“I was spooked,” Jack Bushong, a retired meteorologist from the National Weather Service said as he recalled his experience on the night of March 8, 1994. “I was creeped out. I was nervous. I was shaking.”
That night, he received a call from Ottawa County central dispatch near Lake Michigan. They were looking for a radar operator who could shed some light on a string of 911 calls that had come in regarding unidentified lights in the sky. Bushong was working the night shift for the National Weather Service that night and what he saw when he pulled up the radar was “a life altering event,” as he later told the Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries, which did a 2022 (Volume 3) episode titled "Something in the Sky"—on the numerous UFO sightings that occurred that night.
Bushong wasn’t the only one whose life was changed that evening. In fact, according to William Konkolesky of the Michigan chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), there were over 300 witnesses across some 42 counties in Michigan who reported UFO sightings that night in what Konkolesky calls “one of the biggest cases historically […] for UFOs period.” Among those were more than just the folks making the 911 calls. They included police officers and even two airline pilots who, speaking on condition of anonymity, described seeing a “very bright, cylindrical object” traveling at a “phenomenal rate of speed” as they flew above the Great Lakes.
What’s more, there is an unusual amount of evidence to corroborate the stories. As many as sixty 911 calls were recorded that night, not to mention the call between the Ottawa County dispatcher and Jack Bushong as he tracked the phenomena via radar. The descriptions are all relatively consistent, as well, outlining something like a “string of Christmas lights that’s way up in the sky,” incredibly bright, and often splitting off into smaller groups. Most describe three to five lights in a line, sometimes separating or coming back together, changing in color from white to red to green.
Early Reports of UFO sightings on March 8, 1994
Some of the observers reported being able to see what the lights were attached to, describing cylindrical metal craft that was made of a “chrome material.” And Jack Bushong confirmed that the readings he saw on radar were consistent with objects made of a “very polished metal.” What’s more, the objects he detected occupied a variety of altitudes, ranging from 5,000 feet to as high as 12,000 feet or more, often changing speed or altitude very quickly, performing what he described as “incredible feats” of aerial maneuvering.
“No technology that I know of can go that fast,” Bushong told Unsolved Mysteries, estimating that the radar anomalies had to be traveling at as much as 72,000 miles per hour. The event truly did change his life. After the recording of his call with the county dispatcher went public, Bushong reported that his bosses at the National Weather Service cautioned him not to give interviews on the subject.
In the Unsolved Mysteries episode, he recounts an anecdote about how his coworkers filled his office with more than fifty paper plates made to look like flying saucers. Eventually, Bushong says that he moved from Michigan to Atlanta, Georgia to get away from the spotlight and continue his career.
Eyewitnesses discuss what they saw
He never forgot the incident, though, and after 22 years he retired from work at the National Weather Service and returned to Michigan to try to get to the bottom of what happened that night. As he met with other eyewitnesses, he was asked what he thought he had seen on the radar screen. “An extreme technology that seems like it’s hundreds of years more advanced than what we have,” was all he could say.
Even almost thirty years later, no explanation of the events of that night has been forthcoming. MUFON “can identify 80-90% of what comes in to us,” William Konkolesky told Unsolved Mysteries. Yet despite the number of witnesses—not to mention a storm of national and international media coverage that followed the event—no one knows what happened on the shores of Lake Michigan on a cold March evening in 1994, and in the years since MUFON has ruled out a number of possible explanations, including small planes, blimps, weather balloons, satellites, shooting stars, and more.
“This [case] I feel is much bigger than any of the others I’ve investigated,” Virginia Tilly, an investigator sent by MUFON to check out the events, later told Jack Bushong. Back in ’94, she had interviewed many of the eyewitnesses who reported seeing the unexplained lights in the sky, including a couple who were camping on the shore of the lake and reported a “tower of water” at least twenty feet wide that rose up from the lake “like a huge waterfall” and extended up as high as possibly 6,000 feet.
Uncanny similarities in the eye witness accounts
One thing that many of the accounts had in common—including Bushong’s experience watching the radar—was that the objects, whatever they were, seemed to group up in formation and then split off. Often, what had appeared to be one light would suddenly become several. “They come together and then they separate,” a voice says on one of the 911 calls recorded that night. Before the night was over, Bushong saw “dozens and dozens” of objects all grouped together in formation above Lake Michigan.
“You can’t say nothing happened that night,” Konkolesky says. Yet, at the same time, no one is sure what did happen – not even dedicated eyewitnesses like Jack Bushong, or investigators like Virginia Tilly.
That’s what puts the U in UFO, after all. Just because no one knows what an object is, doesn’t mean that it is necessarily aliens or any other specific phenomenon.
Matt Walsh of the Muskegon Chronicle was one of the first journalists to break the story the day after the sightings occurred. “Nobody can conclusively say, ‘These are any kind of extraterrestrial craft,’” he told Unsolved Mysteries. “On the other hand, I look up at the universe, and I see the night sky, and I have a feeling we’re not alone in the vastness of this universe.”
View the bonus material (including files and reports) from Netflix' Unsolved Mysteries, Volume 3, episode two "Something in the Sky".