Monday, December 29, 2008

David Bowie and the Detroit UFO Crash

Once in a while, when I’m cruising the Internet, I come across a story that relates to me in some fashion. Many times I’m surprised at the misinformation that is put out there. The latest, or rather the latest I found, was the story of a UFO crash that I reported happened in the Spring of 1975. Some of those wondered where I got the date as published in my History of UFO Crashes.

The entry tells us that the event happened near the Ohio-Michigan border and I listed is as "Insufficient Data," meaning that I didn’t have anything more than the information published. There are those that question this.

I wrote, "Bette Shilling reported to Len Stringfield that a friend, an Air Force officer, had told her that he’d seen a coded message telling of a flying saucer crash. According to that information, two of the aliens were dead and a third was still alive. The message was directed from a communications station in Detroit and sent to the commanding officer of a base somewhere in Ohio."

That seems fairly straight forward. The information came, indirectly from Bette Shilling, and it went to Len Stringfield. The footnote told me that it was from his 1991 Crash/Retrieval publication, but that wasn’t helpful, and, as it turned out, not completely accurate. But more on that later.

I found, from Stig Agermose, the following:

Here is another thought-provoking account that ought to be checked for sure. The alleged crash took place in 1974 and was announced two times by a tv station in Detroit, once in prime time news: a UFO with four aliens aboard had been intercepted by the United States Air Force and had crashed in the area. My check with Kevin Randle's "A History Of UFO Crashes" established that the incident might be confirmed by an entry in Len Stringfield's "Crash/Retrievals", but I haven't been able to compare with the latter. More on that presently.

In her book about the life with her ex-husband (Backstage Passes, Life On the Wild Side with David Bowie, Orion Books, London, 1993, p. 203ff.) Angela Bowie says that it was nice to leave the hectic life of New York once in a while, whether it was for a concert tour or a mystery one. This quote concerns a tour in 1974:
The open road, for instance, was most refreshing. Yes...the limo purring along at a steady twenty-five, good old Brooklyn Tony Macia's bodyguarding bulk behind the wheel, Detroit back down the interstate unraveling behind us, Minneapolis-St Paul up ahead somewhere, the moonroof open, the powerful telescope surveying the summer night sky from its tripod mount, the aliens up there perhaps recognizing that we meant them no harm, that we were the ones who could be trusted...

They had been having a bad time, after all. One of their craft had been intercepted somewhere north of Detroit, engaged by the United States Air Force and - well, we never found out what happened after that. We didn’t know if the saucer had been forced to crash-land on earth, or blasted out of the sky so that it fell to earth, or what. We didn’t know if its occupants - its crew? - were dead or alive or somewhere in between, although we did know that there were four of them.

We knew all this because while we were in our hotel room in Detroit, we saw an afternoon TV news flash to the effect that a UFO had crashed in the area with four aliens aboard...more news at six.

We tuned in again at six - of course we did, along with everybody in the state - and learned more, but not much more. The news crew confirmed the landing, yet avoided being specific about its location and presented what little information they had with great caution, as if doing their best to downplay the sensational and possibly panic-causing information they were supplying, straight-faced and soberly, to their public. These were the station's regular newscasters, reputable and popular, with everything to lose by creating a hoax and nothing but brief notoriety to gain.

That, however, is what we were told when the eleven-o'clock news came around: The prime-time news crew had perpetrated an irresponsible and inexcusable hoax, and had therefore been dismissed from their jobs. No UFOs had landed; no aliens were in custody, dead or alive; the United States Air Force had positively not engaged or intercepted any craft whatsoever in the skies above Michigan; and that, officially and absolutely, was that.

It was difficult to know what to make of this incident. At one extreme, it could have been just an overblown cosmic-hippie-cocaine dream, an instance of too much weirdness for too long crashing through into the perceived reality continuum. On the other hand, we had the videotape.

Yes, even in 1974. It so happened that the documentary filmmaker Alan Yentob was along with us on the trip, making the film that would become "Cracked Actor", and he had his VCR hooked up to the television set in our hotel room when the afternoon news flash first caught our attention. So we'd taped the whole six-o'clock and eleven-o'clock news shows. There was no denying that the broadcasts had happened.

The broadcasts at least. In David's opinion, and mine too, what had just occurred was indeed a warp in the usual business of business-as-usual.

David believed very strongly that aliens were active above our planet, and so did (do) I. That's why we were so alert in the limo on the way to Minneapolis, watching intently for signs of further UFO activity in the bright night sky. It was mostly David who had his eye pressed to the telescope (purchased by Corinne Schwab, his personal assistant, during a lightning shopping spree in Detroit). He'd talked about the six-o'clock newscast during his show at Cobo Arena in Detroit, and he believed that the energy thus created might well have communicated itself to the beings monitoring from above our human reaction to their fallen (slain/captured/atomized?) fellows.

I don't know quite what David expected, because by now he'd moved beyond his manic-monologue mode into his silent, non-communication state, but I suspect he wouldn’t have been surprised at all if the aliens had come right down to the limo and tractor-beamed him up for an exchange of ideas. He was feeling pretty much like the center of things here on earth at the time, after all, and it probably seemed obvious to him that some right-thinking human should take on the job of Man's ambassador...

No aliens heeded the call, though, and after a while he disappeared into his coke, sheltered by Corinne, and I lost interest. I left the tour, and them, the next day.

Evaluating the story I must admit the logic of Angela's views. It seems unlikely that a well-respected and popular newsstaff should risk its standing as well as its existence for the short mention, which reports like that might give.

