Friday, September 01, 2006

Disappearing Aircraft Part 2 - Kinross

When I had the chance, back in 1976, to look at the then recently declassified Project Blue Book files, one of the first cases I asked to see was that on the disappearance of an F-89 over Lake Superior on November 23, 1953. This was the story of a jet, scrambled into a stormy night to identify a UFO detected by radar. Those watching the intercept on radar saw the blip of the fighter merge with that of the UFO and then the single blip disappear from the scope. The fighter was never seen again and the two officers on board, Felix Moncla, Jr., and Robert R. Wilson were gone.

No one was sure what happened. By coincidence, earlier in the day, an F-89 from the same squadron had crashed near Madison Wisconsin, killing both pilots. They had been testing the afterburners and the test seemed to go fine. Not long after that witnesses reported they heard an explosion and the jet crashed into a swamp. It was a bad day for a unit that wasn’t involved in combat operations. No one is quite sure what happened there either, though both Donald Keyhoe and Frank Edwards speculated that flying saucers might have been involved (which makes for a great tale but doesn’t appear to be true).

But the case that I wanted to see when I had the first chance was that of Moncla and Wilson. When I was given the file, I was surprised. It contained two sheets of paper. One was a note explaining that the case was not a UFO sighting but an aircraft accident and the other was the page proof from a debunking book on UFOs. Neither was much help but they certainly provided a glimpse into the Air Force mind set in 1953.

What we know is this. On the evening of November 23, about six hours after the crash near Madison, radar at Truax Air Force Base picked up an unidentified blip over the Soo Locks in restricted airspace. Since it was unidentified, an interceptor was scrambled. Ground radar vectored the jet toward the UFO. Wilson said that he was unable to find the object on his radar, so the ground radars continued to vector the jet toward the object that had seemed to be hovering but was beginning to accelerate as it headed out over the lake.

For nine minutes the chase continued with Moncla able to gain slightly on the UFO and Wilson finally able to get a fix on it. The gap between the jet and the UFO narrowed, closed and then merged as Moncla caught the UFO.

At first no one was concerned because the ground radar had no high-finding capability and it was possible the jet had flown over or under the object but the blips didn’t separate. They hung together and then the lone blip flashed off the screen. The jet, apparently, was gone.

Attempts to reach Moncla failed. Radar operators called for Search and Rescue, providing the last known position of the jet. Through the night they continued to search, later joined by the Canadians. They found nothing. They found no clue about the fate of the jet or the crew. No wreckage and no sign that the crew had bailed out.

An early edition of the Chicago Tribune carried a story about the accident with the radar operator’s opinion that the jet had hit something. While the search continued, the Air Force moved to suppress the idea that the jet had hit anything.
Although a well-coordinated search was conducted, and everyone thought they knew where the jet had been because of the radar tracking, they never found anything. There was no wreckage, no oil slick, no bodies, nothing. The last trace of the jet had been when the two radar blips merged.

In the years that followed the Air Force offered a variety of answers for the accident. They claimed the radar operators had misread the scope and that Moncla had actually been chasing a Canadian DC-3. After Moncla had caught and identified it, he turned, only to have something happen then. Something so swift that he had time to neither report the identity of the unidentified blip or suggest the nature of the his sudden problem.

The Canadians quickly denied the jet had hit one of their aircraft, but the Air Force, for about a year, stuck to the DC-3 story until, finally, changing it to an RCAF jet. The Canadians, quite naturally, denied this, too. The Air Force later suggested that Moncla’s jet exploded at high altitude (which given what had happened earlier in the day wasn’t all that far out of line). That sort of an accident should have left wreckage scattered over the surface of the lake, but nothing was found.

The Air Force officers who were stationed at Truax in 1953 had their own theories. I talked to a lieutenant colonel (yes, I know exactly who the lieutenant colonel is, but given the way things operate in today’s environment, I’m not inclined to publish his name... I will reveal it to researchers who have a genuine interest in the case) who verified that the jet disappeared and that the search failed to find anything. He told me there were two schools of thought about what happened. "One group thought the plane had gone straight into the lake. If it didn’t break up, there would have been no oil slick or wreckage. That’s entirely possible. The other school thought that Moncla had been ‘taken’ by the UFO."

Not long after Moncla and Wilson disappeared, according to the lieutenant colonel, two jets found themselves paced by a large, bright UFO. They went through a series of turns and banks to make sure the UFO was not some bizarre reflection on the canopy or other optical illusion. Then, knowing what had happened to Moncla and Wilson, the flight leader called the break and both aircraft turned into the UFO. It hesitated for an instant and then flashed from sight. The lieutenant colonel, who had been there, told me that the pilots had, as regulations demanded, made a report to Project Blue Book. When I searched the Blue Book files, I could find no indication of this report. The lieutenant colonel said that he was surprised that no report could be found.

Some fifteen years after the disappearance, according to the Sault Daily Star two prospectors found aircraft parts, including a tail section, on the eastern shore of Lake Superior. The paper quoted Air Force sources saying the parts belonged to "a high performance military jet aircraft." Speculation was that the wreckage as from the missing F-89.

So that’s where the mystery stood for more than fifty years. What became known as the Kinross Incident puzzled researchers and while it didn’t prove UFOs were hostile, it certainly suggested they were dangerous. Neither the jet nor the missing airmen had been found.

Now, an outfit known as Great Lake Dive Company claims they have found the wreckage of the aircraft sitting on the bottom of Lake Superior in about 500 feet of water. On their website, is a photograph of an aircraft that could be the missing jet. It is in surprisingly good shape considering having crashed into the lake.

If this is the missing jet, then one question has been answered. We will know what happened to the aircraft. If Great Lake Dive succeeds in getting down to the aircraft and can verify that it is the missing jet, then they might be able to suggest something about the fate of the two men on board.

There are some, inside the UFO community, who caution that we should wait for more information. Finding the wreckage of an aircraft that could be an F-89 doesn’t automatically mean that it was the one flown by Moncla and Wilson, though the wreckage on the bottom seems to be missing the same pieces that were found in 1968. Even that doesn’t prove it was the jet flown by Moncla and Wilson. What we have here is the possible solution to a mystery. All we need is a little patience, along with a little more information.


Arcturus said...

I would like to echo what the poster above asked... also, the "Great Lakes Dive Company" website is apparently no longer in service. Linda Moulton Howe is doing some interesting work on this subject. Were you planning on following up?

alpharatz said...

Anybody know what the war load on an F-89 alert bird would have been?