Monday, August 28, 2006

Disappearing Aircraft - Part 1 Stardust

There is, in UFO history, a number of reports of aircraft disappearing into the mists of time. In 1947 the Stardust, a passenger plane on its way to Santiago, Chile disappeared allegedly in sight of the airfield. The search, conducted over the next week found no sign of the wreckage.

In November 1953, an Air Force interceptor, sent to identify an object over Lake Superior disappeared from radar after its image was seen to merge with that of an intruder. The search, conducted over the next week found no sign of the wreckage.

In the mid-1950s, according to a retired Air Force brigadier general, four aircraft on a mission over Kentucky disappeared. According to the general, no sign of wreckage was ever found.

The first of these strange disappearances occurred on August 2, 1947, the Stardust, with eleven people on board took from Buenos Aires for Santiago. It was a routine flight for the British South American Airways plane. The weather was deteriorating and later would approach blizzard conditions, but it wasn’t so bad that the captain, Reginald Cook thought he needed to cancel the flight.

At 5:33 p.m. the radio operator Dennis Harmer sent a message to the Santiago Tower that they were slightly behind schedule but they believed they would arrive at the airfield in about twelve minutes. Then, at 5:41, Harmer made the last transmission. It said, "ETA Santiago, 17:45 hours. Stendec."

In the Santiago Tower, the operator didn’t understand the last word and asked that it be repeated. It was. Twice. Stendec. No one knew what that meant. It was also the last word ever heard from the aircraft. It had simply vanished from the face of the Earth.

Because of a snow storm, the search for the aircraft couldn’t begin until August 3. At first, given the position provided by the aircraft, the search centered near Santiago. When nothing was found there, the search was expanded but no trace of the aircraft was found. At least none was found in 1953.

Nearly forty-seven years later, in January, 2000, five mountaineers, climbing the rugged Mount Tupungato in Argentina, discovered the wreckage of an old aircraft. They also found the remains of three people. The Argentine Army sent an expedition into the area, which is so rugged that the soldiers had to hike the last few miles because even the burros were unable to make it. Using serial numbers from the engines and other bits of wreckage, they identified the aircraft as the long missing Stardust.

The aircraft, not fifty miles from Santiago as the pilots had believed and still over the Andes, was caught in the snow. The pilot, thinking he was approaching Santiago, but with no visual evidence outside the cockpit, began to descend. Unfortunately, their navigation was off and rather than being over the relatively flat ground near the Santiago airport, were still in the mountains. Tragically, they flew into the side of a mountain glacier. The show covered the wreckage during the night, concealing it from the aerial search along the flight route. Then, slowly the glacier swallowed all remnants of the aircraft. For fifty years that wreckage "flowed" downhill with the glacier. It finally flowed to the surface a couple of miles down the mountain. It was here, on a plateau, the wreckage was exposed and discovered.

The army expedition uncovered more wreckage, retrieved the remains of most of the victims some of whom were identified using DNA techniques, and confirmed the identity of the aircraft. The mystery of the Stardust had been solved... Well, most of it. No one has ever figured out what the strange word sent by Harmer meant. It is the only mystery about the crash that remains.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Russ Estes is Gone

Since I returned from Iraq in 2004, too many of my friends in the UFO field have died. The latest was Karl Pflock whose obituary can be accessed in the June 2006 Archives.

Philip Klass, who clashed with so many of us in the field died after a long fight with various diseases. Too many delighted that he was gone. While Philip and I disagreed on many aspects of the UFO field, I believe that we had a mutual respect for each other’s position. Yes, I’ve heard the stories of his nasty attacks on people, well aware that he was capable of doing anything he could to make life miserable for those on the other side of the fence. Some of his attacks were unfair, but certainly no worse than what those of us on our side have done to our own.

But the death that hit closest to home was Russ Estes. I had first met him in Albuquerque when he was working on a documentary about UFOs. He was at the MUFON Convention there, interviewing the speakers, the investigators, and anyone else who might have an interesting story to tell. I was one of those who sat down for his camera. I really remember little of what I said, other than providing information about my investigations into Roswell.

Months later, Don Ecker of UFO magazine, was arranging for UFO researchers to meet at Disney World to help promote the opening of a new "experience" with an alien theme. On my way to Florida I met Russ on the aircraft. I remembered him because he was a huge man.

