Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sheridan Cavitt and the Roswell Crash

We have seen Jesse Marcel, Sr. beat up over the interview that he gave to Bob Pratt of the National Enquirer. We have seen every remark he made scrutinized for every nuance, every misstatement that can be turned into a lie, and every flaw in his record turned into a reason not to believe him.

On the other side of the aisle, we see Sheridan Cavitt as the poster boy for the balloon theory. Cavitt, who made many statements about his involvement, or lack of involvement, seems to have received a pass on this. So, let’s look at the record.

My first interview with Cavitt was held on January 29,1990 while Cavitt and his wife Mary stayed in Sierra Vista, Arizona. They had rented a small apartment there to get away from the weather in Sequim, Washington where they lived the rest of the year. Cavitt was cordial but careful in what he said. He made it clear that he had not been involved in any balloon retrievals, that he had no time for that sort of nonsense, and in fact, hinted that he hadn’t even been in Roswell at the time, so it couldn’t have been him.

He did say that if he had written a report, it would have gone to Washington and not to the 8th Air Force, parent organization of the 509th Bomb Group. This makes sense to me because Cavitt was with the Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC) and his chain of command ran through them and not the 509th.

He said that witnesses who put him on the crash site were wrong and asked me why I thought they would say that. I thought at the time because he was there, but I didn’t say that. I would later learn that I was right.

During that interview, he was only nervous once and that was when we began talking about the bodies. He looked at me, leaned forward and picked up a magazine, sat back, tossed the magazine to the table and asked "Bill Rickett tell you that?"

Lewis "Bill" Rickett (seen at the left) was the non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the CIC office in Roswell in July 1947. Cavitt worked closely with him.

When I said, "No," Cavitt visibly relaxed.

I saw him again in 1993, when Don Schmitt and I visited him at his home in Washington. He told us that he had been sent to Roswell on Special Order No. 121, dated 11 June 1947. He was given a five day delay in route. He claimed not to have been physically present at Roswell in early July, 1947, so he could not have been involved in the retrieval. That, we would learn later was not accurate.

During the interview held on March 27, 1993, Cavitt again said that he had not gone out to the Brazel ranch. We talked about that for a while and then Cavitt asked, "Are you guys convinced that I wasn’t there."

Mary Cavitt said, "If he had been way overnight, at that time... I would for sure remember it."

I mentioned that there were some problems with the Marcel testimony, meaning the things that Pratt had reported.

Cavitt said, "You better believe that. He [Marcel] says I was out there is his biggest problem."

But then, as we continued to talk with Cavitt, he made it clear that he was, in fact, in Roswell at the right time. He had just arrived, or was about to arrive, depending on the date of the crash and his mood at the moment. His wife had arrived on July 2, after a wedding in Oregon and Cavitt was supposed to have arrived a day or so after that.

The last personal interview with Cavitt took place on June 25, 1994, just weeks after Colonel Richard Weaver had been there for the Air Force investigation of Roswell. We covered much of the same ground. I mention that Marcel had identified him as the one who went out to the site. That Marcel had described him as "a good west Texas boy from San Angelo."

Cavitt said, "Sort of nails me, doesn’t it?" But he would go no further, and even though Weaver had identified him as the man who had gone out with Marcel, and that interview would be published, Cavitt still tried to make us believe that he had not participated in the event. This despite what Marcel said and what Rickett said.

What all this boils down to is that Cavitt said he wasn’t in Roswell at the time of the recovery, that he was there but that he didn’t go out, he didn’t go out with Marcel, that he was involved in no recoveries of balloon debris, he wasn’t gone overnight, and he doesn’t know why he was cast into this role.

It is, you might say, Cavitt’s word against Marcel, and if you are in the debunker camp, you naturally fall on the side of Cavitt. He was just a good officer, doing his duty, at that time the only living witness according to the story, of what happened at the Brazel (Foster) ranch. So, who do you believe?

To answer that, let’s take a look at Cavitt’s testimony to Colonel Weaver, who visited him in 1995. That interview was published in Air Force produced, The Roswell Report: Fact vs Fiction in the New Mexico Desert (and we’ll see who wrote the fiction as we try to sort through all of this).

Remember that Cavitt told me, on tape and in other conversations that he had not participated in any balloon recoveries (Storm clouds over a portion of the debris field in 1989). Remember also, he was quite clear that he had not gone out with Marcel. That he wished Marcel hadn’t named him. He said, "You better believe that. He says I was out there is his biggest problem."

