The family of Captain Mantel, a US fighter pilot and a distinguished World War II veteran who took part in D-Day, says he was killed while chasing a UFO.
The official explanation is that he was chasing Venus or a weather balloon when he went too high in a plane and ran out of oxygen, but his grandson Terry and the rest of the Mantell Family know better.
“[The government] have tried to say he was a fly boy, that he was like Maverick in Top Gun, but he was just doing what he was told to do,” said Terry.
“He had two sons, he was married to his high school sweetheart, he was an experienced pilot, and he died chasing something he thought was a threat to America.
“What was it? I am not sure.”
Mantell was a distinguished World War II veteran who took part in D-Day and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valor.
However, the young dad died when his P-51 Mustang unexpectedly fell out of the sky mere miles from where he was born in Franklin, Kentucky, despite avoiding death at the hands of Nazi anti-aircraft guns.
On January 7, 1948, Godman Army Airfield at Fort Knox sent Captain Mantell, who was on a training mission with three other pilots, to investigate reports of an unidentified object.
Police officers and airmen stationed in the control tower of the facility both noticed the mysterious figure in the sky.
The object in the sky was referred to by some witnesses as a “300 ft disc” and by others as a “flaming red cone trailing a gaseous green mist.”
Six months after the historic Roswell incident and the first “modern” sighting by pilot Kenneth Arnold, the sighting occurred as UFO fever swept the country.
However, as those stoked interest in UFOs and America’s growing obsession with them, Captain Mantell’s encounter took a tragic twist and a dark end.
Thomas gave the order to one of his wingmen from the 165th Fighter Squadron to head back to base and arm his aircraft with “hot guns” in order to prepare for combat.
The other pilots gave up the chase, but battle veteran Mantell gallantly continued to fly toward the UFO.
And all contact with Thomas was abruptly lost when he reached a height of 20,00ft.
Some of his last radio transmissions to the air base control tower are said to have included him describing a “metallic” object of “tremendous size.”
There was a strange stretch of silence following his last messages before visual contact was restored with his plane.
His Mustang spiraled back to earth, horrifying shocked onlookers on the ground, before crashing into the ground on a farm at around 3.18 p.m.
Rescuers arrived at the crash site right away, but Thomas had already died.
He left behind his wife Peggy, his two boys Thomas and Terry, and an unsolved mystery that continues to cause anguish for the family even today.
And his grandchildren are still attempting to find out what happened to their grandfather after his son Terry passed away from Covid last year at the age of 74.
When he talked about Thomas, his grandson Terry said, “My dad would break down and start crying even up to when he died when he spoke about Thomas.”
“He always just wished he got to know his dad – but he never did, and that was a source of pain for him.”
Terry went on: “My dad was only two-and-a-half when it happened, but it always affected him.
“I first heard about it when I was very young, and back then it was hard for me to talk to people about because no one would ever believe me.
“Its incredible but at the same time its sad. Thomas was not even meant to fly that day but the other pilot was sick, and it was just meant to be a practice mission.
“I feel a lot of pride when I think about [him], he accomplished so much as such a young age, he got the Distinguished Flying Cross, and he survived World War 2.
“And for him to then come back home and die the way he did was very painful, and the government have not done Thomas justice.”
The Mantell family is seeking answers as the 75th anniversary of Roswell approaches and the UFO discussion in Washington has turned into one of national security.
Many extremely senior officials and politicians have admitted that there are UFOs in the skies, moving the subject from the domain of fringe conspiracy theories to congressional hearings and Pentagon reports.
And no explanation has been offered thus far, despite the Pentagon’s investigation into hundreds of sightings that may have threatened national security.
Veterans, including pilots in the military, are now more willing to share their stories publicly.
“Some of these people have had to live with that for such a long time, it must be rewarding for them to come forward and share their story,” said Terry.
“Why would they lie? These are big time pilots, what do they stand to gain?”
And this stands in contrast to other US official investigations, including Project Blue Book, which completely discounted allegations of UFO sightings.
Terry claimed that the air force tower controllers who observed Thomas contact a “saucer-shaped” UFO were instructed to keep their observations to themselves.
The crew was eventually scattered across the US after being threatened that doing so would cause them to “lose their pensions.”
The family even spoke with an airman who corroborated the story for them.
For the Mantell family, there is no doubt that Thomas’s death was covered up, but the recent movement for transparency in Washington has given them hope.
“I like that [UFOs] are getting on the mainstream news and the government are talking about it, but I do wish they would go back and tell us what happened to Thomas,” Terry told The Sun Online.
“They have to have something on the case – it would bring a lot of peace to the family.
“I am passing the story on to my daughters – and I am saying they have go have a lot of pride because their great grandfather is Thomas Mantell.
“He wasn’t some crop-duster joyriding who saw a UFO, he was instructed by Fort Knox to chase this thing and check it out. He was basically the first martyr.”