Add to this that her account might be confirmed by Len Stringfield's "Crash/ Retrievals."

Agermose then quotes the entire entry from my book, as I did above, adding the name of my book and the page on which it is found... 206 if you must know. He then wrote, "Unfortunately Randle doesn't say where he got the date from. Maybe Betty Shilling dated her experience to the spring of 1975, giving Randle a reason for referring the crash to this time frame. Stringfield himself might offer another and better basis for doing so, but as I don't have a copy of his book, I would very much appreciate if somebody could tell me how close Randle's rendering of the particulars is to Stringfield's own.

Well, I certainly can. In Stringfield's The UFO Crash/Retrieval Syndrome, Status Report II: New Sources, New Data and published in January 1980 by the Mutual UFO Network, Inc. he wrote as Item B-4 on page 21:

Bette Shilling, working on a college UFO project, first heard of my "Retrieval" paper when I was interviewed on a Los Angeles radio station in the Fall of 1978. She wrote to me and I responded by phone when I learned that her friend, an Air Force officer, had told her that he knew of a crashed alien craft occurring in the Spring of 1975. At that time, she said, he was Communications Officer at another base in Ohio (Wright-Patterson?) About a crash in a rural area near the Ohio border in Michigan. Two dead bodies, and one still alive, were retrieved. Name withheld by request.

There it is. All that Stringfield had to say on the subject, and I have seen nothing to suggest he ever learned anything more about it. I’m not sure that this is even the same event but I would like to make a few comments here.

First, if a news team had put the story on the air as a joke and then been fired for that joke, surely that would have made the news. We’ve seen all sorts of stories of reporters and anchors getting themselves into trouble over stories and losing their jobs. We would have heard about this. And even if it hadn’t made the national news, a possibility in 1974, it certainly would have made the news in Detroit and would be in the newspapers there. The sudden departure of a television news team would be mentioned in the newspaper which means there would be a record of this.

Second, there is talk of a video tape and those of us around in today’s world where everything is on tape or DVD and pops up on YouTube might not realize that in 1974 videotape was just beginning to hit the market and the only tape decks available were bulky and expensive, which is not to say that Bowie or the documentary maker wouldn’t have been able to afford it. So, granting the possibility they had the capability, where is the tape?
This strikes me as another of those stories that a friend, or a relative, or someone else remembers seeing, on the front page of the newspaper, a picture of a crashed flying saucer. Except no one is ever able to produce the newspaper. There is always something that prevents us from getting to that point.

So, without the video tape, we just have another story that is not corroborated by anything.

The criticism seemed to be directed at me, suggesting that I had either gotten the date wrong, or that I had something else that provided the date. What I had was everything that Len Stringfield had supplied to me. The report is second hand at best and we don’t know the name of the Air Force officer.

So why even discuss this? Well, I take a page from Len Stringfield’s book. He thought that by publishing what information he had, he might stir the pot and learn a little more. There are those who believe that he should have kept reports like this one to himself until he learned more about it. I think he was right. Put the story out there and see if any corroboration turns up.

Stig Agermose, I believe, was doing just that. He’d found something that was close and was trying to learn a little more about it. He was wondering where I got my date and my information and he was unable to check out Stringfield’s book.

Now it’s all out there. It’ll be interesting to see if this leads anywhere else, or if we have hit the end of that road.
BTW, if there are any readers out there in Detroit, this might be something to research. Was a news team fired in late 1974 for reporting that a UFO had either crashed or been shotdown by the Air Force... or any news team canned in that time frame for any reason. It might be a nice little bit of corroboration.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Elk River UFO Crash

Although I had a hand in starting the tradition of listing UFO crashes, I have always been bothered by the sheer numbers of them. True, I believe there to be some very valid cases and Roswell leaps immediately to mind, as does Las Vegas in 1962, Kecksburg in 1965 and Shag Harbour in 1967. But the numbers are appallingly high when considering the engineering difficulties of creating an interstellar craft. If they can conquer that problem, I wouldn’t expect them to rain from the sky.

Given all this, James Clarkson (seen here), who appeared at the 6th Annual UFO Crash Retrieval Conference in Las Vegas, hosted by Ryan Wood, made a good case for adding another to the list.

According to Clarkson, on November 25, 1979, a number of people saw something fiery in the night sky and more than one of them thought of it as a craft without power. I use the term craft, though some of them described an airplane-like configuration with lighted windows and fire on one side.

Mrs. Ralph Case was riding in a car driven by her husband along State Route 12 and about four miles east of Aberdeen when she saw what she said was a plane with one side on fire. She reported this to the air traffic control tower at Bowerman Airfield, also near Aberdeen, Washington at about ten minutes to eleven.

Ernest Hayes, driving along the same highway as Case said that he had seen a very bright green flash overhead. He called the county sheriff at about eleven that same night or some ten minutes after Case had reported her sighting.

Estella Krussel, who Clarkson interviewed about eight years after the event, said that she’d seen an "unknown aircraft" fly over and thought of a passenger jet because of the illuminated windows. She thought it had a cigar shape, was narrower in front than the rear and had an intense blue-white light shining from each of the windows. She was one of those who had the impression that it was out of power.

Things got stranger, according to Clarkson. He interviewed a number of witnesses who had driven out into the rough country, a crazy pattern of logging roads and paved highways. Some of them in search of the object that others had seen.

Eight years after the crash, Clarkson interviewed Gordon Graham. Graham had heard about the crash from Donald Betts, and tried to drive out to find it. He was turned away by a military checkpoint.