Now, here is what he told Weaver. "Well, there again I couldn’t swear to the dates, but in that time, which must have been July, we heard that someone had found some debris out not to far from Roswell and it looked suspicious; it was unidentified. So, I went out and I do not recall whether Marcel went with Rickett and me; I had Rickett with me. We went out to his site. There were no, as I understand, checkpoints or anything like that (going through guards and that sort of garbage) we went out there and we found it. It was a small amount of, as I recall, bamboo sticks, reflective sort of material that would, well at first glance, you would probably think it was aluminum foil, something of that type. And we gathered up some of it. I don’t know where we even tried to get all of it. It wasn’t scattered, well, what I would call, you know, extensively. Like it didn’t go along the ground and splatter off some here and some there. We gathered up some of it and took it back to the base and I remember I had turned it over to Marcel. As I say, I do not remember whether Marcel was there or not on the site. He could have been. We took it back to the intelligence room... in the CIC office."

So, here we now have Cavitt saying that he had gone out on a balloon recovery, that he might have gone out with Marcel, but he wasn’t sure, that he was involved in the recovery in early July, and that he might have turned over some of the recovered material to Marcel.

Weaver’s next question was, "What do you think it was when you recovered it?"

"I thought it was a weather balloon."

So Cavitt was able to identify it immediately. To me, Weaver’s next question, given the history of the case, should have been, "Did you communicate this rather important piece of information to Marcel?"

Instead, he asked, "Were you familiar with weather balloons at the time?"

And Cavitt said, "I had seen them."

It has always been an article of faith that the Mogul balloon array was unusual enough that it could stump the people who found it (One of the arrays seen at the left). Because it wasn’t a single balloon, but many, with many radar reflectors and long strings connecting everything, people who were familiar with weather balloons might not recognize them as such. But Cavitt claimed that he did. More importantly, he didn’t bother to tell Marcel what it was.

What we now know is that Marcel said that Cavitt had gone out there with him, but Cavitt had made it clear that he had not. We know that Marcel was right on that point, given Cavitt’s new information that Marcel might have been with him. It isn’t Marcel vs Cavitt here, but Cavitt vs Cavitt.

We can go further. Remember Cavitt said, "There were no, as I understand, checkpoints or anything like that (going through guards and that sort of garbage) we went out there and we found it."

Cavitt said he was with Rickett. Here is what Rickett said about that in a taped interview conducted by Don Schmitt, "I [meaning Rickett], Marcel went back out there that same afternoon. This time they had some security people from the Provost Marshal’s office out there."

Just so we have this straight, because it could be argued that Cavitt had not seen the security out there because it was put there after he had been in the field, Rickett said, "Cavitt and I came back together and I’m not sure if Marcel came with us... it was being protected..." So, Rickett was out there more than once, he was with Cavitt on, at least one of those trips, and Rickett saw the guards.
Later, to confirm this, Rickett said, "On the road we drove on, [there were] MP s standing there..."

The argument here is between Rickett and Cavitt. Cavitt said no guards and Rickett said guards. Others, such as Judd Roberts, William Woody and even C. Bertram Schultz said there were checkpoints along the dirt roads leading off the main highways to the north and west. This means that Cavitt was wrong on that point as well.

If we look at his description of the debris that he claimed he picked up, we find that it doesn’t match Project Mogul. There weren’t bamboo sticks in it. Balsa wood, yes. His description of the crash site matches no one else, including that supplied by Bessie Brazel, daughter of Mack, and who told investigators what she, her father and her brother Vernon, had seen. She also said that they picked up the debris so there was nothing in the field for Cavitt to see. But that is something to examine in another post.

What this means is that the testimony given by Cavitt is not very reliable. Clearly he was saying to Weaver what Weaver wanted him to say. Clearly, he was telling me things that were not consistent and that have since been proven false. He even proved to me that his statement that he wasn’t in Roswell was wrong because he showed me copies of his orders assigning him there.

This means that we must look at the statements provided by Cavitt and compare them with the statements of others. Do they fit into the picture, or it is Cavitt standing alone, making statements that are not corroborated by others. With Cavitt, even the man who worked directly under him, is contradicting him and as I noted, Cavitt doesn’t even agree with Cavitt.

While this doesn’t prove that Roswell involved extraterrestrial contact, it does show the extraordinary effort the Air Force went to in 1947 and later in 1994 to prove that it was just a weather balloon (yes, but Mogul was made up of weather balloons). And it shows that the testimony of Sheridan Cavitt, like so many others, isn’t completely reliable.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Don Ecker Quits Ufology

In the last several days, I have been asked, repeatedly, for a web address where those interested can read Don's long article about his quitting UFO research. The article is in PDF format and can be accessed at:

Those who wish to comment can certainly do so here. Don Ecker does look at this blog. We talked about putting up this link and it was he who supplied the information.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

More Roswell Debris?