While in Florida we spent quite a bit of time together talking about UFOs. Russ was as interested as I. We formed a friendship there that would last until his death.

After Florida I stayed in touch with Russ. He planned more documentaries and thought I could help him. I liked the idea of putting some of these ideas onto film, or more accurately, video tape.

Over the next decade we would meet many times. I traveled to California to visit him. I watched as he worked his magic with video tape and learned that the was an accomplished artist, had performed on a regular basis at the old Playboy Clubs, served in Vietnam with the Army Security Agency, and had lectured on a variety of topics.

Russ and I wrote a couple of books together. In two of them, he was more the illustrator than the writer, though he did contribute to the writing while I did little to contribute to the illustration. Together with Dr. William Cone, we wrote The Abduction Enigma about alien abductions. I was always a little disappointed that the book didn’t get a wider circulation because I thought it made some important points about abductions. Russ and Bill Cone had worked out much of the insight, though I believe I added to those insights.

In his last years, Russ had trouble with diabetes. At first it was an annoyance, meaning he had to eat on a fairly rigid schedule, but later it caused other troubles, as diabetes does. He might have suffered a fatal heart attack because of the diabetes, but given his location and circumstances, he was revived for a few more years. Think about that for a moment. He died of a heart attack, and was revived to live another few years. Not many can say that.

We’d had a tradition that I would call him just after midnight on New Year’s Day, asking how things were back in the past. I failed to make the call as 2004 slipped into 2005 because I hadn’t been back from Iraq all that long and I fell asleep. He tried to call me, but for some reason, I didn’t hear the telephone. I called him the next day. It was the last time we’d speak.

Russ had a fine mind and saw through much of the nonsense in the UFO field quickly. He’d ask the hard questions and that would, of course, annoy others. Exposing the flaws in a theory should make those proposing the theory reevaluate it but in the world of UFOs, it gets you labeled as a debunker and a government agent.

Russ was both these things... in some respects. Yes, he had once had ties to the intelligence community, but like me, those ties were of a non UFO nature and never really influenced what he thought and did. He had been a government agent just as anyone who served in the military, or worked for the IRS or the FBI or FEMA had been a government agent.

And he was a debunker in the best sense of the word. He took the bunk out of some aspects of the UFO field. You just have to watch the video of Harley Byrd going on and on about how he is the only real UFO researcher and he knows everything about UFOs. Russ didn’t really ask questions. He just let Byrd talk.

He produced an audio tape of music related to the UFO field with some wonderful songs on it. He sang, along with Bill Cone and Val Bankston, who also wrote much of the music. For a supposedly amateur tape, it was surprisingly professional. Such was Russ’s talent.

And now my friend is gone way too soon. I miss our sometimes esoteric chats, our delight at seeing the truth emerge when no one else wanted to hear it (I think of Gerald Anderson here as but a single example) and our realization that Don Schmitt had feet of clay.

What he wanted in the UFO field was to get at the truth. He talked to everyone and presented those findings to those who would listen. He didn’t have a big name, just a big heart.

Russ could be over powering, but only because he had so many talents in so many places. He was opinionated, but backed up his opinions with facts. Sometimes he was intractable, but more often he would listen to others, searching for weakness in their arguments. He did much for the field but few realize his contribution.

Russ was unique. He was intelligent, talented, insightful and sometimes a control freak, but he was always a friend. He is impossible to replace and I certainly miss him.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Carl Hart and the Lubbock Lights

It seems that every time I sit down to add to this blog, I’m exposing another myth or solving another mystery. It begins to look as if I’m really a debunker in disguise. The truth is that I believe that we must publish, as quickly as we can, the solutions to mysteries that have baffled us for years. I’m fascinated by answers to long held mysteries which is why I often jump at the chance to expose them. Coming up in later blogs will be the solution to the disappearance of the Stardust and a possible solution to the disappearance of an Air Force interceptor in 1953.

There are mysteries out there that remain intriguing. In August 1951 four college professors saw strange lights fly overhead in Lubbock, Texas, and the Lubbock Lights mystery was born. Many of those sightings have since been solved, and the solutions offered make sense. There is, however, one part of the case that remains as mysterious today as it did more than fifty years ago and that is the photographs taken by Carl Hart, Jr.

