Morristown UFO Hoax
Five Lights Attached to Helium Balloons were Released by Joe Rudy and Chris Russo

Morristown UFO Hoax
Five Lights Attached to Helium Balloons were Released by Joe Rudy and Chris Russo

The Morristown UFO hoax, also known as "The Great UFO Hoax of 2009," was originally thought to be an unidentified aerial event that occurred on Monday, January 5th, 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."

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.

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.

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. 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 1st, 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." On April 7th, 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.

Morristown UFO Hoax

In this video, Chris and Joe show the supplies used to construct their UFOs and try to verify the dates and times to prove they, in fact, set up the balloons.

On July 18th, 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 5th, 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.

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.

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. 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. 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.

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 5th incident. The subsequent hoaxes and sightings took place on January 26th, January 29th, February 7th, and February 17th.

In this video, Chris and Joe let go of the flares in the woods. The first part shows their test launch on January 4th, 2009.

The largest cluster of lights occurred on February 17th. 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 17th 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. 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.
Ray Vargas, a witness to the lights on February 17th, 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."

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.