Ten years ago, on the anniversary of the Roswell UFO crash, the talk of the festival (when not consumed with the nonsense spouted by Lieutenant Colonel Philip Corso) was a piece of metallic debris that had been subjected to chemical analysis and testing by a credentialed scientist. This debris, if it could be linked to the Roswell UFO crash, and we were assured that the chain of custody existed to do that, and if the analysis was accurate, would provide proof that the UFO was an extraterrestrial craft. There was no longer any reason for speculation.

Dr. Russell VernonClark (yes, the last name is spelled that way, run together) was hustled into Roswell for his morning presentation to a packed auditorium that was also well attended by members of the media. If what had been analyzed was an actual artifact from another world, as VernonClark said, then this was big news. Certainly the biggest in the last thousand years.

VernonClark, in his presentation said, "The atomic mass so differs from that found in known earthly elements, that it is impossible for it to be from Earth."

That would mean, of course, that it was of extraterrestrial manufacture. It would mean that an alien race had visited Earth and the evidence they left behind was now in the hands of investigators and scientists. VernonClark did not equivocate. He was definite about the meaning of his findings.

VernonClark was talking of the isotopic ratios that were not found naturally in Earth-based elements. It meant that the isotopes had to come from an outside source and that meant someone had brought them here from another world or so he concluded.

VernonClark, escorted into Roswell by UFO researcher Derrell Simms, having made his announcement, then fled from the auditorium. Some say they ran out the back door to a waiting car to get them out of town. At that point VernonClark was no longer available for questions.

Paul Davids, the executive producer of the ShowTime original movie, Roswell, took the stage to provide additional information about the artifact, but did not fulfill the promise to produce the chain of custody. Although the artifact supposedly was offered by a relative of the man who picked it up on the crash site, no name was given, no affidavit presented, and no way of checking the accuracy of the information about the discovery of the artifact was provided. In other words, we were required to take the information on faith and wait for further announcements.

There was no back up for the testing presented, although it was alleged that such additional and independent testing had taken place. Davids said it had been done but wouldn’t say by whom. He said, "This is so controversial that men’s reputations have been ruined over their seriously making conclusions."

A nice way to dodge the question and not provide the confirming evidence. Unfortunately, there is also a ring of truth in it. Credentialed people who have come out supporting an aspect of the UFO phenomena have found themselves on the short side of the debate. Dr. James MacDonald and his trouble springs to mind here.

Paul said that he wouldn’t explain who had the artifact, nor would he say how he could be sure that the artifact came from Roswell, though such a promise had been made. All he would say was that someone had given the artifact to Simms.

So it boils down to the testing of the artifact and what could be learned from it. Even if the debris hadn’t come from the Roswell UFO crash, the artifact itself seemed to scream extraterrestrial manufacture and that would still be big news even if it couldn’t be linked to the Roswell case. VernonClark had made it clear that his research had shown the artifact to be alien.

Other scientists, when contacted by reporters, said that the isotopic ratios described by VernonClark, while not natural, could easily be produced in an university laboratory. In other words, the artifact didn’t necessarily have to be alien.

In an article published by the Albuquerque Journal, reporter John Fleck quoted a number of scientists who disagreed with VernonClark’s conclusions. One of them, a University of Kentucky chemist Rob Toreki said, "You can do it here."

He meant that you could manipulate the isotopic ratios. And VernonClark eventually said the same thing. In a telephone conversation with me, he said it could be done so that the isotopic ratios, while not naturally occurring, could be produced in a lab. He added that it was an expensive proposition.

Other scientists suggested there were huge mistakes made in the original testing. They pointed out that one of the elements, Germanium-75, a radioactive isotope has a very short half-life and would decay into other elements in less than a day.

So where are we on this? First, there is no chain of custody that leads us to the Roswell crash site and therefore there is no provenance. We can’t say with any degree of certainty that the material came from the Roswell crash and without that we are left with an interesting anomaly that might not be connected to the Roswell case at all.

Second, the analysis seems to be flawed. The suggestion that the isotopic ratios are not naturally occurring leads to the conclusion that this artifact was manufactured but not to the extraterrestrial. Chemists and scientists say that all this can be created in a lab, and while a few suggest it would be expensive and difficult, others say that it is not. More importantly we then have VernonClark who tells us that he might have overstated the case and the it was possible to construct the material on Earth, effectively wiping away the extraterrestrial and extraordinary in this case.

And finally, and possibly most importantly, there is no follow up on this. I was in the auditorium when VernonClark made his announcement and I saw the reporters reactions. They were very interested, especially when they were promised the information to confirm the chain of custody and the results of additional, independent testing.

But that didn’t happen and I saw their reaction to that as well. If you are going to make an extraordinary claim, then you had better be prepared to provide the confirming evidence. And when you withhold that and other scientists do not agree with the conclusions you put forward, then you have lost your audience. Yes, they were very interested until they could not corroborate anything about the artifact.

