On April 24, 1964, Lonnie Zamora, a police officer in Socorro, New Mexico, spotted a landed object and two small humanoids standing near it. According to the Project Blue Book files, Zamora was chasing a speeder when he heard a loud roar and saw a flash of light in the southwestern sky. Fearing that a dynamite shed on the edge of town might have exploded; Zamora broke off the chase and headed in that direction.
As he approached an arroyo, he saw what he first thought was an overturned car. He stopped his patrol car and saw, near the object, “two people in white coveralls…”
Blue Book files recorded the story and Captain (later lieutenant colonel) Hector Quintanilla, provided a perspective on this situation from the Air Force point of view. As the chief of Blue Book at the time, he not only had access to all the classified files but he was running the Project Blue Book investigation of the particular case personally. Quintanilla in his unpublished book about UFOs, wrote:
All hell broke loose on April 24, 1964, and I started smoking again. On that date at approximately 17:45 hours, at Socorro, New Mexico, police officer Lonnie Zamora was headed south chasing a speeding automobile when he suddenly heard a roar and saw a flame in the sky to the southwest. He decided to let the speeder go in favor of investigating the flame, because he knew there was a dynamite shack in the area and it might have blown up. He turned onto a gravel road that led by the shack.
As he was driving slowly along the road, Zamora saw above a steep hill just ahead a funnel-shaped flame, bluish and sort of orange. The base of the flame was hidden behind the hill, there was no smoke connected with the flame. He had trouble getting the car to the top of the hill because of loose gravel; he had to try three times before he made it. As he reached the top of the hill, he saw a shiny object to the south, this side of the dynamite shack, about 150 to 200 yards away.
It was off the road to the left in the arroyo, and at first glance it looked like a car turned over, but when he drove closer it appeared to be aluminum clay, not chrome, and oval-shaped like a football. Zamora drove about fifty feet along the hill crest, radioing back to the sheriff’s office, “10-44 (accident), I’ll be 10-6 (busy out of the car), checking a wreck down in the arroyo”. From this point, seated in the car, he could not see the object over the edge of the hill. As he stopped the car, he was still talking on the radio, and while he was getting out he dropped his mike. He picked it up and put it back and started down towards the object.
Just then he heard a very loud roar, not exactly like a blast, but also not steady like a jet engine. It was of low frequency at first and then became higher. At the same time he saw a light blue flame, sort of orange at the bottom. Zamora believed the flame came from the underside of the object; he could see no smoke but he did see some dust in the vicinity. He panicked, thinking the object was going to blow up. The following is his report of what he experienced (with slight rearrangements for the sake of clarity) [parenthetical statement in original].
As soon as I saw flame and heard roar…ran away from object but did turn head towards object. Object was in shape [sic]. It was smooth—no windows or doors. As roar started, it was still on the ground.
Noted red lettering of some type like______________________. Insignia was about two and one half inches high and about two inches wide, I guess. Was in the middle of object, like ______________. Object still like aluminum white.
(Running), bumped leg on car back fender area. Car facing southwest…fell by can [sic] and (sun) glasses fell off, kept running to north, with car between me and object…rose to about level of car, about twenty to twenty-five feet, guess. Took I guess, about six seconds when object started to rise and I glanced back… it appeared about directly over the place where it rose from.
I was still running… (then) about fifty feet from car. I ducked down, just over edge of hill…I stopped because I did not hear the roar. I was scared of the roar, and I had planned to continue running down the hill. I turned around toward the object and at the same time put my head toward ground, covering my face with my arms…when the roar stopped, heard a sharp tone whine and the whine lasted maybe a second. Then there was complete silence about the object.
That’s when I lifted up my head and saw the object going away from me…in a southwestern direction…It did not come any closer to me. It appeared to go in straight line and at same height—possibly ten to fifteen feet from ground, and it cleared the dynamite shack by about three feet. Shack about eight feet high. Object was traveling west fast. It seemed to rise up and take off immediately across country.