Clarkson quoted Graham as saying, "I saw four military weapons carriers. There were at least ten soldiers there. They have the road blocked. They told us to get out of there. They didn’t say it very politely either."

Here we run into a problem and one that I should have mentioned to Clarkson. Posse Comitatus is a federal law that does not allow the use of active duty soldiers in a law enforcement function except in a very narrow range of situations. These soldiers, if active duty, had no authority to block the roads. If they were members of the National Guard on "maneuvers" in the area, they would probably have been in what is known as Title 10 or Title 32 status and would have been in violation of the law when manning these roadblocks. This means that had Graham driven on, the soldiers had no authority to stop or arrest him.

I know that National Guard soldiers, except in very limited cases, such as when called to State Active Duty can then be used for law enforcement. If these soldiers were from Georgia, as Clarkson suggests, based on his investigation and the interviews he conducted, then they couldn’t be in State Active Duty and they had no authority to enforce the road block. Of course, if they are standing there with loaded weapons, you might not want to challenge that authority.

I point this out only because it suggests something about the legality of the roadblocks and it might be something to investigate. Under normal circumstances, soldiers in this sort of duty would be paired with a sworn law enforcement officer who would have the authority to arrest those who refused to obey the instructions.

Maybe this point is a little esoteric, but it seems to me that we all need to know about the limits of authority. Challenging them might not be the smartest thing to do, but then, they have no real authority to order civilians away from an area and they have no arrest powers except in limited cases such as drug enforcement and by presidential direction.

This is not to say that those reporting this are inventing their tales, only that the soldiers, whoever they were probably had no authority to stop civilians from using the public roads. If this had been an aircraft accident, then the checkpoints and access control would have belonged to law enforcement and not the military.

But I digress...

Clarkson reported that Henry Harnden was another of the local residents who said he was threatened and chased from the area by troops. Harnden was the one who suggested they were from a "special division from Georgia."

An Elma, Washington police officer, Fred Bradshaw, said that two or three days after the crash, he saw an Army "low-boy truck with a boom... [and two] deuce and half [trucks]" and a couple of jeeps. The Army certainly has the authority to use the public roads to move stuff, whatever that stuff might be, so there is no problem here.

Clarkson (at the lecture at the conference) tells us that there were a number of witnesses to the "arrival of a fiery object" on November 25, 1979. He tells us that it hit the ground and might have exploded in the Elk River Drainage Area in a fairly inaccessible location that contains mud flats, marshes or a nearby thick forest.

The official explanation of "helicopter exhaust glow," offered later, is ridiculous. Even a quick look at the descriptions by the witnesses shows this to be untrue. I’ve flown in a lot of helicopter formations at night and the glow from the turbine just isn’t all that bright.

Clarkson never really says that the craft was extraterrestrial, though I take that as his meaning. He suggests the possibility that what fell might have been something lost by the military, specifically some sort of missile test that failed. He does note that no one lost an aircraft on that night. No reports of either a military or civilian crash and no reports of a missile gone astray.

As I say, there seem to be too many failures of alien craft. Some lists now top two hundred and a couple are closing in on 300. But still, there are some very intriguing UFO crash cases, many of which have no solid explanation... yet. This is another to add to the file. Until someone tells us what crashed, with the appropriate documentation, this is another well documented UFO crash.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait and the Library Fairy

I’m becoming convinced there is such a thing as the library fairy. Let me explain. For a writer, the library fairy points him or her to the information needed to complete a work. For example, a number of years ago I was researching a novel about the battle at Khe Sanh. I happened to be in a Sam Goodies and was walking along the wall where there were video tapes and spotted a documentary about Khe Sahn. Now I would be able to describe the base and surrounding area accurately because I had see it. I normally don’t go into Sam Goodies but on this one day, did.

Such was the case recently with a couple of columns inspired by Phil Plait and his Bad Astronomy. He suggested he didn’t believe UFOs were alien ships because amateur astronomers didn’t report them... meaning alien ships as opposed to UFOs.

The J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies has a DVD that contains the entire printed run of the NICAP U.F.O. Investigator. I just received my copies of the disk and to check it out, opened it randomly to January 1958. On page one was an announcement that Dr. James C. Bartlett was joining the organization as a consultant in astronomy, convinced that some UFOs were alien because he had seem them himself.

The August-September issue (which carried the whole story of Bartlett) told me that he was a Baltimore-based astronomer and was a frequent contributor to astronomical journals. In fact, according to NICAP, prior to his own sightings he had been a complete skeptic and ridiculed others who "believed in the reality of UFOs," which I take to mean alien spacecraft.

Bartlett told NICAP that he had been observing a transit of Fomalhaut when he saw four large lights with an unaided eye. Then, through 7-power binoculars, he saw the lights as they moved slowly.

"They came from the noses of two enormous craft which more than filled the binoculars."

He said there was a cabin in the nose and ports on the sides of the craft which he believed to be either cylindrical or cigar shaped. He could hear sounds from the objects that he thought were about 3000 feet in altitude. Unnecessarily, he said that neither was an airliner or a dirigible.

Bartlett said that he didn’t say anything to anyone about the sighting at the time because he thought they might be some kind of experimental craft. He said that he believed this because they were traveling "unmolested" which to him suggested that someone knew what they were and where they were. If not a US secret, then, he believed, they would have been intercepted.

More important than this sighting, though the description certainly suggests something that is not of terrestrial manufacture and is something more substantial than a fuzzy light in the distance, is Bartlett’s sighting of August 5, 1952. During a daytime observation of Venus he watched a two disks as they passed overhead flying to the south and then turned east. Moments later he saw two more but this time he saw a dome on top of each.