The real proof here is that there has been no follow up. If this artifact was as extraordinary as claimed, then some of those dozens of reporters would have been following up on it. Even if the chain of custody couldn’t establish it as a piece of material from the Roswell UFO crash, it would still be an alien artifact and that would be a worldwide sensation.

When that last conclusion faded, the reporters lost interest. In the ten years to follow, there has been nothing more about this. No reports from other labs. No reports from the person who picked up the debris or the family or friends to establish the chain of custody and no new reports about the alien properties of the metal. It has become nothing more than an interesting footnote to the Roswell case and that’s it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Don Ecker Quits UFO Research

Word has reached me, meaning that Don Ecker called me, to tell me that he was quitting the UFO business. He had been around it for more than twenty years and probably a lot longer as an interested party. He served as the Director of Research for the US version of UFO Magazine for a number of years and was key in exposing some of the biggest UFO frauds. Even when the magazine seemed to endorse the ridiculous stories of some claimed witnesses, Don would write companion pieces explaining why he, at least, was not taken with a specific tale.

In a long paper that he published recently, Ecker wrote:

One thing that I’ve discovered being in this field for 20 years is a very simple truth, but a truth that is most profound. Most "researchers" are ignorant of what has happened previously in the field of UFO research. They are ignorant of the claims made in the past, ignorant of past hoaxes perpetrated by "players" in the field and are intolerant of views that conflict with their deep seated erroneous beliefs. Quite frankly, I’ve grown tired of this field.

I’m tired of the media that is blinded by their prejudice about UFOs, their snide and condescending remarks about something that quite frankly they know nothing about. I’m tired of people claiming to be researchers that refuse to accept the truth about something regardless of how many times it jumps up and bites them in the ass. I’m tired of government agencies that continuously lie about a subject that has shown to be something real and even possibly affect our national security … and getting away with it for over 60 years. I’m tired of believers that become upset when their fuzzy illogic is shown to be as full of holes as Swiss Cheese. I’m tired of frauds and clowns in this field that are shown to be frauds and clowns and yet still are treated like they are stars with something important to say. I suppose you could just say I’m tired of all of it.

20 years ago I thought that genuine study, research and investigation might make a difference. Alas!! I was most profoundly wrong! Today (even though I most certainly believe this is a genuine and legitimate subject of study and UFOs must come from somewhere), I have had enough! So, this is my goodbye from the wonderful and wacky field of UFOs. For any of you that, through the years, have found any of my writing on the subject to be of interest … thank you. It has been an up and down thing, this UFO enigma. However, if you are a believer in Bill Cooper, Mel Noel, Billy Meier, Project Serpo, or benevolent ET’s from the Pleiades here to show us a better way … or possibly how to build a better mouse trap … preferably a humane one, I’m sure you will be glad to see my exit … on stage right. So with that in mind I now make my exit. Thanks, because if nothing else … this has been an interesting but frustrating 20 years.

We see that Ecker’s paper tells of his years fighting the nonsense in the field and of the personal toll that sometimes takes. Although he doesn’t point it out specifically, this field, like much found in academia, is contentious, with claims and counterclaims thrown about, allegations of all sorts, and when that fails, then it moves into the legal arena, or more often, threats of legal action with no follow up.

I understand much of what Ecker says. I have been threatened with lawsuits for years and used to count the days in each new year until the first threat of a lawsuit was made. One year it was in early January.

This comes with disagreements and perceived slights. Stan Friedman once complained that in the acknowledgment section of my first book on Roswell, I had given Robert Hastings more lines that I had given him. I mean, who counts the number of lines in an acknowledgment?

But it does demonstrate one of the problems with UFO research and that is the ego of the researcher. We fight with one another in the fashion that O.C. Marsh used to fight with Edward Drinker Cope in the early days of dinosaur hunting. They would lie about their finds, collect specimens and then dynamite the fossil beds so that others couldn’t find them or excavate them and called each other all sorts of names. It did nothing to further the research and hindered it many times. Ufology should look at these "Dinosaur Wars" and try to learn from them.
So, in Ufology, we simply smear those with whom we disagree. I have been labeled, in recent weeks as a liar, poor researcher, incompetent and a fraud. In the past, I have been called a government agent and one misguided person even reported that I had worked with Hector Quintanilla, he once the chief of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, on some kind of recovery team. Of course, when Quintanilla was leading Blue Book, I was in high school, but such facts do nothing to defuse the situation.

To give you a feel for how this works, back in 1988, Don Schmitt, then the Director of Research at the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, invited me to join them in a project about Roswell. They planned to look at the evidence and search for witnesses who might not have been interviewed during the initial research. Remember, Schmitt asked me, because of my military background, to assist them. I agreed.