I ran back to my car and as I ran back, I kept an eye on the object. I picked up my …sunglasses, got into the car, and radioed to Nep Lopes, radio operator, to look out the window to see if he could see an object. He asked, “What is it?” I answered, “It looks like a
balloon”. I don’t know if he saw it. If Nep looked out his window, which faces north, he couldn’t see it. I did not tell him at the moment which window to look out of.
As I was calling Nep, I could still see object. The object seemed to lift up slowly, and to get small in the distance very fast. It seemed to just clear the Box Canyon or Mile Canyon Mountain. It disappeared as it went over the mountain. It had no flame whatsoever as it was traveling over the ground, and no smoke or noise.
Feeling in good health. Las drink—two or three beers over a month ago. Noted no odors. Noted no sounds other than described. Gave direction to Nep Lopes at radio and to Sergeant Chaves (of New Mexico State Police at Socorro) to get there. Went down to where
the object had been, and I noted the brush was burning in several places.—I got my pen and drew a picture of the insignia on the object.
Then Sgt. Chaves came up, asked me what the trouble was because I was sweating and he told me that I was white, very pale. I asked the Sgt. To see what I saw and that was the burning brush. Then Sgt. Chaves and I went down to the spot and Sgt. Chaves pointed out the tracks.
When I first saw the object (when I thought it might be a car) I saw what appeared to be two legs of some type from the object to the ground. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to…the two legs. The two legs were at the bottom of the object, slanted outwards to
the ground. The object might have been about three and a half feet from the ground at the time…
Lonnie Zamora experienced an event which left quite an impression on him. He was a serious officer, a pillar of his church, and a man well versed in recognizing airborne vehicles in his area. He was puzzled by what he saw, and frankly, so am I [emphasis added]. And yet, I’ve always had some doubt about this case, even though it is the best documented case on record. In spite of the fact that I conducted the most thorough investigation that was humanly possible, the vehicle or stimulus that scared Zamora to the point of panic has never been found.
During the course of the investigation and immediately thereafter, everything that was possible to verify was checked. The communications media must have been waiting for a case like this, because immediately after Zamora reported his sighting all hell broke loose. The telephone at my house was ringing off the hook. I went to my office so that I could direct the investigation from there and at the same time contact Kirtland, Holloman, and White Sands via our telephone communications system. As I walked into our building, and turned into the hallway towards my office, I could hear the telephone ringing, ringing, ringing. The operator informed me that I had ten or twelve calls waiting for me. I decided not to accept the calls until after I had talked with my UFO investigating officer at Kirtland. Major Connor was my primary investigator at Kirtland, but he was inexperienced.
Fortunately, my chief analyst, Sgt. David Moody was on temporary duty at Kirtland. I asked Major Connor to get in touch with him and for Moody to get in touch with me regardless of the hour. It was hours before the investigation could be organized and on its way. A Geiger counter had to be found and the base photographer had to be called. The staff car, which had been provided for the
investigation, had a flat tire midway between Albuquerque and Socorro. Socorro is located fifty-five miles south of Kirtland Air Force Base.
The Stallion Range Officer had already conducted a preliminary investigation and had also interviewed Zamora. This information was turned over to the Air Force investigators as soon as they began their interview with Zamora.
Connor and Moody kept in touch with me and provided me with good information, but there was nothing from which we could draw a definite conclusion or a decent evaluation. The news media was on SAFOI’s back and SAFOI was on my back. I didn’t have any idea as to what Zamora saw and reported, but by God, I was going to find it. Because of the pressure from the news media, I decided to send Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Project Blue Book consultant, to Kirtland to help with the investigation. I felt that Hynek could concentrate on Socorro while Connor and Moody could check all other activity at the other bases in New Mexico.