Of course the conversion of one astronomer from skeptic to believer (a really bad term for those who accept the possibility that some UFOs are of extraterrestrial origin) does not prove a point. Dr. H. Percy Wilkins, a noted English astronomer, made a daylight observation of an oval-shaped object.

Before we go on, I should note that this is from that same January 1958 issue of the NICAP U.F.O. Investigator that the library fairy seems to have directed me to. On page 12 are the details of his UFO sightings.

Wilkins said that he watched the oval over Mount Etna through binoculars in September 1957. He had an opportunity to get a good look at it and was unable to identify it in convention terms.

In 1954 Wilkins had a daylight sighing as he traveled over the United States. According to the U.F.O. Investigator, "[H]e saw three oval-shaped metallic-looking objects flying together above the clouds about two miles away." He wrote later, in his book, "They looked exactly like polished metal reflecting the sunlight," and said they were brass or gold in color and much brighter than the clouds. Until this experience he says he "had been extremely skeptical of flying saucer reports."

In fact, back in 1955, Wilkins, in his book, Mysteries of Space and Time (not to be confused with the similarly titled book by Brad Steiger of Mysteries of Time and Space) wrote that he knew that most UFO reports were of conventional objects, but that "...a residuum remains which cannot be thus explained." That is a more verbose way of saying that most UFOs are misidentified natural or manmade objects and he wrote this more than fifty years before the similarly profound statement by Plait.

I imagine that the best way to discredit Dr. Wilkins would be to point at a December 1953 interview on the BBC in which he was supposed to have confirmed a bridge over the Mare Crisium on the moon. In follow-up questions some time after that interview aired, Wilkins said that he "had not considered the bridge other than a natural object." He wasn’t suggesting that it was something created by an extraterrestrial race.

Here are sightings by two astronomers that can’t be categorized as anything but flying saucers if the observations are accurate. True, Bartlett originally believed that the first objects he saw were secret government craft, but doesn’t that strengthen his sighting? I mean, he’s talking about a structured object on which he observed details that wouldn’t be common on natural phenomena and he assumed, incorrectly, that it belonged to us. After further review, he determined that it was not a secret craft (and I will point out that no secret craft such as he described has been revealed in the more than fifty years since his sighting), so he reported the sighting.

Wilkins talks of oval-shaped objects seen in the daytime and through binoculars. Given those two details, it is difficult to imagine what they could be, other than examples of flying saucers...

Oh, yes, I forgot... eyewitnesses don’t count because they could be wrong, they could be deluded, or they could be lying. I can think of no motive for either of these men to lie about seeing flying saucers because such admissions could harm their... or I suppose I should say, could have harmed, their careers.

And I know that someone out there will point out that these men are what the Air Force would call repeaters, meaning they saw flying saucers on more than one occasion and are therefore, unreliable. That strikes me the same as saying that a person hit more than once by lightning must be lying because lightning striking humans is rare and no one would be unlucky enough to be hit more than once... except, of course, those people with outdoor s jobs or play too much golf or who are just flat unlucky.

There are, of course, two points here. One is that astronomers do see alien spacecraft, and describe them in terms that leads to only two conclusions. They have actually seen an alien spacecraft or they are lying (overlooking, I suppose delusion and hallucination).

I will note here that Dick Hall, who edited The UFO Evidence which was printed by NICAP in 1964, reported on a number of sightings by astronomers, both professional and amateur, including Seymour L. Hess, Walter N. Webb, W. Gordon Graham, Frank Halstead, Jacques Chapuis, and the Observatory staff on Majorca (A triangular-shaped object they reported to NASA).

Second, the library fairy provided these two examples when I was not actively looking for them. I just wanted to get a feel for the U.F.O Investigator (and selected NICAP documents) DVD had on it.

For those interested, that DVD can be purchased from the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies at 2457 West Peterson Avenue, Chicago Illinois 60659 for $40.00 and that includes shipping, postage and even foreign sales.

There is a companion DVD that contains thirty years of the International UFO Reporter along with the Center Investigators Quarterly for $100.00 dollars.

For those wishing more information visit the CUFOS Website at:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bad Astronomy Part III

Good ole Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame has been heard from again. It seems he is annoyed that we, in the UFO community, haven’t caved to his wise logic which tells him that UFOs are not extraterrestrial spaceships because amateur astronomers don’t report them as such.

Remember his original comments about this?

Amateur astronomers, of course. They are dedicated observers, out every night peering at the sky. If The Truth Is Out There, then amateur astronomers would be reporting far and away the vast majority of UFOs. But they don’t. Why not? Because they understand the sky! [Emphasis in original] They know when a twinkling light is Venus, or a satellite, or a military flare, or a hot air balloon, and so they don’t report it.

That, to me, is the killer argument that aliens aren’t visiting us. If they were, the amateur astronomers would spot them.

I argued that amateurs do report UFOs. As I mentioned in a response to a posting in the original articles, in a survey of 1800 amateur astronomers, something like 25% of them, or just over 400, had, in fact seen a UFO which, Plait is quick to point out is not the same as a flying saucer. UFO simply means they have seen something they can’t explain but that it is not necessarily an alien ship. Flying saucer is, well, an alien ship.

I’m tempted to say, Well, duh. We’ve known that for 50 years. We know that people can’t identify bright planets on cold nights, or are fooled by the landing lights of airplanes, or strange atmospheric conditions and extraordinarily bright meteors and a host of other things.