Imagine my surprise in the mid-1990s, when my partner was telling people that he suspected I was a government agent planted on him. He refused to supply people with my contact information when they asked for it and kept convention bookings for himself, telling the hosts that I wouldn’t be available. This is how it is in Ufology all too often. Partners working at what turns out to be opposite goals.

I can point to other examples but why bother? The story is sad and those who have called convention or lecture sponsors to attempt to steal the bookings know who they are. It can be documented. It has been but then, no one seems to pay attention to these underhanded tactics as long as the researcher says what the people want to hear. Often times the truth gets left behind.

What this demonstrates is simply, as many have said, we eat our young. We turn on one another so that we can move to the top of the heap in a field in which the heap is small and so often ignored. But fight for that top place we do, and this, I think, explains some of what Don Ecker was talking about in his article. He has grown tired of the infighting that benefits no one except the skeptics.

Which leads to another point that Ecker made. He wrote, "One thing that I’ve discovered being in this field for 20 years is a very simple truth, but a truth that is most profound. Most ‘researchers’ are ignorant of what has happened previously in the field of UFO research. They are ignorant of the claims made in the past, ignorant of past hoaxes perpetrated by ‘players’ in the field and are intolerant of views that conflict with their deep seated erroneous beliefs."

The example I think of here is the Mantell case. I believe that most of the old time researchers realize that Captain Thomas Mantell, a transport pilot during the Second World War, and who had just transitioned into fighters in 1947, was killed in a tragic accident. Mantell, asked to attempt to identify an object seen over the Godman Army Air Field at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, died when his F-51 crashed.

We now know, based on the files released by the Air Force, by the statements of those involved, research by Robert Todd, Jerry Clark and a dozen others, that Mantell climbed too high and blacked out due to oxygen starvation. His aircraft, trimmed to climb, continued upward to about 30,000 feet where the torque of the engine and the thin air conspired to pull the aircraft over, into a power dive. The aircraft was seen to begin to break up at about 20,000 feet. Mantell died in the crash.

The object he was chasing was a skyhook balloon which was part of a classified project in 1948. Descriptions released with the declassification of the Project Blue Files seem to confirm this. The answer, tragically, is that Mantell was trying to reach a balloon that was at 80,000 feet, way above him.

Today, we begin to argue about the case again. There are those who believe there was something more here. Mantell was chasing an alien space craft and regardless of the evidence, will not be persuaded otherwise. So, we waste more time and effort on a case, tragic though it was, that is only tangentially connected to UFOs. For those interested in the full treatment of the case see:

and scroll down to the segment about Mantell. All the information is there so that the reader can decide if Mantell was chasing a craft from another world or if he was chasing a balloon.
Ecker continued in this vein, writing:

As most reading this will know, Birne’s [meaning William Birne who is now the publisher of UFO magazine] was co-author with Phil Corso of the blockbuster "The Day After Roswell." However Birne’s is an academic and writer where I was a researcher and investigator. They began allowing previously verboten bullshit spewing airbags into the magazine that in my opinion don’t have a clue nor could they buy a vowel.

So, what are they doing in UFO? Birne’s feels that regardless, all should have a say and then let the public decide. I most strongly disagree with that position. (For example, there is a vocal minority claiming that the NASA Moon landings were done on a studio stage, and the entire Moon Program was a government disinformation program. Should we give these morons a public position in the magazine?) If one strives to be the publication of record in this confusing field, one has to be willing to separate the wheat from the chaff. As I write this paper, the most recent egregious example of slip shod editorial decisions was allowing one wind-bag columnist to revisit one of the biggest hoaxes in recent memory by allowing the inclusion of the ‘Dulce alien base shoot out with U.S. Forces in 1979!’ (With neither Birnes wife especially, or Birnes being aware of the last 20 odd years of UFO history, this type of egregious error is routinely made.) This came from the John Lear/ Paul Bennowitz disinformation all the way back to 1987, and has been effectively shown to be total crap!
Which means that some, unaware of the history of these stories will now accept them because there have been printed again without commentary. The bright spot is that with the Internet, some will try to learn more and will find the controversy that rages, though, in my mind, there is no real controversy. We know, as Ecker said, this is "total crap!"
So, we see that nothing in Ufology changes. We see that old cases are repeated as if newly discovered and that solid explanations are ignored because the mystery is more important than the truth. As some in the news media say, "Why ruin a good story with the facts?"

Don, I at least, am sorry to see you go. Voices of reason are too few in this field and the clouds of deceit and confusion far too many. The commentaries offered by you put some of this into perspective and now we’ve lost that. I hope that, at some point, you’ll return and that we’ll have another voice for reason because, without that, the bad guys win.
(Note: In the latest issue of UFO they only report that both Don and Vicki Ecker have decided to retire from the field...)
The whole of Ecker's article can be seen at:
And a thanks to Don Ecker for forwarding the link.

Water Outside the Solar System

In the 1960s, Frank Drake, he of the original SETI program (Project Ozma), created a formula for deducing the number of planets with intelligent life in the galaxy. It was filled with variables that when the equation was created couldn’t be answered. For example, you plugged in the number of inhabitable planets in the galaxy. At the time, we didn’t know if all stars had planets, some of them, or if the Solar System was a rarity.

To understand Drake’s equation and understand it’s impact, we need to take a look at it. Written out, it looks like this:
N = R* fp ne fl fi fc L

The values for each are:

N = The number of communicative civilizations.

R* = The rate of formation of suitable stars ( such as our Sun)

fp = The fraction of those stars with planets. (Current evidence indicates that planetary systems may be common for stars like the Sun. In fact, planetary systems have been found where astronomers had once believed that they couldn’t.)

ne = The number of Earth-like worlds per planetary system

fl = The fraction of those Earth-like planets where life actually develops

fi = The fraction of those planets on which life develops where intelligence develops

fc = The fraction of communicative planets (those on which communications technology develops that might be something like radio, or something that involves light)

L = The "lifetime" of communicating civilizations

Drake himself seemed to think that the eventual answer was there were about ten thousand worlds in our galaxy that what he called communicative civilization, which means that 10,000 worlds have an industrial civilization that is sufficiently advanced that it could, theoretically communicate with it’s neighbors (An artisits conception of an extrasolar planet courtesy of NASA). Earth would be an example of this.

When Drake first developed his equation, we didn’t know of any planets but the nine in our Solar System (yes, I said nine because in 1960, that was the accepted fact. Now we have eight planets and three dwarf planets, but that doesn’t change the fact that in 1960, Drake only knew of the planets circling our sun). Any attempt to assign a number to the fraction of stars with planets was speculative. I think most believed that most other stars had planetary systems, but the truth is, in 1960, we didn’t know.

Even today, we don’t know of any "real" Earth-like planets among the many extrasolar planets that have been discovered. We might say that most systems would are made up of gas giants that are many times larger than Jupiter. Of course, as scientists refine the process, smaller worlds are being found.

Now comes word of another important discovery that helps polish the Drake Equation. Astronomers believe they had detected water in the atmosphere of one of those extasolar planets. Scientists have believed that many of these huge worlds have water, but this is the first time that it has been detected, according to a report in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal.

HD209458b (which is the planet’s name and that reminds me of the "namebers in Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day) is the first world to be directly observed orbiting a normal star outside the Solar System. It is the first extrasolar planet where oxygen and carbon have been detected in its atmosphere. And now water has been discovered.

Of course, it’s not an Earth-like world. It is only about four million miles from its sun and is so hot that astronomers believe it’s losing about 10,000 tons of material every second as vented gas.

So, HD209458b is not a good candidate for any kind of life, or maybe I should say, any life as we know it. There are creatures on Earth that live in some very extreme climates that would boil or fry most species.

But the point here is that we have been able to understand a little more about the galaxy around us and we have been able to define the terms in the Drake Equation with a little more precision.

This means that the likelihood that other worlds like Earth exist has increased, and that the elements that they we believe are necessary for life exist on, at the very least, one planet outside our Solar System. If that it true, then it becomes more likely that life exists outside of our Solar System and that some of that life would have evolved into intelligence and some of those intelligent creatures evolved before we did. Their advanced civilizations might have been able to solve the problem of interstellar flight and have discovered us.

In other words, this discovery has increased the chances that some UFOs are intelligently controlled vehicles from another world.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Balloon Switch in Ramey's Office

Cruising the blogoshpere the other day, I happened on a site that told me that the Roswell case was basically over and for proof offered the fact that the debris in General Ramey’s (that is Brigadier General Roger Ramey, at the time the commander of the Eighth Air Force) office had not been switched. This was based on an interview that Jaime Shandera had conducted with Colonel Thomas DuBose.

For a little background, let’s review. In July 1947, seven pictures were taken in Ramey’s office of the material brought from Roswell. From the pictures, it’s clear that what Major Jesse Marcel, the Air Intelligence officer is holding, are the remnants of a rawin radar detector, launched by weather services to track winds aloft. In this case, the skeptics have suggested it was part of an array train that was used by the then highly classified Project Mogul.

The point is, if this is truly what Marcel found in the desert, and this is truly the stuff that he brought from New Mexico, then we have solved the mystery. Roswell was a weather balloon and for some bizarre reason neither Marcel nor the commander of the 509th Bomb Group, Colonel William Blanchard were able to recognize it.

