Convoluted enough for you yet?
So, let’s take a look at this and see what we can learn by accessing some of the sources that are available to us in today’s world.
First, we need to take a look at the basics of the case. According to various UFO writers and researchers including Donald Keyhoe (Aliens from Space pp 26 – 27), on July 1, 1954 "an unknown flying object was tracked over New York State by Griffiss AFB radar. An F-94 Starfire jet was scrambled and the pilot climbed steeply toward the target, guided by his radar observer. When the gleaming disc-shaped machine became visible he started to close in."
Keyhoe (seen here) continued, "Abruptly a furnacelike heat filled both cockpits. Gasping for breath, the pilot jettisoned the canopy. Through a blur of heat waves he saw the radar operator bail out. Stunned, without even thinking, he ejected himself from the plane."
Keyhoe then noted, "The F-94, screaming down into Walesville, N.Y., smashed though a building and burst into flames. Plunging on, the fiery wreckage careened into a car. Four died in the holocaust – a man and his wife and their two infant children. Five other Walesville residents were injured, two of them seriously."
If all this could be factually established, that is, the jet crashed as a result of the actions of a UFO, then we have big news. UFOs aren’t just harmless lights in the sky, but can result in tragedy on the ground.
Keyhoe wasn’t alone in his belief of a UFO attack on an Air Force interceptor. Otto Binder, writing in What We Really Know about Flying Saucers (1967) suggested that it was the radar officer who was saw the UFO and pointed it out to the pilot. The pilot turned the aircraft to get a better look and when the cockpit filled with heat, both men bailed out. Binder claimed that both men were interrogated at length by Air Force investigators who concluded that they were not responsible for the crash. According to Binder, there was only one source for the heat and that was the UFO. Binder said that his account was based on Air Force Records, which is true, to an extent. There was also a great deal of interpretation in Binder’s account.
J. Allen Hynek (seen here) and Jacques Vallee, in The Edge of Reality (1975) discussed the case. Vallee suggested that there had been a dense cloud cover and that the UFO had been picked up on radar. Two jets were scrambled, one that remained in the clouds and the second that climbed to a higher altitude. When it broke through into clear sky, the pilot saw the UFO coming at him. The cockpit filled with heat and both men believe the aircraft was about to burst into flames. They bailed out and landed safely, but the aircraft crashed into Walesville.
Hynek said the case wasn’t documented but Vallee said, "Yes, it is documented. It was even mentioned in the New York Times the next day."
UTICA. N.Y., July 2 (AP) – A silvery, balloon-like object floating over the Utica area tonight sent residents rushing to their telephones to make inquiries of newspapers, police and radio stations.
The Utica Press estimated that more than 1,000 calls about the object jammed its switchboard between 6 and 10 P.M. It was reported by residents in a twenty-five mile radius extending from Rome on the west to Frankfort, east of Utica.
Col. Milton F. Summerfelt, commandant of the Air Force Depot at Rome, said the object appeared to be a plastic balloon about forty feet long and partially deflated. He
theorized that it was making a gradual descent and said that if it was still in in the area tomorrow morning a plane would be sent to investigate.A Mohawk Airlines pilot estimated the altitude of the object at about 20,000 feet. He said he saw a light apparently shining from it.
For some reason, Keyhoe and some of the others have given the July 1 date for the balloon sighting and sometimes for the jet crash as well. A confusion of the two events might explain how the description of a disc-shaped object originated. Since both incidents were reported in the same general area and on the same day, the confusion is understandable.
The Project Blue Book files tell the jet-crash story in a slight different way from that given by Keyhoe, Vallee and others. Neither incident is part of Blue Book’s official record. The index for Blue Book, which does list the accident, also notes it is "info" only, and lists the "witnesses" as Len Stringfield and others. I suppose I should point out that Stringfield, living in Ohio, did not make an on-site investigation and didn’t witness the incident. He reported it in his newsletter and that is what made him a "witness" in the Air Force file.
The F-94C took off at 11:05 AM EST for an operational training mission out of Griffiss Air Force Base, New York on 2 July 1954. The aircraft was only a few miles out when the Griffiss control tower operator called the pilot to advise that he was being diverted to an active air defense mission. A vector of 60 degrees and 10,000 feet altitude was give to intercept an unidentified aircraft. The pilot experienced some difficulty finding this aircraft and the controller informed him of a second unidentified aircraft in the area. This aircraft was [subsequently] identified [by the pilot] as an Air Force C-47, tail number 6099. At this time there were no indications of F-94 malfunctions as stated by the pilot and the C-47 pilot.
Once the C-47 was identified:
The ground controller gave the F-94C pilot a heading of 240 degrees as a vector back to the first unidentified aircraft. The F-94C was at 8,000 feet, flying about the tops of broken clouds, so the pilot started to descend below the clouds. It was evident that the unidentified aircraft was going to Griffiss Air Force Base. During the descent there was intense heat in the cockpit and the engine plenum chamber fire warning light came on. The pilot shut down the engine and the light remained on. Due to critical low altitude and the fire warning, the pilot and the radar observer ejected and were recovered without injury.
Clearly, based on this, the other UFO, the one the pilot couldn’t find at first, was in the traffic pattern for the Air Force base. The identity, though not established by the pilot, was by the tower crew and the mission had ended. The UFOs were both military aircraft.
I think this is where the idea there were two jets involved came from. There were two attempted intercepts but by only one aircraft. I have seen notations suggesting a second jet, but the evidence doesn’t bear this out.
The other point that needs to be made here is that there was not a dense cloud cover. The term, "broken clouds" relates to the portion of the sky obscured by clouds. This means there were some clouds but they did not obscure the whole sky, and given the various altitudes for those clouds, it could have meant that from the cockpit, little of the sky was hidden.
