NEEDLES, Ca. -- It's a UFO, in the literal sense -- it's still unidentified. Half a dozen witnesses say they saw something in the sky over Needles and Bullhead City or watched it being carried away by a phalanx of military helicopters. Was it a spy plane or a drone or something more exotic?
Several eyewitnesses say the mystery object blazed out of the sky in the early hours of May 14, 2008. The long cylinder with the turquoise glow was seen over Bullhead City by former cop Frank Costigan and others. It seemed, at one point, to slow down in its descent.
South of Needles, a fisherman in a houseboat saw the light pass over and slam into the riverbank 50 or so yards west of the Colorado River. Minutes later, at least four military type helicopters appeared in the area and a giant sky crane was used to haul the object into the air and away toward the north.
The fisherman, who uses the nickname Bob on the River, said what he saw. "It didn't look like a meteor. I've seen meteors before. It looked like a plane crashing."
In the two years since the story broke, a lot of people have traveled to the rough terrain of the tri-state area to search for the point of impact -- UFO enthusiasts, TV producers, aviation buffs -- but the shifting sand and thick salt cedar defied efforts to identify a crash site.
The I-Team traveled with Houseboat Bob to whittle down the search area, though we still did not locate the spot. But Bob kept looking.
He traded in the houseboat for an RV and now lives in the desert, not on the river, but he never stopped searching, driven by one thing.
"Everybody thinks I'm an idiot. Everybody thinks I'm looney tooney in the cabooney," he said.
His weekly one-man safaris into the riverbank region came up with something no one else noticed, not even those who searched by air. A large, flat clearing where someone used heavy equipment to remove the gnarly brush, about 70 yards west of the river at almost the exact spot where Bob says the object landed.
It's an unusual spot, he says. "You would not see another hardened ground clearing like this anywhere between here and Needles. It's all sugar sand everywhere."
Ex-cop Frank Costigan is one of those who searched for the crash site. He's also amazed to find the clearing, but says area residents encountered members of what was described as a clean up team in the weeks after the crash.
"There was a cleanup crew dining at the Topock Marina on occasion, after that thing had been removed and we were hunting for the spot," he said.
But if this is the spot, we still don't know what hit the ground. Retired intelligence Colonel John Alexander speculates it could be any number of high tech UAV's -- unmanned spy planes being developed at several western test ranges, including Area 51 in Nevada, or Edwards in California.
"It's also the possibility it lost control and flew off the range. It's not that far from Edwards or the test ranges," he said.
Last month, a classified object was launched into space by the Air Force. The Pentagon has confirmed it's the X-37B space plane, an unmanned spy plane, sort of the military's version of the space shuttle. A few images of the X-37 have been made public, along with video of a sister vehicle the X-40.
The military acknowledges these crafts have been test flown at Edwards and Vandenberg, not too far from Needles. The shape and the size are a near perfect match for what the witnesses saw.
Bob confirms it looks like the object he saw. "Without the horizontal surfaces, yes. Without the wings," he said.
Houseboat Bob said even though the glow from the object was blue green, the object appeared to be black and shiny as it was being airlifted away. Photos of the X-37 show black, shiny tiles on the exterior.
The I-Team sent records requests to numerous agencies and none were able to shed light on what the Needles object might have been. The Air Force won't say much about the mission of the X-37, but military analysts have some guesses.
"What they say they will use it for testing space technologies, and certainly having a re-usable vehicle would be a way of sending up prototypes, batteries, cooling systems, electronics, testing them then bringing them back down so you can modify them. Possibly, it's a space maneuver vehicle so it can duck back in the atmosphere and change its orbit so next time it flew over China, the Chinese wouldn't expect it coming," said military watchdog John Pike.
Another military analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity says he thinks it could be part of a weapons program known as the Rods from the Gods, which we know has been tested out at Area 51. These are spaced-based kinetic weapons that literally fall out of the sky and cause problems for the bad guys.
But for now, the best guess of the witnesses is the X-37.