‘It’s becoming more mainstream’: New York UFO researchers welcome government’s report – Press & Sun-Bulletin

With sightings long reported in the Southern Tier and across the state, New York UFO researchers are encouraged by government’s shifting tone

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UFO report: Pentagon finds no evidence of aliens but can’t rule it out

The New York Times and CNN reported a government report on “UFOs” does not provide evidence of aliens, but also doesn’t rule the possibility out.


Cheryl Costa was 12 years old when she saw something inexplicable in the sky over rural Savona, a small town in New York’s Steuben County. 

It was a large sphere parked against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. The family pulled off to the side of the road for a better look. Costa remembers the corn in the field towering over her dad’s Chevy Impala as the family considered the possibilities of the object suspended in the distance, hovering above the rolling fields. 

“My parents said it could be something NASA was doing, it might be the Air Force, it could be a weather balloon, and it might be people from another world. That fascinated a 12-year-old,” Costa recalled. 

The family got back on the road, headed for home some 15 miles to the south in the city of Corning. Costa tracked the object from the rear window of the Impala until POOF! It sped away in the blink of an eye. Costa wouldn’t see a similar effect until watching a science fiction film more than two decades later. 

“It was like a starship you see in the movies, just gone. That changes you,” Costa said. “Anyone who has seen something really serious like that, it changes you in a way.” 

That childhood experience sparked a lifelong fascination with Unidentified Flying Objects, better known in popular culture as UFOs. It was an interest she largely set aside during stints in the Air Force and the Navy and, later, a long career in the private sector that started with IBM Federal Systems in Owego. After the division was acquired by defense contractor Lockheed Martin, Costa retired from the company in 2011 to dedicate herself to researching and writing about UFOs.

Today, the UFO community is abuzz. The phenomenon swept back into the public consciousness in recent months as several encounters by military pilots have surfaced, supported by unclassified images and radar evidence. The incidents have made national news, featured everywhere from the New York Times to 60 Minutes and USA TODAY. The UFO fervor crescendoed with the release of a much-anticipated government report on Friday.

The report was requested by Congress following the accounts of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) in American airspace. The report drew no firm conclusions regarding the genesis of the objects, leaving the door open for further speculation among the general public. 

Sam Falvo, State Director of New York’s Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) chapter, didn’t expect the government’s task force to drop any earth-shattering revelations. The report may be groundbreaking in what it doesn’t say, however. Intelligence officials did not rule out other-worldly origins for the strange objects being observed in the skies.

“Technology has now gotten to the point where it’s harder and harder to dismiss sightings,” said Falvo. “In the early days it was always attributed to various different phenomenon with optical illusions, mass hysteria, families being deluded. Even though many pictures have been taken and a camera doesn’t hallucinate, it can be fooled.” 

Falvo believes the UAP report is a sign the military is taking UFOs seriously. The report notes that the Navy didn’t establish a standardized way to report a UFO sighting until March 2019, with the Air Force following in November 2020.  

“They definitely know the objects are real and do exist, and they are far superior to our technology,” Falvo said. “You can’t really speculate on where they’re coming from because scientific data doesn’t give you that information.” 

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UFOs in the Southern Tier 

Longtime UFO researchers have noted the government’s shifting tone on UFOs, or UAPs — Unidentified Aerial Phenomena — as they are now classified by military and intelligence personnel.

The tacit acknowledgment that we’re sharing the skies with unexplained phenomena may open the door to greater acceptance of UFOs as a subject warranting scientific inquiry. Costa would welcome the help. In 2017, Costa and her wife, Linda Miller Costa, published “UFO Sightings Desk Reference: United States of America 2001-2015,” which documents 121,000 sightings across the nation using data culled from MUFON and the National UFO Reporting Center. A follow-up released in May adds data through 2020, bringing the total to over 167,000 sightings. 

Polling metrics indicate only about one in 250 people who see something they can’t explain go through the trouble of reporting the incident, Costa said.  

“People have a tendency to be flippant and want to disregard civilian sightings. Yes, there’s a few goofballs out there and some fakers, but statistically it’s a wash,” she said. “Most people are very sincere. There’s a lot of people who say they never put much stock in this stuff, but then they were on their back deck and saw something like nothing they’ve ever seen before. They go into great detail explaining it. A lot of people are sincere in wanting to get it off their chest.” 

In the Southern Tier, Binghamton ranks No. 9 on Costa’s list of New York state cities with the most UFO sightings over 2001-2020. New York City, Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse and Utica had the most reported sightings over the first two decades of the century. Binghamton has accounted for 68 of Broome County’s 129 overall sightings, followed by Endicott’s 14 and Johnson City and Vestal with 12 each. 

Thirty-seven sightings have been reported in Steuben County, led by Costa’s hometown of Corning with 10 and Hornell with five. Fifteen of Chemung County’s 35 reported sightings are attributed to Elmira.

Allegany County is an outlier: While sightings in most counties reflect population centers, Allegany County’s highest number has been reported in rural Centerville at the northern edge of the county, not far from Letchworth State Park. Wellsville, the county’s most populous area, is next with eight alleged sightings. 