On February 1, 1993, I had the opportunity to interview Carl Hart about the photographs. What follows is that interview. (For those interested in more about the Lubbock Lights, I suggest a look at my 1997 book, Conspiracy of Silence.) I offer the notes of the interview without commentary (well, not much).

After learning that the man I was talking with had taken the famous pictures, I asked, "Were you looking for the lights when you saw them?"

He said, "Oh, no. Of course this was summer time and very hot. We didn’t have anything like central air conditioning. I slept with the windows open and I liked to sleep with my head stuck out the window and there they were."

"You saw them fly over one time?"

"Oh, I think if I remember there were like three formations... of course they had been in the news here for a week or two before I happened to see them and they usually showed up in several flights when they would so... when I saw them I went on outside with my camera..."

"Did you get a feel for the size of the objects or how high above you they were?"

"Not really... the only thing I saw was lights. Wasn’t any other objects associated with them. Wasn’t any noise..."

"Now you were questioned quite closely by the Air Force..."

"The Air Force and everybody else."

"Did the Air Force give you a final conclusion of what they thought you had photographed?"
"No, no they didn’t. I never did hear an official version. I heard some unofficial things that came out later... about how they thought I had faked them somehow or another." (Attempts to duplicate the pictures by a professional photographer failed... and because of that, this part of the mystery remains unsolved.)

"Of course you hadn’t faked them..."


"You have no idea what they were?"

"I really don’t. I’m not even sure who it was. There was someone tried to duplicate the light in a laboratory by reflecting light off a pan of water where they could cause a ripple run down the water and they could cause them to move and his theory was that it was a cold air inversion and that it had waves in it like the ocean and the sensation of them moving across the sky so I don’t know if that’s what happened or not." (This was Dr. Donald Menzel whose results were published in 1952. Later Menzel decided, without evidence, that Hart had faked the pictures. Menzel, it seems, could not admit that some aspects of the UFO phenomenon were inexplicable.)

"You really have no clue about what you saw..."

"I really don’t. Nothing’s ever come forward to explain those and there wasn’t anything for me to judge them by other than just the lights on the bottom of just one object or group of individual lights... They were lights either on something or individually."

Did you know the professors who had seen the things the first night?"

"Later on I did. I didn’t know them at the time."

"Were they aware you had taken the pictures?"

"Oh, yeah. I think there were some of the ones felt like I had stolen their glory... They weren’t too receptive of what I had done as best I could recall."

"Have you made any money off this thing?"

"I might have made three or four hundred dollars total over the years."

"The pictures appear in books and magazines all the time."

"I wasn’t aware enough of what was going on to copyright them. If anyone paid my anything it was to save themselves from possible legal problems later on... for several years people would ask before they would use them... My advice from a friend and professional journalist at the time was that if you copyright them somebody’s going to think you faked tem and are trying to make money out of them"

Hart did tell me that he doesn’t particularly disbelieve in flying saucers. He said, "I’m kind of open minded on that. If one would show up some place else here, I think I’d accept."

I asked him one last time if he knew what he had photographed.

"I really don’t."

(I have found that those faking UFO pictures eventually come clean, admitting the hoax, sometimes decades later. With Hart, although no one would really care at this late date if he had faked them, he maintained he didn’t know what he had photographed. Because of that, the photographic part of the Lubbock Lights remains unsolved.)

How Many Planets? Part 3

The International Astronomical Union had met and voted, and the correct answer to that question is now... Eight.

After what some have described as a hotly debated issue, a definition of a planet was produced that included three criteria. It had to be large enough to have a gravitational field strong enough to make it a round object, it had to orbit the sun, and finally it had to have "swept" that orbit of debris (or as the IAU put it, "cleared the neighborhood around its orbit"). Pluto failed because it crossed the orbit of Neptune.

Pluto is demoted to "dwarf" planet, which means the other objects, out in the Kuiper Belt and beyond would also be dwarf planets. Ceres, which held planetary status in the 19th Century, was demoted and then considered for promotion, would be a dwarf planet. Charon would remain a moon of Pluto.

Personally, I find this a little disappointing. I had hoped we were going to expand the Solar System (though I guess we have) and increase the number of planets. In writing science fiction when I have found it necessary to create solar systems in the far reaches of space, they always had more than nine planets (or as is now the case, eight).