The reported ended, "The aircraft traveled about four miles from the point of ejection and, while on a heading of 199 degrees, crashed into the Walesville intersection at 11:27 AM EST. The aircraft struck a dwelling, killing a housewife and injuring her daughter, then struck an auto at an intersection, killing all three occupants."
The Air Force report says nothing about the aircraft being scrambled, a disc-shaped UFO, or a heat ray, as alleged by some UFO writers. There is, in fact, no reason to suggest that this case has anything to do with UFOs, other than the assumptions made by Keyhoe in the 1950s and those who followed after that.
Keyhoe, in fact, gets the identities of the civilians killed wrong. According to the New York Times for Saturday, July 3, 1954, "Those killed were Stanley Phillips, 38, his wife, Florence, 32, and their son Gary, 11, all of neighboring Hecla, and Mrs. Doris Monroe, 28, occupant of one of the houses."
The Air Force conducted an investigation into the accident, but this report was sealed for many years. Given that the Air Force-sponsored University of Colorado UFO study, popularly known as the Condon Committee, had access to many official documents, it may not be surprising they did not create a UFO file for this incident because there was no UFO involved.
With or without a UFO, there is the question of what caused the heat in the cockpit. Was there a fire on the F-94C, and if so, what caused it? Was the malfunction of the aircraft in any way mysterious?
Until years after the crash, these questions could not be answered definitively because the accident report was still in the government archives. But upon the request of Jan Aldrich, the report was declassified and released. The general details of the accident are basically the same as reported by Keyhoe and the others. The key finding in the accident investigation is in paragraph 3 of the summary statement:
Investigation revealed the primary cause of the accident to be a malfunction of the aircraft fire detector circuit. The cause of the malfunction could not be determined. The pilot’s decision to abandon the aircraft was consistent with the emergency instructions contained in the F-94C Flight Handbook.
A thorough examination of the plane’s air conditioning and pressurization system indicated no evidence of smoke, fuel, or oil, which would have been generated by a fire. The pilot had flown the aircraft on a previous flight that same day and had found it necessary to adjust the cockpit temperature manually several times. The air vents were set so that pressurized air was being directed into the cockpit.
The report suggests that "Inasmuch as the pilot acknowledged changing the engine power settings and flight attitude during his attempted second interception, it appears that the pilot interpreted a normal, non-automatically controlled temperature rise as an overheat cockpit condition. Since there was no evidence of an inflight fire, the fire warning indication received was probably due to a malfunction of the fire warning circuit."
This accident then became a terrible bit of bad luck as the malfunctioning of the fire warning occurred just as the cockpit was being heated from normal aircraft operations. Following procedures, after the warning continued, the pilot shut down the engines and he and his radar observer bailed out, leaving the pilotless plane to crash in Walesville. As a relevant aside, another conclusion of the report was that the Air Force’s inspection requirements for the F-94C fire and overheat warning circuits were inadequate.
The accident report was completed on August 17, 1954, before Keyhoe wrote Flying Saucer Conspiracy (Jet engine on the ground in Walesville). If he had been given access to the document, or at least was provided with the relevant conclusions by Air Force spokesmen, the confusion over Walesville might never have happened. Instead, given the understandable confidentiality requirements of military accident investigators, Keyhoe and other writers were left to speculate about the cause of the heat in the cockpit and the cause of the crash.
In any event, the Walesville case, like that of the death of Thomas Mantell in 1948, should be removed from the UFO files. There was no UFO involved in this tragedy, though there certainly were momentarily unidentified aircraft.
Fawcett and Greenwood in their book, The UFO Cover-up (which originally was titled Clear Intent) wrote, "Without the full details of the crash, it is impossible to determine what caused the jet to malfunction."
Then they go on to write, "In the Encyclopedia of UFOs, edited by Ron Story (Doubleday Dolphin, 1980), an entry by Kevin Randle attempts to explain away the Walesville crash as nothing more than an engine fire which poured heat into the cockpit. His "documented evidence" is a news clipping from the New York Times. If the author of the entry had truly been interested in documented evidence other than a newspaper clipping, he would have noticed that the accident report on Walesville contained the following conclusions: ‘Investigation of the wreckage disclosed no in-flight fire. The cause of the malfunction in the fire warning system could not be determined.’(Emphasis in the original.)"
Of course, had they bothered to read what I had written, they would have realized that I was quoting Jacques Vallee. The sentence in question is, "Jacques Vallee claimed that the case was documented, and it was even reported in The New York Times."
Secondly, documentation available today suggests, as noted earlier, there was no fire, but there was a malfunction in the fire warning system. The pilot, identified as Lt. William E. Atkins, thought that because the cockpit was extremely hot, and because of the warning light, that the aircraft was on fire. Fawcett and Greenwood wrote that "He [the pilot] alerted the radar operator, Lt. Henry Condon [identified in some sources as Coudon], placed the throttle in the idle position, waited four seconds, then stop-cocked the throttle. After waiting another four seconds, Atkins and Condon successfully bailed out."
They then added, "So, while we have no specific evidence that the aircraft was attacked by a UFO, the cause of the crash remains unknown to this day. Is it merely coincidence that the jet developed a fault during a UFO chase or...?"
Except, everything points to the UFO, or UFOs, being identified as aircraft or the partially deflated balloon. There is no UFO in the classic sense involved in this case. The cause of the accident is the malfunctioning fire warning light and the only thing not explained is the sensation of extreme heat in the cockpit that suggested to the pilot, along with the warning light, that the aircraft was on fire.
This is a tragic accident that resulted in the deaths of four civilians on the ground. The Air Force got this one right. It isn’t a UFO case, but an aircraft accident.