But then we reach a core of sightings, many by professionals, college-educated scientists, or police officers, or military and civilian pilots that aren’t easily explained. As I’ve said before, the higher the level of education and the longer the object was in sight, the less likely it’ll be identified in the mundane. And when you have a daylight sighting of a disk-shaped object no more than a hundred feet away, then many of the explanations fail.

I believed we had disposed of the nonsense that amateur astronomers don’t see UFOs but Plait countered this argument, writing, "The problem is, this doesn’t show me wrong. It misses the point entirely, which is the majority of UFO reports would be made by amateur astronomers if these were in fact alien spaceships. I don’t care if you can find a handful of reports from astronomers. This shows conclusively that the majority of UFOs reported are not flying saucers, but misidentified mundane objects."

This strikes me as a fairly arrogant statement. It changes the conditions of the argument by adding a new element, not that amateurs don’t report UFOs but that they don’t report flying saucers. And he says that he doesn’t care if we can find a handful of reports from astronomers. Well, didn’t he say that astronomers don’t report these things and now when that is shown to be inaccurate, he says he doesn't care. He wants reports of spacecraft and not reports of UFOs.

And he suggested that amateur astronomers would make the majority of those sightings because they are (a) familiar with the sky so what they report won’t be mundane and (b) they are looking into the sky more than anyone else...

Except, of course, pilots, who spend a great deal of time looking at the sky, both during daylight hours and at night. Wouldn’t you expect a large number of reports from pilots? And of those, wouldn’t most of them be of mundane objects that are misidentified rather than of alien ships? And finally, what do we do with that core of sightings in which a structured craft that resembles nothing built on Earth and that maneuvers outside the capabilities of a craft manufactured on Earth?

In fact, the Air Force, which investigated UFOs (and flying saucer) reports for 22 years was most interested in the sightings by pilots, especially military pilots. Their reasoning was the same as Plait’s, except they applied it to pilots. Pilots would be familiar with the sky and since they spend much of their flight time looking at the sky, they would report spaceships, as opposed to UFOs, at a higher rate than the rest of the population, including amateur astronomers. Or so the Air Force would argue, from it’s logical position.

Except this argument, for either amateur astronomers or pilots is based, not on evidence, but on an assumption of evidence. Plait argues that if some UFOs are alien spaceships, then amateur astronomers would be reporting them. The Air Force argues it would be pilots... and neither uses any facts to back up the premise.

We can point to amateur astronomers who have seen something that could be classified as an alien spaceship based on the eyewitness description of it. And, there are hundreds of reports from pilots, including fighter pilots, who have given chase to objects that would be classified as alien spaceships based on the eyewitness descriptions of them.

Oh, yes, I forgot. Plait won’t accept eyewitness testimony... he wants physical evidence that he can hold in his hand and that is available for independent testing. He doesn’t want cases where the craft interacted with the environment, was tracked on radar, multiple witness cases, or photographs and movie, as opposed to video.
So now we move into his latest, well, I was going to say rant, but that really isn’t fair. It is a somewhat reasoned response that, to me, lacks a single, obscure point of logic. He wrote:

Friedman is no fan of me, either. A few years ago I wrote an article for Sky and Telescope magazine about UFOs, basically making the same claim I made here last week: all these UFO sightings we hear about were real, the majority of them would be seen by amateur astronomers.

Friedman took exception to that (shocker, I know). In his internet newsletter// subscription required), he said: "Plait among other gems says about Amateur [sic] astronomers [sic] ‘Logically, they should be reporting most of the UFOs’. This is logic?"

Um, yeah, Mr. Friedman, it is. Maybe you should acquaint yourself with it. Note that this is all he said, just dismissing my point without actually saying anything about it. I know, it’s hard to believe that someone with such stature in the UFO community would make a claim with no evidence, and dismiss a claim that does have evidence!

Far be it for me to defend Stan Friedman here, but I don’t really get the logic of Plait’s statement either. I have seen him offer nothing in the way of evidence that amateur astronomers don’t make flying saucer reports (as opposed to UFO reports). Stan certainly could have offered some evidence as well, as I attempted to do in the last couple of postings. We all should be arguing from the evidence at hand, not from what we believe that evidence to be.

As a single example, I offered some of that evidence, including a very good sighting made by an atmospheric physicist using instrumentation... yes, I know it was only eyewitness testimony, but was using instrumentation, it was multiple witness, and it suggests that this claim about amateur astronomers is absurd.

But having taken care of Stan Friedman, which seems to be a logical argument to me, given that Friedman offered no evidence to support his claim, Plait goes after Chris Rutkowski. He wrote:

Mr. Friedman has company, too. I got an email from a reader named Chris Rutkowski, who also posted his thoughts to an internet newsletter [which, of course, I’m doing here though I think of this as a blog rather than a newsletter]. He does Friedman one better (just barely) by actually addressing my claims about amateur astronomers, but blows it when it comes to logic. Rutkowski basically says that amateurs do in fact report UFOs, and so I am wrong.

And then he gets nasty, which sort of surprises me because so much of his stuff seems to be reasoned. He wrote:
I have said this, over and over, very clearly, but the "UFOologists" can’t seem to understand it. And then they accuse me of being closed-minded. That part slays me. They cannot imagine that aliens aren’t visiting us, and every light in the sky is a spaceship, and I’m the one who has a closed mind.

And, yes, we know that the majority of UFOs can be identified in the mundane. We all have said the same thing. We also say that there is some very persuasive evidence that some UFOs are alien spaceships. What’s so hard to understand here? We get it, and I haven’t, as far as I know, labeled anyone with a derogatory title in this little dust up.