The only positive in this is that here, in 2006, we actually debated the issue. I suspect, as our knowledge of the Solar System increases, we may find ourselves in this debate once again. In the Discover magazine article, they suggested that one of the objects out beyond Pluto was the size of Mars. That, it seems to me, would qualify it as a planet (if the size is confirmed), though it might not have the "clean" orbit now claimed as the third part of the definition.

So, now we have answer to the question. How many planets in the Solar System? Eight.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

How Many Planets - Part Two

About a year ago I wrote a column asking how many planets there were in the Solar System. The only real conclusion I drew was that the true number wasn’t nine. If Pluto was demoted, the answer was eight, and if not, the answer was twelve. Either way, changes were coming to our definitions.

Now the International Astronomical Union has suggested the correct answer is... twelve. I was right. But I picked the wrong objects.

According to the IAU, 1 Ceres, once thought to be a planet, demoted to asteroid, would once again reach planetary status. Charon (which for some reason I called Clarion) would be named a planet, orbiting a central point with Pluto and both orbiting the Sun (See photo of Pluto, Charon and their two moons, photo courtesy of NASA). Kind of a strange relation between the two.

And 2003 UB313 (aka Xena) would also be called a planet. These three objects along with 1 Ceres would be known as Plutons, a sort of small planet. All would be out with Pluto or beyond with the obvious exception of 1 Ceres.

But if this is voted on by the membership of the IAU, then it opens the door for a number of other objects far out into space, one of them about half the way to Alpha Centuri.

Discover magazine, in November 2004, carried a story about these new objects, suggesting that Sedna (aka 2003 VB12) should be considered as a planet. According to the figures published them, it is larger than 1 Ceres, and could be twice as large.

According to the magazine, in addition of Sedna, there were an additional seven objects that ranged in size from about five hundred miles in diameter up to about a thousand miles (2004 DW).

The IAU’s seven member Planet Definition Committee recommended that 1 Ceres, Charon and Xena all be awarded planetary status. They created two criteria for this. The object had to be large enough so that its gravity would pull it into a nearly spherical shape and it must orbit the Sun. That second criterion eliminates the largest of the moons in the Solar System. Many of those objects out beyond Pluto, in the Kuiper Belt, just barely make it, but the latest information makes them large enough.

So, at the moment, there are nine planets in the Solar System, but after the membership of the IAU votes, the answer will probably change with three additions, which makes twelve. In the years to come, if the information we have holds up, the answer will rise to, at a minimum of nineteen with some astronomers believing that thirty is a more likely answer.

As I said before, this is an exciting time to study astronomy. Maybe 19 planets in our Solar System, more than 200 planets discovered around other stars, and much more to be found.

Spitzbergen UFO Crash

For the last ten years or so, there has been a list of UFO whistle blowers circulating. There are many names on the list but few of them have anything spectacular to tell. Most of the stories are of seeing UFOs and reporting them up the chain of command. Some of these witnesses tell of seeing classified documents relating to UFOs and UFO crashes.

One such witness is former Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Dwayne Arneson. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I believe that Lt. Col. Arneson served in the Air Force just as he claimed. I believe that a check of his record will corroborate what he says about his military career. In fact, I was in email communication with Lt. Col. Arneson at one time but haven’t heard from him in months (I suspect it was because I suggested that the Spitzbergen crash was a hoax, but I get ahead of myself here).

According to Dr. Stephen Greer’s Disclosure documents, Lt. Col. Arneson said, "I was a top secret control officer. I happened to see a classified message go through my com [communications] center which said, ‘A UFO has crashed on the Island of Spitzbergen, Norway, and a team of scientists are coming to investigate it."

I believe this to be true as well. In fact, I shouldn’t say that I believe it. I know it’s true. Classified communications among various Air Force locations about a crash in Spitzbergen did take place. I too have seen the documents. I have copies of them. Lt. Col. Arneson is correct.

But, that isn’t the whole story. In a classified document available in the Project Blue Book files, we read, "Info derived from foreign broadcasts to effect that German newspaper CMA [meaning comma, used rather than punctuation] carried article stating that a flying saucer-like flying object crashed Spitzbergen 9 July and that NAF [Norwegian Air Force] recovered it [usually, when using CMA for comma, they use PD for period but here they didn’t]. Claim diameter of 47 meters CMA constructed of steel of unknown alloy and that operating instructions written in Russian. Info apparently has had big play in German press running continuously since shortly after 9 July. Request validity of this info..."

