Halifax -- One night four decades ago, Laurie Wickens followed a familiar coastal road to Shag Harbour in southwestern Nova Scotia and landed in the middle of one of the world's best-known UFO cases.

He was just a couple of weeks shy of his 18th birthday back then, a young man from nearby Bear Point who had quit school the year before to fish with his father and uncle.

Now, 57, with that career mostly behind him, he recalls the drive with friends on a cold and clear autumn night as if it happened yesterday.

"What was happening, it's still vivid in my mind," he said recently, as Shag Harbour prepared to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its very own close encounter.

On Oct. 4, 1967, Wickens and his friends thought the flashing row of orange-yellow lights in the sky must be a plane, even though they had never seen anything quite like it before.

"One light would come on, then two, then three, then four, then they'd all go out for a second, then they'd repeat," he said.

"It seemed to be going along with us for, I don't know, three or four minutes, while we were driving up to Middle Shag Harbour. . . . As we started to make the corner, the lights, instead of flying level, they started flying maybe a 45-degree angle down towards the water. We (were) at the bottom of the hill, and we only lost sight of it for a few seconds and when we made the top of the hill, the light was in the water."

Wickens rushed to the nearest payphone a couple of kilometres down the road.

He'd just seen a plane crash into the water, he told the skeptical officer at the Barrington Passage RCMP detachment.

"And the first thing the cop said was, 'What have you been drinking?' "

By all accounts, his was the first call to police that night -- but not the last.

"The people who saw it coming down all thought an aircraft was crashing and that's what they reported," said Don Ledger, co-author of Dark Object: The World's Only Government-Documented UFO Crash.

As a result, local fishermen raced to the water with their boats, hoping to rescue survivors.

Within hours, a half-dozen boats, including one carrying Wickens, were searching the area under the direction of the RCMP and the military.

But the only thing found was a patch of bubbling water and strange yellow foam some 25 metres wide.

In the following days, navy divers scoured the ocean floor. Navy ships were anchored nearby. There were reports that American officials were in the area and speculation that the mysterious object might have been an experimental war machine.

"They spent a lot of money looking for what people said they seen going in the water . . . It's not like anybody was trying to hide it. Everybody was just trying to figure out what it was," said Ledger.

Over the next week, the province's largest daily newspaper -- the Halifax Chronicle Herald -- followed the search on its front pages, even reporting there had been other UFO sightings in Halifax and Dartmouth in the days leading to the Shag Harbour sighting.

The incident would eventually disappear from the front pages. But interest picked up again, especially after Dark Object was published. Countless documentary crews have filmed in the area and programs featuring Shag Harbour have been shown around the world.

Ledger said the Shag Harbour case is unique, not only because of the number of credible witnesses, but because there were so many government agencies involved.

"Normally you don't have that in a UFO report."