In fact, I’ll add a note here, once again and that is a bias against reporting a flying saucer. Does he really think that an amateur astronomer who reported a flying saucer would be trusted in any other observations? Didn’t J. Allen Hynek, in his survey of professional astronomers, learn that none of them wanted to admit to seeing anything unusual based on their perception of how their peers would react? In other words, there is a self-policing that keeps the amateurs from offering the descriptions that Plait would want... but then he would reject them all as eyewitness testimony anyway and not be impressed.

I’ll let Rutkowski respond to this and I believe that Plait will be surprised at Rutkowski’s credentials as an amateur astronomer himself. I will just add this because Chris Rutkowski was involved with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and was even the president of one of the chapters. He has also received the RASC’s Simon Newcomb Award for science writing and education. So, his words do carry some weight when speaking about amateur astronomers and what they see and what they report. I suspect that Plait didn't know this about Rutkowski.

My point here is that Plait rejects, without evidence the idea that amateur astronomers see flying saucers and used his assumption to prove that there are no flying saucers. (Isn’t this a circular argument?) He believes that amateur astronomers should report flying saucers at a larger number than the general population if there is anything to this alien visitation, but overlooks the number of reports of flying saucers by all categories of pilots. And rejects sightings of flying saucers by professional astronomers for some reason that I don’t understand... except, of course, that they are eyewitness testimony.

Since he is unaware of those reports, then they simply don’t exist. My point is that they do exist, and therefore, you can’t use that as evidence that there is no alien visitation. And yes, before we go on, I understand that this interpretation, that these amateur astronomers see flying saucers, could be in error... I’m merely saying that there is a body of eyewitness testimony that proves the theory, that they don’t see flying saucers, wrong. Believe or don’t believe, but you can’t dismiss the phenomenon with this argument. You need something grounded in reality.

Monday, December 08, 2008

San Diego UFO Crash

I was reviewing some of the old cases in my files and I came across the notation for a UFO crash near San Diego in 1947. I had published all the information I had in A History of UFO Crashes and was looking for additional data.

In that book I wrote, "Unidentified witnesses reported that a flaming object was seen to fall into the ocean west of San Diego. A check at the local observatory suggested that it wasn’t a meteorite and there were no aircraft reported missing. Recently declassified documents suggest an investigation by the military into the unidentified flaming object, but the case file itself has not been discovered."

Okay, that’s not much. There were a couple of sources on this material. One of them was Flying Saucers on the Attack written by Harold T. Wilkins and published by the Citadel Press (Ace Star Books, page 72) in 1967. The only additional and probably irrelevant information contained there was that someone had checked with the Observatory at Griffith Park which is in Los Angeles and not San Diego, and the person there didn’t think it was a meteor.

The footnote for the case relates it to Sherman Brown who had an unpublished manuscript called UFO Crashes and was dated 1990. I actually reference that book several times, but could find nothing in my files that tells me anything more about it.

The other thing is that I have several letters from people attempting to track down the original sources of this information and trying to find Sherman Brown. One of those writers said that he had looked through the San Diego newspapers of the time. He found nothing there that related to an event in October.

All this led to one important point. In the book I dated the crash on October 20, 1947, but the other sources suggest, instead, September 20. I don’t know the source of the error in my book but would guess that it belongs to me.

None of this matters for those trying to run this down in San Diego. They checked the newspapers starting with the Arnold Sighting of June 24, 1947 and ran through the end of October. One man sent me a list of people who had made sightings in 1947.

I tried some other sources including the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies. They checked through their records and they found nothing to relate to either Sherman Brown or a crash near San Diego. I have believed, since there was nothing in my files on this, I had picked this up, or researched it further at the Center. Unless something strange happened there, they were not the source of Sherman Brown.

I did find that the San Diego Union carried an article about John Kuder who said he had seen "a luminous flying disc" circling about a half mile off Mission Beach. It dipped into the ocean and there was a ball of fire visible for a few seconds after the disk disappeared. This could be the source of the original story. The date isn’t close, but the location is and but the description of the event would fit with the idea that there had been a crash of some kind.

Here’s where we are on this one. I have located some of the sources about this event. I can now correct the date to the proper time or, at least, to another date in those sources which suggest September 20. Other sources, including one newspaper suggest July 6 because the story was reported on July 7. Given the story, I would opt for July 6.

The thing to do now is leave it as insufficient data. We have found a UFO sighting that goes with the report, we have a suggestion that the object might have dropped into the sea, and we have the report of a fireball moments later. At the moment, this is a single witness case and for that reason, I leave it as insufficient data, though I suspect that a mundane answer would be found with additional information.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bad Astronomy and Phil Plait, Part Two

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame strikes again. This time, rather than making a pronouncement that is not backed up by facts, he raises a couple points that are worth examining because I am nothing if not reasonable.

He wrote, "What do I count as evidence? Hard, physical data. Not eyewitness reports (because even the most highly-credentialed person in the world can misidentify something, or not understand what they are seeing, or may suffer from an episode, or decide to lie, or just be simply wrong)."

Fair enough. He wants "hard physical data" and not creepy eyewitness statements, so I will ignore the highly-qualified, technically-oriented people who have reported UFOs. I will ignore the statistic that tells us that the higher the educational level and the longer the object, thing, light was observed, the less likely it would be identified in the mundane, which is, of course, the opposite of what the skeptics would tell us. No eyewitness testimony... well, not much, anyway.

And yes, I’m aware of all the problems associated with eyewitness testimony. I would think, however, a multiple witness sighting, with those witnesses separated by miles and independently reporting the same thing would go a long way to providing some strong, if not hard, evidence.

