Joseph and Nola Daniels had been hunting for seashells along the beach for about an hour, starting out just before daybreak, but they had had little luck. It was cold and there were few shells.
After walking nearly two miles along the Gulf of Mexico side of Fort DeSoto State Park that February morning in 1977, they decided to quit. The park is on an island west of St. Petersburg, Florida.
"There was no use going any farther," said Daniels, then sixty-five. He and his wife were “snowbirds,” winter residents of Florida who returned north in the spring. “We had been hunting along a sandbar thirty or forty feet off the beach but when we headed back we decided to walk along the dry beach.
"We got about halfway back when we heard a faint sound like a jet plane coming in directly towards us from the west out over the gulf. It kept getting louder and louder. There was no wind blowing or anything. There was just a light ripple ofwaves maybe three inches high washing over the sandbar.
"All of a sudden, this noise got very loud and when it got within two or three hundred feet of the sandbar it seemed to turn into a noise like a diesel engine on a freight train. But we couldn't see anything.
“Suddenly it seemed to become stationary just beyond the sandbar and whatever it was seemed like it was hovering just a few feet above the water.
"It seemed like there was a depression in the water out there. This noise kept rumbling like a diesel and we noticed waves about three feet high washing about a hundred feet to the right of us and about a hundred feet to the left of us."
Nola, a year older than her husband, sat quietly, nodding her head from time to time as Daniels told their story. Daniels had been on disability since 1969 after suffering four heart attacks, and he and his wife often hunted for seashells to make into necklaces as a hobby.
"We were dumbfounded," said Daniels. "We were staring right at it, whatever it was, and we couldn't see anything. We didn't know what to do, whether to run or what, and there was no one else on the beach.
“We knew darned well something was there but we couldn't see it. We kept looking all around. The sky was clear as could be and there were no airplanes or ships in sight anywhere. You could see for miles up and down the beach.
"Right where we had stopped they were going to dredge a channel and they had a lot of pipes out there on big pontoons, and this was all helter skelter out there not too far from the sandbar. Then there was a big barge that's like a machine shop, where they work the pipe and stuff like that. But it had been broken down for a week or two and there wasn't a soul on that.
"I've had many frightening experiences in my life but never one like that. It made your hair stand on end.
"This lasted for maybe eight or ten minutes and then suddenly the noise seemed to fade off in the distance. And immediately the waves subsided into little wavelets again.
“It gave us an odd feeling that there was something out there spying on us. We'd been on that beach many, many times before but we never experienced anything like that before.
"There must be an answer. There must have been something invisible out there causing that sound and those waves."