she saw two columns of smoke coming from the marsh on the Louisiana side of Sabine Lake.
The ball of fire turned out to be a meteor that blew up as it roared through the morning sky. People from Baton Rouge, Franklin, New Iberia, Abbeville, Crowley , Jennings and a dozen other towns saw flaming chunks of it falling to the ground. Newspapers from Mobile to Albuquerque reported on readers who heard or saw the fireball.
The Galveston newspaper headline read “Flaming Fireball Causes Talk on Entire Gulf Coast.” The Crowley Signal headlined in its biggest type, “Fiery Meteor Explodes Over Area.” Other local papers didn’t play it up quite that much.
According to the Galveston report, “The giant fire ball exploded with a roaring noise and left a trail of black smoke.” It said emergency officials received calls from “thousands of persons in Louisiana and Texas.”
Air Force investigators said the meteor — or a big chunk of it — passed directly over Houston, and that its debris was spread from Baton Rouge to Brownsville.
It just disintegrated,” according to a weather observer in Beaumont who said he saw it explode.
Skies were clear before the explosion. Afterwards, a haze — presumed to be meteor dust — covered much of the Louisiana and Texas coasts.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, Cajuns and Other Characters, is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.