Yes, you always want examples and here I’ll refer to the Levelland, Texas sightings of November 2, 1957 with witnesses in thirteen locations reporting an object close to the ground that interfered with the electrical systems of cars, stalling engines, causing radio stations to fade and lights to dim until the object moved away and disappeared.

The Air Force investigated but only found three witnesses and to the Air Force, if they didn’t talk to the witnesses, then they simply didn’t exist. The Air Force attributed the sightings to thunderstorms in the area, though the storms were over when the sightings began.

In the end, we are left only with the statements of the witnesses, even though the object interacted with the environment, we only have the testimony of the witnesses to that. We have the witnesses making their reports prior to any media suggestion, and the reports match, generally, but in the end, we have only eyewitness testimony and Phil Plait said he didn’t want to hear it.

He also said, "Not fuzzy photos."

Again, fair enough. I will point out here that while about 99% of the UFO pictures were taken by teenaged boys and 99% of those are faked, there are some very good pictures out there and they weren’t taken by teenaged boys.

Here I think of the pictures taken by Paul Trent of McMinnville, Oregon on May 11, 1950 (seen here). According to their story, Evelyn Trent had been out feeding the rabbits when she spotted a slow moving saucer-shaped object coming from the northeast. She alerted her husband, who came out, saw the object and rushed back inside to grab a camera.

Trent took a picture, advanced the film manually (in those pre-motor driven or digital days) and took a second. Before the object disappeared, Paul Trent’s father glimpsed it.

Now, in what Phil Klass, the late UFO skeptic found strange, the Trents did not immediately have the film developed but waited to finish the roll. Trent did, eventually mention the sighting to his banker, Frank Wortman, who got the pictures for a display in the bank window, which lead to a newspaper interview, and eventual national interest.

The Condon Committee examined the photographs as part of their alleged scientific study. Dr. William Hartmann did the analysis and in the report wrote, " is unlikely that a sophisticated ‘optical fabrication’ was performed. The negatives have not been tampered with."

Okay, so Hartmann is telling us that the object in the photograph is real in the sense that it is not some kind of optical trick and he is telling us that the negatives have not been altered. What you see on the film is what was in the sky. He sees nothing to suggest trickery at this point.

His conclusion is, "This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated, geometric, psychological and physical appear to be consistent with the assertion that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disk-shaped, tens of meters in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew within sight of two witnesses. It cannot by said that the evidence positively rules out a fabrication, although there are some physical factors such of the accuracy of certain photometric measures of the original negatives which argue against a fabrication."

For a report that suggested there was nothing to these UFOs, this conclusion seems to strongly indicate otherwise. But, of course, that’s not the point here. We just needed to find a sharp photograph (seen here).

The debunkers, and here I’m thinking again of Phil Klass and Robert Sheaffer, know that there is no visitation and therefore any evidence offered to the contrary must be in error. Klass, in his UFOs Explained and Sheaffer in his The UFO Verdict Examining the Evidence claim to have found proof of fraud. Klass claims that the shadows, underneath the eaves of the garage are too dark and given the orientation of the garage proves that the photographs were taken, not in the evening, but in the morning, and if this is true, then they were taken in the reverse order. Case solved and evidence dismissed.

Dr. Bruce Maccabee, an optical physicist who worked for the Navy, and is a believer in UFOs as extraterrestrial craft, disputed this claim. He said that the shadows were due to random light scattering and based this on the clouds in the photograph. He said the shadows were not strong enough for Klass’ claim.

Two problems for Klass. He never explained the motive for saying the pictures were taken in the evening, if they were morning shots and he couldn’t get around the unsophisticated nature of the Trents. Not a single person ever expressed any doubts about the Trent’s sincerity and no one ever suggested they would have been able to fake a photograph using a 1950 box camera.

Of course, I could say to Phil Plait, I don’t want to see fuzzy photos of extra solar planets and I don’t want to hear about some esoteric wobble in the star that tells me there is something orbiting it. I want some hard evidence that these things exist and not theoretical constructs, but that would be splitting hairs.

I could say the same thing to palaeontologists who give me pictures of what dinosaurs looked like based on some bones. I could say how do you end up with a hunting strategy used by predators based on bones... and by the way, explain fossilization so that it makes some sense in the real world rather than this idea that minerals in the soil replace the structure of the bone. Real evidence and not just theory. But I digress...

Phil Plait also said, "Not fuzzy video."

Okay, how about 16 mm color film? Here I move onto shaky ground but only because the film is of two bright white lights moving across Great Falls, Montana in the middle of the day in the summer of 1950.

Nick Mariana, the manager of a minor league baseball team had gone to the field to check it out when he saw two bright objects in the sky (seen here over Great Falls). He ran back to his car, retrieved his 16 mm movie camera and made a short, color film of them as they crossed the sky, flew behind a water tower and then disappeared.

The sighting was also witnessed by Virginia Raunig, Mariana’s secretary. She told investigators she had seen "two silvery balls." Mariana said they had a definite disk shape and he thought they were about fifty feet across and about three or four feet thick.

Quite naturally the Air Force investigated the film and just as naturally, they thought the objects were two F-94 jets that might have been in the area at the time. Sunlight from the fuselage washed out the other details. Mariana and Raunig said they had seen the jets in another part of the sky.

Ed Ruppelt, the chief of the Air Force investigation in 1952, when the film was reexamined reported, "We drew a blank on the Montana Movie - it was an unknown."

