of floating lights over the ocean off Avon is solved
residents near the oceanfront saw quite a mysterious and unsettling
sight over water Thursday evening.
too long after dark, folks started noticing bright, orange circular
objects drifting by soundlessly from south to north out over the ocean.
were lots of them, oceanfront resident Karen Tetreault reported in a
phone call to The Island Free Press. By 8:30, she said she
seen about 25 of the mysterious floating objects, and neighbors told
her they had already seen at least that many more. Shortly,
that, the light show stopped.
Now, the mystery of where the lights came from is apparently solved,
but it’s not what it first seemed.
Calls yesterday to law enforcement officials led Island Free Press to
the U.S. Coast Guard Sector North Carolina Command Center.
Operations Specialist Jason Frivance said that the lights were likely
from a military exercise off the coast.
He said the U.S. Navy conducts exercises that involve dropping flares
from aircraft almost every weeknight.
“We get lots of reports,” Frivance said. “We deal with it on a daily
However, we got comments from readers on the article and made some more
The Navy apparently was conducting exercises off the coast Thursday
night, but the lights were not flares dropped from aircraft.
Turns out they were sky lanterns being launched by a party on the Avon
beach – a group that was perhaps celebrating a wedding.
to information available on the Internet, sky lanterns are airborne
paper lanterns that are traditional in some Asian cultures, where they
are launched for various celebrations.
They are made from oiled
rice paper on a bamboo frame and contain a small candle or fuel cell
composed of waxy flammable material. When the flame is lit,
heats the air inside the lantern, lowering its density and causing the
lantern to rise in the air. It remains airborne for as long
the flame burns and then it floats back to the ground.
National Park Service ranger who responded to the 911 calls about the
floating lights Thursday night confirmed that there was a group of
folks on the beach launching what were apparently sky lanterns.
A look at the YouTube videos on the lantern convinced Karen Tetraualt
that what she and her neighbors saw.
And several e-mails from readers support that.
wife and I were working on our cottage on Tarpon Drive in Avon,” wrote
reader Richard Bragonje of Morgantown, W.Va., “when she called my
attention to the lights. They were moving from somewhere near the Cape
in a northerly direction. They started just over the house roofs and
continuously rose as they moved north. Most rose until they disappeared
in the clouds that were surrounding the moon. One drifted across the
moon, and it appeared that there was some object that was above the
flare. Very strange.”
“There was a big party on the beach,”
said reader Bob Maslak of Johnstown, Pa., “and they put candles with
plastic bags (like hot air balloons). Neat looking. We watched them
come off the beach by Due East Road and were amazed how quickly they
rose and went down the beach. A great sight over Avon.”
another reader e-mailed that he saw a similar spectacle off the beach
in Buxton when he was vacationing on Hatteras in August.
went on for about a half hour maybe even longer. No one knew what they
were, and we never did get an answer telling us exactly what was going
on. So you see you never know what you might see on Hatteras Island.”
floating lanterns look pretty in the videos, but the information
available on the Internet notes that the lanterns can be
dangerous. They can hurt folks trying to launch them, cause
if they land in the wrong place, and perhaps harm wildlife – though
today’s versions are promoted as more eco-friendly with bamboo frames
replacing what were once wire frames.
Most of the Internet
sources say the lanterns should not be launched in windy
conditions. And there was a brisk southwest wind on the beach
Thursday night. From Avon, it carried the lanterns off to the
northeast over the ocean.
Although Park Service regulations
don’t specifically address sky lanterns, launching what are essentially
lighted paper balloons from the beach wouldn’t seem to be an activity
the seashore or island residents, especially the volunteer firemen,
would want to encourage.
The party launching the sky lanterns
apparently received a ticket for a violation, though the park ranger
who responded would not confirm that this morning.
So, we guess the mystery is solved.
Here’s pretty neat YouTube video on an Asian sky lantern festival: