Georgia Sonic Boom Linked to Skyborne Mass
Far Shores News, February 8, 2000
No one seems to know what caused the boom Saturday afternoon [Feb. 5] that rattled the windows and minds of Russell and Muscogee mountians. Was it a sonic boom? An earthquake? Or something that is not likely to be explained? Authorities remained at a loss Monday to explain what caused the boom heard around the Chattahoochee Valley - some say as far away as Eufaula - shortly before 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Residents throughout the area described it as having a concussion effect - shaking the ground and rattling windows "I know exactly what it was," said Columbus Mayor Bobby Peters. "We had opened up our light bill at the Government Center and that was the sound of me passing out on the floor." Muscogee County Emergency Management Director Riley Land, meanwhile, said he was "stumped." "Like the old saying goes - it's a mystery wrapped in an enigma," Land said. "We'd love to know what it was, so at least we could tell people something." Land said he contacted the Georgia Emergency Management Agency regarding the boom. GEMA, he said, could provide no explanation. Bill Watt, operations supervisor of the Federal Aviation Administration's Columbus Airport tower, said he had received a number of calls - including inquiries from 911 operators in Russell and Muscogee counties - asking about the boom. He even received a call from a Harris County resident, about 10 miles away. "We don't know anything about it," he said. Military officials shed no light on the mystery of the boom, either. Fort Benning officials said they didn't know its origin and a U.S. Air Force spokesman in Atlanta said he was looking into the cause but could offer no explanation Monday.
Land, meanwhile, and perhaps only half-seriously, suggested looking into the possibility of a meteor having entered the atmosphere at supersonic speed, and then having disintegrated before striking land. And a meteor is what Mike Love thinks he might have seen. Love, who lives in Smiths, was hunting squirrel in the woods near the East Alabama Motor Speedway outside Crawford late Saturday afternoon when he heard the boom. "It felt like it was right there by me," he said. Immediately after the concussion, Love said he heard what sounded like a jet. "About a split-second later, I looked up and saw what looked like a black mass of something," he said. Love said white smoke trailed the mass and was traveling just above the trees. "It didn't look like a jet, and it was traveling faster than any jet I've ever seen. I though it was maybe a meteor or something." Stephen King, owner of Sky High Pyrotechnics in Columbus, said none of his fireworks could boom the bang he heard Saturday afternoon. "My first thought was that a car had run into the gas pumps down the street," King said. "Then I thought, if that was some pyrotechnics, I sure would like to have a few of them. They would be a real crowd-pleaser."
Though an earthquake has not been completely ruled out, a trembler seems an unlikely culprit. Columbus State University geologist Tom Hanley said it is not unusual for earthquakes to create a boom. In fact, he said, a 1982 Halloween-Eve earthquake measuring 3.1 on the Richter scale - centered near Fortson, outside of Columbus - did just that. Hanley said he forwarded readings taken Saturday from a seismograph at Carver High School in Columbus to a Georgia Tech seismologist. The seismologist told him that the boom's seismic patterns do not display readings normally associated with an earthquake. "It was probably a sonic boom, but the pattern was a little different than a sonic boom," Hanley said. "To be honest, I don't have a clue what it was. But I will stop short of saying it was a UFO, thank you." Mayor Peters, who also said he heard the noise, said city officials had no explanation for it. "Just be sure to assure everyone I wasn't driving at the time," he said. "It wasn't me."