But in all things Roswell there is a complication. Colonel Thomas DuBose (seen in an official photograph at the left), the Chief of Staff of the Eighth Air Force, the parent organization to the 509th , and who appears in two of the pictures, said that the real debris was switched and that what was left was the balloon material. If true, then what is in the pictures tells us nothing about what was found in Roswell, and the idea of a cover-up is planted. If it was a balloon, even a top-secret Mogul balloon, there was no need for a switch.

The debate over the events near Roswell have taken several subtle turns in the past and this latest posting is not the first time that these questions have been addressed. For those not familiar with them, arguments from the skeptical community can be convincing. The problem is that many of these arguments are founded, not in research, but in the semantics of the situation. With the debate reopened with the publication of The Truth about the UFO Crash at Roswell and now with that posting in the blogosphere, it is important to understand exactly what is being said. The arguments over the credibility of forty year memories and the events that took place in Brigadier General Roger Ramey's office on July 8, 1947 can be illustrative in attempting to understand this whole situation.

Philip Klass (self described as the smartest, Handsomest and sexiest of the UFO researchers seen at the left), in one of his attempts to undermine the research being done into the Roswell case, has presented theories that can't be substantiated and which, like those on that blog, are only part of the story. He has taken rumor and speculation and attempted to turn it into a thought provoking piece on why the memories of witnesses and the testimonies of those witnesses should be ignored and centered it around Thomas DuBose and what happened in Ramey’s office. But Klass, in writing about this, has ignored the documents and the testimony that fly in the face of his beliefs which, all too often, is the tactic used in debate, but certainly not in scientific research.

Using the disagreements between Jaime Shandera and William Moore and me (as did the recent blogger) as the springboard, Klass writes, "The controversy [about what happened in Ramey’s officer] has served to demonstrate how fragile and uncertain are the 40+ year old recollections of surviving principals -- which is hardly surprising."

Klass continues, writing, "Seven different photos have been located which were taken in Gen. Ramey's office on the late afternoon/early evening of July 8, 1947, and two of them show Ramey and Col. DuBose examining the debris (seen at the left with Ramey kneeling and DuBose in the chair). All photos show the same debris. Moore/Shandera claim this is the same debris recovered by Marcel (Major Jesse A. Marcel) from the Brazel (W.W. Mack Brazel) ranch and that photos show the remains of a crashed saucer. Randle/Schmitt disagree and say the photos show the remains of a balloon-borne radar tracking device which Gen. Ramey substituted for the authentic debris."

To this point, Klass has provided the reader with an accurate account of the situation. The facts, as outlined are correct. However, Klass then makes the assumption that is not true. He writes, "The fact that all seven photos taken in Ramey's office show the same debris challenges the credibility of Maj. Jesse Marcel's 30+ year old recollections which form the cornerstone of the Roswell crashed saucer myth, at least for Moore, Friedman and Shandera."

These facts do not challenge Marcel's recollections, but Moore's reporting of those recollections. That is the subtle, yet real, difference here.

Klass continues, writing, "According to Moore's book [The Roswell Incident], when Marcel (now deceased) was interviewed in the late 1970s, he said that 'one photo (taken in Ramey's office showing Marcel examining the debris) was pieces of the actual stuff we found. It was not a staged photo. Later, they cleared out our wreckage and substituted some of their own. Then they allowed more photos.' Yet all of the photos taken in Ramey's office on July 8, 1947, including two (not one) with Marcel (one of which is seen on the left), clearly show the same debris."

Moore, however, provides us with three versions of that interview, one published in his book, one circulated a couple of years ago, and another in Focus, his now defunct publication.

But we can take this one step farther. Marcel, when shown a copy of one of the photos printed in Moore’s The Roswell Incident, reported, "No. No. That picture was staged. That's not the stuff I brought home."

A disinterested third party, Johnny Mann, reported that. Mann, at the time, worked for a television station in Louisiana and was doing a series on UFO sightings. One of the segments was about Roswell and he interviewed Marcel in New Mexico. His interest was only in learning the truth and is not a party to the so-called dispute. The exchange between Mann and Marcel was witnessed by another man, Julian Krajewski.

In fact, Marcel said as much on audio tape. Linda Corley had a chance to interview Marcel in 1980. During that interview, Marcel told Corley that the photographs did not show the material that he had found on the ranch. They were staged photographs.

The point of the dispute is not Marcel's memory then, but the reporting of his testimony by others. Moore has yet to offer the true version of the statement. We do have testimony, from a variety of witnesses, including those who showed Marcel the pictures that refutes both Moore's claim and Klass' assumption. We should not, then, condemn Marcel's 30+ year memory for facts that come from third parties.

