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5 unidentified red lights over the skies of Morristown, NJ

The Morristown UFO hoax, also known as "The Great UFO Hoax of 2009,"[1][2] was originally thought to be an unidentified aerial event that occurred on Monday, January 5, 2009, between 8:15 pm and 9:00 pm. The event was actually a hoax, meant as a social experiment, as revealed by the hoaxers in the eSkeptic article "How We Staged the Morristown UFO Hoax."[2]

Five lights attached to helium balloons were released by Joe Rudy and Chris Russo and seen in the skies above Morris County, New Jersey. Sightings were concentrated in the towns of Hanover Township, Morristown, Morris Plains, Madison, and Florham Park.

At 8:28 pm, the Hanover Township police department received the first of seven 9-1-1 calls.[3] Neighboring police departments also received numerous phone calls with regard to the strange lights. Morristown Police Lt. Jim Cullen alerted Morristown Airport about a possible hazard to airplanes. Airport control tower workers reported seeing the lights in the sky, but could not determine what they were.[4] Hanover Township police also contacted the Morristown Airport to try and pick up the objects on radar, but they were unable to pick up anything.[3]

Major and local news networks covered the story, and Internet websites, including the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), have posted information about the incident. On April 1, 2009, Joe Rudy and Chris Russo came forward with video evidence proving they were the perpetrators of this hoax, demonstrating how easy it is to fool the so-called UFO "experts."[2]

On April 7, 2009, Russo and Rudy pleaded guilty to municipal charges of disorderly conduct and were sentenced to fines of $250 and 50 hours of community service.[5]

On July 18, 2009, Chris Russo and Joe Rudy were the guest speakers for the New York City Skeptics at a public lecture in New York City, describing how they pulled off their hoax and the reasoning behind why they performed the hoax. On August 5, 2009, Chris Russo was asked to debate a MUFON investigator on the existence of UFOs. After both parties presented their arguments, Russo was awarded the victory in the debate. [6] [7]


Perpetrating the hoax

On April 1, 2009, Russo and Rudy went public in an edition of the eSkeptic Newsletter published by Skeptic Magazine announcing that they had perpetrated this hoax to "show everyone how unreliable eyewitness accounts are, along with investigators of UFOs."[2] As at least one police report suspected, Russo and Rudy had launched flares tied to helium balloons. In the eSkeptic article, Russo and Rudy describe in detail how and why they perpetrated this hoax, and provide links to videos showing their preparations, the launch, and subsequent media coverage and involvement.[8][9][10]

Both of these 30 year old boys got off the hook because Joe Rudy's aunt works for the township and they did not want to punish them. The town is predominantly Italian American and they would not want to punish one of their own people. Had this prank been an African American they would have made an example out of him.

Eyewitness accounts


Joe Rudy and Chris Russo

Two men from the Morristown area claimed to see the lights while driving on Hanover Avenue in Morris Plains. They recorded several videos and still photos of the event, which have been posted on news stations, websites, blogs, and YouTube. Rudy and Russo were interviewed on News 12 New Jersey, where they offered what would later be revealed to be a fictitious account of their sighting.[10][11] They have since come forward as the perpetrators of the hoax resulting in the Morristown sightings.

We were driving on Hanover, when all of a sudden we see these lights literally zip over our car.
— Chris Russo
The lights seemed to ascend and descend almost in a sequence. They would rise up slowly and dip down.
— Joe Rudy

The Hurley Family

A family in Hanover Township reported seeing the lights from their home. 11 year old Kristin Hurley was the first to notice the lights. Paul Hurley, a pilot, saw the lights and said they were not planes. The Hurley Family took video of the lights, which appeared on Fox News.[12]

I have been in the aviation industry for 20 years and have never seen anything like this, a little scary, little scary.
— Paul Hurley

Tom Bender

A Morristown resident said that he saw an L-shaped formation oscillating in the sky. Bender was interviewed by the Morris County newspaper Daily Record.[4] Bender stated that, what he saw, "didn't seem manmade."

No way this could have been weather balloons.

George Van Orden

Hanover Township's health officer said that he saw the lights while walking his dog in Madison at 8:38 pm. In contrast to local police reports, Van Orden claimed the lights did not appear to be flares because they didn't leave trails. He also claimed that they sometimes appeared to move against the wind:[4]

These things were moving fast, holding formation, and then moving in three different directions. I don't know what it was.