Most UFO researchers now consider the case a hoax, but the late Frank Edwards, in his book, Flying Saucers - Serious Business, carries the report, attributing it to Stuttgarter Tageblatt which quotes a Colonel who provides additional details. He suggests the case is authentic. Ryan Woods, in his book, Majic Eyes Only, recounts the case, mentions that some think it a hoax, but rates it as one requiring further study. In my own, History of UFO Crashes, I suggest it’s a hoax.

Here, however, this doesn’t matter. What we have is a claim by a Disclosure Project witness about classified documentation that he saw while working with the Air Force. His story is true. He did see what he claimed. The only question left is if the report was of a real event or a hoax. Take your pick.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

MJ-12 Revisited

I have, for a long time, thought there is no real government conspiracy to hide UFO information from us. I thought that we are so inept, that we accept so much as true with little or no proof, and that there are so many frauds, charlatans, fakers and liars out there that the government doesn’t need any program to discredit UFO reports. We do it to ourselves all the time.

But then I got to thinking about this MJ-12 stuff. I believed that it was created by certain members of the UFO community to propel themselves into the spotlight. It was a hoax from inside the community that wasn’t necessarily designed to mislead, but had another agenda behind it. This might have been a creation designed to shake information loose with the added benefit of media attention.

But then I began to reevaluate these thoughts.

And I began to look at those who were the initial reporters of MJ-12.

And I remembered something that Stan Friedman had told me a long time ago.

And I began to wonder if it wasn’t possible that MJ-12 was more of a government project that I had suspected.

Let me backtrack a little bit and mention William J. Moore who might be considered the father of MJ-12, who has been around the UFO field for a long time, and who admitted to ties to the intelligence community long ago. Moore had also once been on the Board of Directors of the Coral and Jim Lorenzen’s Aerial Phenomena Research Organization. Moore confessed that he was spying on UFO researchers for the government at that time.

I thought he was just making that up for some reason. He did accuse me of the same thing and since I knew that I wasn’t spying on anyone for any reason, I suppose that led me to my conclusion. Of course, he might have accused me as a justification for his own spying.

Friedman also told me that Moore had told him that he, Moore, was thinking about creating a Roswell type document because it might shake things loose. But what if the idea for this wasn’t Moore’s? What if it came from somewhere else?

Moore was also associated with Richard Doty, a former member of AFOSI who had lost his status as a member of AFOSI and finished his Air Force career in food service. This means, simply, that he was in charge of a Dining Facility or what we used to call a Mess Hall in the Army (now they’re DFACs which stands for Dining FACility).

Moore also said that he was responsible for some of the disinformation that was leaked to Paul Bennewitz. Moore said that he played along with this, even to the point of rearranging Bennewitz’s furniture to frighten him. Moore said he did it in the misguided belief that it would take him into the inner ring of the anti-UFO government programs so that he might be able to learn more about them and then expose them.

I thought at the time it was a load of crap, but probably because I was still being accused of being a government agent (this time by Don Schmitt who was supposedly my friend) and I knew this wasn’t true. But what if the government wanted to discredit UFO research. What if the plan was to throw out so many different ideas, so many tangents, that anyone who stumbled onto the right one might be dragged onto another. Or, if that didn’t work, just discredit all of UFO research by discrediting one small aspect of it.

For about twenty years we have been arguing the reality of MJ-12. Great amounts of effort, research and money have been dumped into the chase of MJ-12 and that is effort, research and money that was not available for other, possibly more productive lines of inquiry. And in that time, we haven’t uncovered anything that advances our knowledge of UFOs in any helpful way. We have not found the smoking gun documents but have found dozens, if not hundreds that are faked. In fact, some of the evidence suggests there were all faked. It even tells us who did it and why, but still the debate continues.

So, where does that leave us today? Well, Bill Moore did claim to be a government agent, he did admit to the harassment of Bennewitz for the government and he did admit to spying on researchers for the Air Force. Moore was the first to tell us of MJ-12 and it was Moore who worked to prove that MJ-12 was real. Maybe there is a connection here between the government and Moore that has accomplished the mission. Twenty years later and we’re still arguing about MJ-12 and when we divert our attention to MJ-12 we can’t focus it in other directions, and maybe that is the whole point.