How to report a UFO sighting 

A sighting report can be submitted through the MUFON website. The form asks a series of questions detailing the incident, and allows witnesses to upload photos and videos. Cases reported to MUFON are assigned an investigator who first seeks to explain the sightings through conventional means.

Frequently, according to Falvo, the objects reported aren’t out of the ordinary. 

“People look up and see something they don’t understand,” he said. “Sometimes you have to educate the person who took the image that it was a lens flare. It’s 50/50 on their reaction. Some people would accept it, other people think you’re a government plant trying to debunk their image. It goes either way.” 

Falvo and Costa agree the cyclical nature of sightings is on an upswing in recent years. Reported sightings peaked at 677 in 2012, fell as low as 253 in 2018 and climbed to 543 in 2020. The COVID-19 shutdown may have played a role in the surge as millions of Americans found themselves with unexpected free time. 

“People were now at home, bored, looking outside. They were seeing more,” said Falvo. “That doesn’t mean the incidents have actually been increasing, it’s just that people seeing them has increased.” 

After pouring through thousands of cases, Costa has identified several factors that seem to drive sightings: Population, temperate weather, leisure time, hours of darkness and access to broadband. Secondary influences include access to large bodies of water, like the Finger Lakes and the Great Lakes, and proximity to toxic ecosystems, such as abandoned mines and oil fields. Most sightings occur between 5:30-11:30 p.m. with the core from 8:30-10:30. 

Advances in technology have allowed citizens to document their sightings and share them like never before. 

“Broadband for people reporting things like UFOs has been like the printing press was to the culture. It just disseminated information. It’s been a good thing,” said Costa. “A lot of people tend to look at the 40s, 50s, 60s as the golden age of UFOs. If you look at the charts in my book, the golden age of UFOs has been 2001 to now.” 

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UFOs ‘becoming more mainstream’ 

Falvo has been investigating UFO sightings for years. MUFON has received thousands of reports in that time, but when he thinks of the best evidence uncovered in New York state, one case in particular stands out. It occurred north of Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley, long considered a UFO hotspot

A grandmother was hosting a pool party for family in her back yard when the group noticed flashing white lights through the tree line in the distance. Several family members who set off to investigate claimed to discover a flying saucer hovering in a farmer’s field about 10 to 15 feet off the ground. The craft was silent, spanning about 40 feet in diameter.

“A beam of white light shot down from the bottom of it, hit the grass and depressed the grass,” said Falvo. “When the kids saw that, they ran back into the party, went running through the back yard screaming ‘There’s a UFO, there’s a UFO!’ The grandmother decided it was important enough to make a report.” 

Falvo made the drive from his home in Utica to investigate the sighting a short time later. He measured the depressed area of grass, which lined up with the eyewitness account. Readings of the electromagnetic fields (EMF) found nothing amiss, but when he proceeded to measure radiation in the area, his Geiger counter told a different story. 

“Inside the depressed area of grass, radiation background levels were seven times normal. If I walked 15 feet out of it, radiation levels went back to normal,” Falvo recalled. “There was the physical effect of the squashed grass and elevated radiation fields. This was physical trace evidence. Those are very important cases.” 

Falvo is hopeful the recent surge in UFO interest — not just in popular culture but in official government attention — will encourage more citizens to come forward with their experiences and add to the understanding of the phenomenon. 

“It’s becoming more mainstream. The government’s response up until recently has always been to squash the UFO phenomena and ridicule people who made reports, whereas now they’re beginning to take it more serious,” he said. “They’re requesting information from their pilots and so on. I think the atmosphere is beginning to become a lot lighter as far as making reports goes.”

The American government may have shifted the nomenclature from UFOs to UAPs, but the core question has remained the same since the account of pilot Kenneth Arnold popularized the term “flying saucer” in 1947.  

What are these craft that can seemingly enter U.S. airspace at will, flaunting technology far beyond that of any known, earthly systems? Do they represent unacknowledged advances in American military technology? Remarkable breakthroughs by a foreign nation? Or something that strays into a realm previously reserved for science fiction? 

“Look at the data. You don’t have to believe where they’re from,” said Costa. “I don’t care where they’re from. I don’t know who is driving them. Measure the available information.” 

Full government disclosure will likely remain elusive for UFO aficionados who would love to “drink from the firehose,” Costa says, and learn the truth behind all the UFO mysteries that have grown into modern day legends. 

In the meantime, though, groups like MUFON will continue to investigate sightings and keep an eye on the skies. 

“It’s refreshing from our standpoint because we’ve known these objects were real all along,” said Falvo. “Even World War II combat pilots were seeing these things flying with them when we were bombing Germany. They used to call them foo fighters. They would circle the planes and do all sorts of weird stuff. These things are widespread all over the world. You can say one or two people might be able to commit a hoax, but not worldwide.”

Chris Potter can be reached at cpotter@gannett.com or on Twitter @ChrisPotter413To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

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