In the meantime, Marilyn Beumer Stancombe, my secretary, and I began checking for some sort of positive activity. Radiation had been checked by Connor and Moody and the readings were negative. I checked the Holloman AFB Balloon Control Center for balloon activity. All local weather stations and Air Force bases in New Mexico were checked for release of weather balloons. Helicopter activity was checked throughout the state. Government and private aircraft were checked. The reconnaissance division in the Pentagon was checked. I checked with the immigration division hoping they might help. Finally, I was at my wits end, so I told Marilyn, “Get me the White House Command Post”. She looked at me with those beautiful blue eyes of hers like I was nuts. I said, “Yes, Marilyn, the White House Command Post”.
She never asked me a question, she just started dialing. I was afraid she would ask me how she could reach them, but she didn’t. It took her five or six calls, but she got me the Command Post. A Major General answered and I explained to him my situation. He was very sympathetic, but off hand he couldn’t recall any type of activity in my area of interest. However, he’d check and call me back.
Fifteen minutes later the General called back and told me that the only activity which he had was some U-2 flights. That was no help, so I thanked him for his cooperation and put my thinking cap on again.
It took days for us to check all of these agencies and activities. I finally received Dr. Hynek’s report; it was one of his typical reports which contained few technical details and added practically nothing to what had already been submitted by Connor and Moody. Actually, Hynek added very little to the investigation, however, his typical press interviews added more flame to the fire. The more press coverage the sightings got, the greater the number of sightings which were reported throughout New Mexico.
I was determined to solve the case and come hell or high water I was going to find the vehicle or the stimulus. I decided that it was imperative for me to talk to the Base Commander at Holloman AFB. I wanted to interview the Base Commander at length about special activities from his base. I needed help to pull this off, so I called Lt. Col. Maston Jacks at SAFOI. I told him what I wanted to do and he asked, “Do you think it will do any good?” I replied, “God damned it Maston, if there is an answer to this case it has to be in some hanger at Holloman”. He went to work from his position at the Pentagon and the approval for my visit came through. Colonel Garman was the Base Commander during my visit. He was most cooperative and told me that I could go anywhere and visit any activity which interested me. I went from one end of the base to the other. I spent four days talking to everybody I could and spent almost a whole day with the down-range controllers at the White Sands Missile Range. I left Holloman dejected and convinced that the answer to Zamora’s experience did not originate and terminate at that base.
On my way back to Wright-Patterson, I hit upon an idea. Why not a lunar landing vehicle? I knew that some research had been done at Wright-Patterson; so as soon as I got back I asked for some briefings. The briefings were extremely informative, but the Lunar Landers were not operational in April 1964. I got the names of the companies that were doing research in this field and I started writing letters. The companies were most cooperative, but their answers were all negative.
It was now time for me to pass judgment on the case after a careful review of all the information at hand. I hate to use the word “judgment”, but that is exactly what it boils down to. As President Truman used to say, “The buck stops here”, and in the world of UFO’s my desk was the end of the line. It was time for the Air Force to make a formal decision on the sighting of Socorro, New Mexico. I reviewed the Air Force Materials Laboratory Analysis of the soil samples which were gathered at the alleged landing area. Conclusion: no foreign residue. Laboratory analysis of the burned brush revealed no chemicals that could have been propellant residue. Radiation was normal for the alleged landing area and for the surrounding area. There was no unusual meteorological activity, no thunderstorms; the weather was windy, but clear. Although we made an extensive search for other witnesses, none could be located. There were no unidentified helicopters or aircraft in the area. Radar installations at Holloman AFB and at Albuquerque observed no unusual blips, but the down-range Holloman MTI (Moving Target Indicator) Radar, closest to Socorro, had been closed down for the day at 1600 hours. All the findings and conclusions were negative. The object was traveling at approximately 120 miles per hour when it disappeared over the mountains according to Zamora’s best estimate.
I labeled the case “Unidentified” and the UFO buffs and hobby clubs had themselves a field day. According to them, here was proof that our beloved planet had been visited by an extraterrestrial vehicle. Although I labeled the case “Unidentified” I’ve never been satisfied with that classification.
