LOS BANOS -- Merced County is hardly Roswell, N.M., but don't tell that to the dozens of drivers who pulled over to the side of Highway 152 to snap photos of an unidentified flying object over Pacheco Pass on Monday morning.
Sgt. Luis Lara of the California Highway Patrol's Los Banos office was one of at least three CHP officers who responded to calls about the oblong metallic object with a tail.
Lara said the object, whatever it was, must have been moving fast. The first calls, received about 8:30 a.m., reported the sightings around the Los Banos area, but 10 minutes later, the CHP was receiving calls about a "very bright object" about a dozen miles away near Pacheco Pass. That's a cruising speed of roughly a mile a minute. Neither Lara nor the other CHP officers, dispatched from both sides of Pacheco Pass, spotted the object. Neither did Darrell Allen, the deputy with the Merced County Sheriff's Department who was dispatched to investigate.
Greg Alvarez, a staffer at Valley Community Day School in Los Banos, saw the object with a number of other staff and students on campus.
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He said it was traveling westbound, toward San Luis Reservoir, and it seemed to fade in and out of sight.
"It was way too high in the sky to be a blimp," he said. "If I had to guess, it may be a weather balloon."
Peter Davenport of the National UFO Reporting Center, based in Washington state, said he'd already had one report about the Los Banos incident.
A witness told him he was driving westbound on Highway 152 about 80 mph Monday morning when he noticed the object in the sky. Dozens of other drivers had pulled over to take pictures, he said.
"When you have that many people stopping to notice this thing, you have to pause and take notice," Davenport said.
He's encouraging witnesses to submit high-quality photos and short, detailed descriptions of the event. Submissions can be made to the group's website at www.ufocenter.com.
"We want people to report it immediately," Davenport said. "I'm trained as a scientist, and without facts and documentation, you don't have anything."
Online editor Brandon Bowers can be reached at (209) 385-2464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.