Initial explanations and hoax theories

Before Chris Russo and Joe Rudy came forward, there had been many different explanations for the lights. These included extraterrestrial craft, supernatural and/or spiritual phenomena, helicopters carrying cargo, a surveillance blimp, a secret military project, or an elaborate hoax.[13]

The Morristown police department had stated the lights were most likely helium balloons attached to road flares, although witnesses and many other Morris County residents did not agree with this claim.[4]

Reporters from News 12 NJ contacted Peter Davenport who has been director of the National UFO Reporting Center since 1994. By telephone he told News12 NJ that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires aircraft to have a single red light on the left tip of the wing. He did not believe it was an aircraft. In addition to serving as the director of the National UFO Reporting Center, Davenport has served as the director of investigations for the Washington Chapter of the Mutual UFO Network.[14]

One source had speculated that the red lights may have been sky lanterns released during a celebration. No evidence was found to support this theory.[15]


Chris Russo and Joe Rudy built up the media attention by repeating the hoax over various parts of Morris County on four more occasions after the January 5 incident. The subsequent hoaxes and sightings took place on January 26, January 29, February 7, and February 17.[16][17]

The largest cluster of lights occurred on February 17. Nine red lights were reported to be traveling in formation. Shortly after that sighting, Capt. Jeff Paul, a spokesman for Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi, said that federal authorities have expressed concern that the objects might be a threat to flights on their final approach to Newark Liberty International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration advised Paul that they would issue an advisory to aircraft in the area. Paul said “numerous” 911 calls were received on the evening of February 17 in Morris Plains, Morristown, Morris Township, Hanover, Denville, Parsippany, Montville and the Morris County Communications Dispatch center. The lights appeared to be traveling north, he said, and air traffic controllers at Morristown Airport reported that they appeared to be at an altitude of about 2,500 feet.[18]

Dorian Vicente, 46, of Parsippany, said the lights caused traffic to slow on Route 80 East in Denville at 8:40 p.m. as people watched them floating overhead. There were nine lights, she said, and they were scattered at first. Then she said they aligned in a straight line. That’s when she and several other cars pulled to the side of the highway to try and capture the lights on video. “It was the weirdest thing,” she said.[18] Ray Vargas, a witness to the lights on February 17, believed he witnessed something extraordinary. When interviewed by the media he stated, “If it's a hoax, it's a real good hoax. There were no flares, no streaks … they were almost as if they were communicating with each other."[19]

Officials with the Morris County prosecutor’s office called the military and determined that no military flights were in the area, Paul said. The prosecutor’s office also contacted the FAA, the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and the New Jersey State Police Regional Operations Intelligence Center. “The investigation into this incident will continue,” Paul said.[18]

Similar sightings in New Jersey

1947 Morristown UFO sighting

On the morning of July 10, 1947, Mr. John H. Janssen, editor of the Daily Record was flying his own plane from Morristown Airport in New Jersey. He spotted six, luminous spherical craft with hazy rings around them flying in a trail high in the sky above him.[20]

Carteret Lights

There were 15-20 lights above Carteret NJ, on July 16, 2001, at 12:29 am. They lasted for about 2 minutes. Over 75 People witnessed the event including police, reporters, and drivers. Many people pulled to the shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike, and saw the lights.[21]

In the media

David Letterman referenced the incident in the opening monologue of his television show, Late Show with David Letterman, on January 8, 2009.

"A couple of days ago, there were UFO sightings in New Jersey. But don’t worry, it’s not an invasion — they were just looking for a place to dump a body. The aliens were just here looking for some of that bailout money." [22]

The Morristown UFO has been featured on the homepage of the American documentary television series UFO Hunters. Host Bill Birnes investigates the January 5th, 2009, sighting and interviews several eyewitnesses. Throughout the two part mini-documentary, Bill Birnes and his team do not accept previous skeptic claims that the lights could have been Chinese lanterns or flares.[23]

"We know this couldn't be flares attached to a rigid structure." -Bill Birnes, Host of UFO Hunters


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d "How We Staged the Morristown UFO Hoax". eSkeptic. Skeptics Society. 2009-04-01. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  3. ^ a b "Police Puzzled By Strange Lights Over Morris County -". 2009-01-06. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Little red lights over Morris raise a big stir, questions | Daily Record | Daily Record". Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  5. ^ Daily Record, April 7, 2009
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  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ "News 12 Video Player". Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  12. ^ " - New Jersey Under Alien Attack — Maybe - Science News | Science & Technology | Technology News".,2933,477448,00.html. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "AsylumCam.Com - UFO sighting over New Jersey Jan 5 TH". AsylumCam.Com. 2008-12-30. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
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  18. ^ a b c
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  20. ^ B. J. Booth (1947-07-10). "1947, Pilot spots six UFOs over Morristown, New Jersey, UFO Casebook Files". Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  21. ^ "New Jersey Lights". Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  22. ^ " - Breaking News, Politics, Commentary". Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  23. ^

External links


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