Dr. Robert M. L. Baker, had looked at it in 1955, reported that if the objects had been the jets, given all the information he had, they would have been identifiable as jets on the film. He ran experiments using a similar camera and filmed objects at various distances to reach his conclusions. He reaffirmed them in 1972.

Quite naturally, the Condon Committee wanted to study the film (blow up of objects seen here), after it had been examined by other experts. Dr. Hartmann wrote, "Past investigations have left airplanes as the principal working hypothesis. The data at hand indicate that while it strains credibility to suppose these were airplanes, the possibility nonetheless cannot be entirely ruled out."

Depending on the exact date of the sighting, there might have been two airplanes in the area. Hartmann wrote, "Assuming the 15 August date was the correct date, Air Force investigators found that there were two F-94 jets in the vicinity and that they landed only minutes after the sighting, which could well have put them in circling path around Maelstrom AFB [Great Falls], only three miles ESE of the baseball park. However, Witness I [Mariana] reported seeing the two planes coming in for a landing behind him immediately following the filming... thereby accounting for those aircraft."

Yes, yes, these are points of light, but they are on film and clearly Mariana didn’t have the equipment or expertise to fake something like that, especially in 1950. He also said that the Air Force had removed the thirty-frames from the film and in those frames you could see the disk shape. The Air Force said that they had removed a single frame because the sprockets were broken and they just wanted to repair it.

I could mention the Trementon, Utah film made in 1952 by a Navy warrant officer, but again, it’s just bright lights in the daytime sky. The warrant officer said that he had seen the disk shape as the objects had passed over his car, but by the time he got his 16 mm camera out of the car the objects had moved off and only the bright glow showed against the bright blue sky.

Phil Plait said, "I want hard, physical data. I want an alien on the White House lawn. I want a piece of metal with clearly non-terrestrial isotope ratios of components, or be composed of some currently non-discovered element. I want some piece of predictive evidence — a map of an alien world that can eventually be verified, or an alien-given advance in physics that can later be verified with the LHC or some other cutting-edge technology. And nothing vague like ‘a unified field theory exists’; it has to be definite and precise, so that there is no controversy."

How about instrumentation with visual confirmation? In other words, radar sightings along with both commercial and military pilot observation?

In July 1952, radars at the Washington National Airport showed numerous blips. Air Traffic Controllers, when they asked pilots for visual confirmation received it. Radars at other locations confirmed the sightings as well, and jet interceptors, vectored into the area also saw the objects. In one case the fighter was surrounded by the objects before he was able to break away.

The Air Force said that the sightings on radar were the result of temperature inversions over Washington, D.C. at the time, but were unable to explain the visual sightings or why the radars in different locations, and different scopes had the same objects on them. Weather experts said that the inversion layers were not strong enough to create the blips and besides, the Air Traffic Controllers were familiar with blips created by the inversion layers (yes, I know that the inversion level bends the radar beam giving a false echo but that just didn’t fit the flow of my sentence).

The Air Force wrote off the sightings as weather related, but independent analysis by atmospheric experts suggest they overreached for the explanation. The Air Force abhorred an "unidentified" sighting which is why so many in their study were marked as "Insufficient Data for a Scientific Analysis." It wasn’t explained, but then, it wasn’t unidentified either. About 40% of their sightings were marked as "Insufficient." Condon, by the way, had about 30% as unidentified which doesn’t include the sighting identified "as a natural phenomenon that it has never been seen before or since," but which is never identified.

Phil Plait then asked, "Do you think this is too demanding? I have news for you: you’re asking me to believe in something that will revolutionize all of human existence. I think demanding some actual evidence for such a thing is not only not too much to ask, but is to be demanded."

As a note to Phil Plait, no, I don’t think this is too demanding. Yes, we’re asking you to accept the idea that we have been visited. No, not nearly as often as has been reported by some, but often enough to get noticed and certainly often enough to leave some of the evidence you require. The only question left is will you look at it all, believer and skeptic, or will you just assume that the skeptical information is somehow more accurate than that assembled by those on the other side of the fence? When the opening premise is that there has been no visitation and therefore anything that suggests visitation is in error, you are not going to learn much of anything.

This means that the skeptics have obscured the truth, provided ridiculous explanations and written off cases as hoaxes when they have absolutely no evidence of hoax.

You want an example?

Sure. The Lubbock Lights photographs (seen here). True, they show indistinct blobs of light, but they are flying in a "V" formation. Carl Hart, Jr., who took the pictures in 1951 said that he didn’t know what they were then and when I interviewed him in the 1990s, he said the same thing. He didn’t know what he had photographed.

Dr. Donald H. Menzel, the Harvard astronomer who attacked all things UFOlogical suggested, at first, the lights were mirages, but mirages don’t fly in "V" formations. He then said, without a shred of evidence to support it, that the photographs of the lights were a hoax. Not exactly the scientific method in action. Besides, if they weren’t a hoax, then Menzel had no scientific explanation for them, but since we all know that there is no visitation, it must be a hoax.

So, I suppose all we need to know now is if this brief survey of some of the evidence is of sufficient strength to create a desire to learn more by Phil Plait, or will we just hear more reasons to ignore it. True, I’m not talking about aliens on the White House lawn or pieces of debris with strange isotopic ratios, but I am providing cases where the UFO interacted with the environment, pictures that was not fuzzy objects and movie footage from the early 1950s that have been examined by some of the leading experts. The best they can do is suggest hoax, often without a shred of evidence to suggest hoax because the only other explanation can’t be right. If McMinnville, if Great Falls, if Levelland were not hoaxes, then just what were they.