Zamora apparently wasn’t the only witness to the craft. The Blue Book files provide indications of additional witnesses. Opal Grinder, owner of a Socorro service station reported that a tourist had said something about jets flying very low over the town. That tourist has never been found and interviewed so any description of the craft and the incident is second hand at best. It might have provided some important corroboration for the case if the man and his family could have been located. As it is, it is simply an
interesting anecdote with little value as evidence.
|One of the landing gear impressions. Photo|
courtesy of the USAF.
There are, however, two other witnesses who have been named and have been interviewed by reporters and UFO investigators. According to an article published in the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald on Wednesday, April 29, 1964, Paul Kries, who was 24 and Larry Kratzer who was 26, had been in Socorro the previous Friday when the object took off. They had been traveling along the highway.
Kratzer told the reporter, “We saw some brown dust, then black smoke – like rubber burning – then a fire. The smoke hid the shiny craft as it flew away.”
Then they began to talk about things they couldn’t have seen, but might have heard on the news or read in the newspapers. Remember, they were talking some five days later, after there had been a great deal published and broadcast about the sighting including the CBS Evening News.
Kries said that federal agents had cordoned the area and that government sources had denied they had anything like the observed craft near Socorro. Kries also said that there were four depressions, about twelve feet apart, left by the object. He also claimed that there was a large burned patch on the desert and that the exhaust had melted a pop bottle when it took off. Neither of these things is true.
Sometime later, an Iowa UFO researcher, Ralph DeGraw interviewed the two men, but he was not impressed with their story. He said that it seemed to be in conflict with what Zamora had described. He believed their testimony was not trustworthy.
The descriptions offered by Kries and Kratzer, of what was found on the landing site seemed to imply that they had been there and seen it. They suggest the area was condoned, which could be suggested by the police officers and police cars parked around it. They talked about the landing traces left by the craft as it took off, implying they had seen that as well.
However, there is no evidence that any civilians were on the scene that night. Almost all the testimony that was offered by Zamora, Sergeant Sam Chavez of the New Mexico State Police, FBI agent Bynes and Army Captain Richard Holder and some later filtered through Col. Eric Jonckheere seemed to suggest no civilians there, though it is possible that some of the military men might have been in civilian clothes. The descriptions given by those who were there is based on the documentation available in the Blue Book files differs from what Kries and Kratzer said.
Their description of the landing marks were nothing that new. It could have been picked up by anyone who had watched the story unfold for the last couple of days and they didn’t say anything until a week or so have passed. There had been plenty of stories about what was seen on the alleged landing site.
While it would be nice to have additional witnesses to the case, and these two men claim to have been on the scene, there are many problems with them. Had they left it with having seen something in the sky, as they drove by, it would be one thing, but it seems they were suggesting they were at the landing site. It might be the way the story was written, or it might have been they incorporated the additional information they read in the various newspaper accounts without thought about ramifications. They might just have been trying to give the reporter the impression of something other worldly, but it is clear from the evidence found in the Blue Book files that neither of these men had walked the field.
In the end, the Air Force which is to say Quintanilla listed the case as an “unidentified.” Quintanilla said that he didn’t like that solution, or more properly the label he had applied to it, probably because it would delight those who believed that some UFOs represented alien visitation. As he said about the case later, “Although I labeled the case ‘Unidentified’ I’ve never been satisfied with that classification.”
This then is what I think of as a fairly neutral representation of what happened in Socorro because I draw heavily on the obviously biased account presented in both the Blue Book files and that written by Quintanilla himself. Had he had any solution to provide, no matter how off the wall, he would have provided it.
Over the last couple of years I have written about this case a few times. Once to expose the Phil Klass ridiculous suggestion that it was a hoax created by the mayor to make some money. Klass expanded on this notion and unfortunately others, in the interest of seeming to be unbiased reported the story. It wasn’t true. This tale and others can be found here:
I have also attempted to append the various comments made to the Best UFO Cases posting that sort started this latest discussion. To do that I have had to copy them all and repost them which, unfortunately, puts them under my name… I will attempt to get the name of the author of the posts placed with them but if I fail, please don’t accuse me of plagiarism even though that is a hot topic at the moment.