In an interview about the incident that he gave in 1973, Carter said:
"There were about twenty of us standing outside of a little restaurant, I believe, a high school lunch room, and a kind of green light appeared in the western sky. This was right after sundown. It got brighter and brighter. And then it eventually disappeared. It didn't have any solid substance to it, it was just a very peculiar-looking light. None of us could understand what it was."
In another interview given in 2005, Carter said:
"All of a sudden, one of the men looked up and said, 'Look, over in the west!' And there was a bright light in the sky. We all saw it. And then the light, it got closer and closer to us. And then it stopped, I don’t know how far away, but it stopped beyond the pine trees. And all of a sudden it changed color to blue, and then it changed to red, then back to white. And we were trying to figure out what in the world it could be, and then it receded into the distance."
There is some controversy about the date of the sighting. According to the report that Carter filed with the International UFO Bureau four years after the incident, this took place in October 1969. However investigators say that according to Lions Club records, this occurred nine months earlier. According to a meeting report that he filed with the Lions Club, Carter gave his Leary speech on January 6, 1969, not in October. Other evidence suggests that the January 1969 date is more plausible. Carter visited the Leary Lions Club in his capacity as district governor of the Lions Club and his term ended in June 1969. The Leary Lions Club disbanded several months before October 1969.
According to an investigation carried out in 1976, (an election year in which Carter was elected President), most of those present at the meeting either did not recall the event. According to Fred Hart, the only guest contacted who remembered seeing the object: "It seems like there was a little—like a blue light or something or other in the sky that night—like some kind of weather balloon they send out or something ... it had been pretty far back in my mind."
Some have hypothesized that the object that Carter witnessed really the planet Venus, but Carter does not believe the object was Venus, explaining that he was an amateur astronomer and knew what Venus looked like. Carter also said that he did not believe that any extraterrestrials have visited Earth. He also stated he knows of no government cover-up of extraterrestrial visits and that the rumors that the CIA refused to give him information about UFOs are not true.
During his 1976 election campaign, he is said to have told reporters that, as a result of it, he would institute a policy of openness about UFO information if he were elected to office. He said:
"One thing's for sure, I'll never make fun of people who say they've seen unidentified objects in the sky. If I become President, I'll make every piece of information this country has about UFO sightings available to the public and the scientists."
But despite this pledge, once elected, Carter distanced himself from disclosure, citing "defense implications" as being behind his decision." Political promises and political reality can often be worlds apart.