Switching gears, Klass moves on to Colonel DuBose, which addresses the argument in the blogosphere. Klass reports, "In Dec. 1990 issue of Focus, Shandera's article includes what he says are verbatim quotes from two interviews with DuBose -- one by telephone and one in person when he recently visited DuBose at his home in Florida. After asking DuBose if he had read the Moore/Shandera articles that Shandera had earlier sent to him, and if he had 'studied the (Ramey office) pictures', DuBose reportedly replied: 'Yes, and I studied the pictures very carefully.' When Shandera asked if DuBose recognized the material, DuBose reportedly replied: 'Oh yes. That's the material that Marcel brought in to Fort Worth from Roswell.'"

Klass continues, writing, "But Randle and Schmitt got a conflicting response when DuBose was interviewed earlier--on August 10, 1990. The interview was videotaped and hypnosis was later used to try to enhance DuBose's 40+ year old recollections. In this interview, DuBose said that the material photographed in Ramey's office was NOT the debris that Marcel brought, i.e. that bogus material had been substituted. But then Shandera visited DuBose and asked him if there had been a switch, DuBose reportedly replied: 'Oh, bull! That material was never switched.'"

Again, the controversy isn't about 40 year old memories of a witness but about the reporting of those memories by two separate groups. It is interesting that Shandera's reporting is in direct conflict with what was reported first in The Roswell Incident and later by me.

It is also important to point out that according to both General and Mrs. DuBose, Shandera neither recorded the interview nor took notes during the interview in Florida. We have Shandera's unsubstantiated claim (and Klass’s description of the verbatim quotes) that DuBose said the debris in Ramey's office was the real debris, which is consistent with the story that Shandera and Moore were pushing, but that is not consistent with the independent testimony of the witnesses, or with the documentation available.

We have supplied copies of the video-taped interviews to The J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, the MUFON UFO Journal and the Fund for UFO Research. We have quoted exactly from that tape. Shandera and Moore have yet to offer independent and disinterested third parties copies of their tapes, if they exist at all. If they would do so, then the question about the debris in Ramey's office could be cleared up.

We asked DuBose pointedly if he had ever seen the Roswell debris and he responded, "NEVER!" After the Shandera interview was published, we asked him again, if he had ever seen the real debris and again he answered, "NO!"

This could be construed as just another debate between two factions, ours and theirs with no way to resolve it. However, we aren't the only ones to whom DuBose spoke. Billy Cox, at one time a writer for Florida Today interviewed DuBose for an article he wrote in the November 24, 1991 edition of the newspaper. Cox reported that DuBose told him essentially the same story that he told us. Here was a disinterested third party reporting on the same set of circumstances, but he didn't get Shandera's version of the events.

In a letter dated September 30, 1991, Cox wrote, "I was aware of the recent controversy generated by an interview he (DuBose) had with Jaime Shandera, during which he stated that the display debris at Fort Worth was genuine UFO wreckage and not a weather balloon, as he had previously stated. But I chose not to complicate matters by asking him to illuminate what he had told Shandera; instead, I simply asked him, without pressure, to recall events as he remembered them...he seemed especially adamant about his role in the Roswell case. While he stated that he didn't think the debris was extraterrestrial in nature (though he had no facts to support his opinion), he was insistent that the material that Ramey displayed for the press was in fact a weather balloon, and that he had personally transferred the real stuff in a lead-lined mail pouch to a courier going to Washington ...I can only conclude that the Shandera interview was the end result of the confusion that might occur when someone attempts to press a narrow point of view upon a 90 year old man (DuBose with Don Schmitt seen on the left). I had no ambiguity in my mind that Mr. DuBose was telling me the truth."

Cox isn't the only one to hear that version of events from DuBose. Kris Palmer, a former researcher with NBC's Unsolved Mysteries reported much the same thing. When she spoke with DuBose, he told her that the real debris had gone on to Washington in a sealed pouch and that a weather balloon had been on the floor in General Ramey's office.

But the most enlightening of the interviews comes from Don Ecker of UFO magazine. Shandera had called Ecker, telling him that he would arrange for Ecker to interview DuBose. Ecker, however, didn't wait and called DuBose on his own. DuBose then offered our version of events. When Ecker reported that to Shandera, Shandera said for him to wait. He'd talk to DuBose.

After Shandera talked to DuBose, he called Ecker and said, "Now call him." DuBose then said that the debris on the floor hadn't been switched and that it was the stuff that Marcel had brought from Roswell. It should be pointed out here that Palmer called DuBose after this took place. Without Shandera there to prime the pump, DuBose told our version of events. It was only after close questioning by Shandera could that version be heard. It is not unlike a skillful attorney badgering a witness in a volatile trial. Under the stress of the interview and the close questioning, the witness can be confused for a moment. Left alone to sort out the details, the correct version of events bubbles to the surface.

It should also be noted that DuBose hasn't actually changed his testimony at all. The real confusion comes from his statement that the debris on the floor in Ramey's office was not switched. We had suggested that the debris Marcel brought to Ramey's office was switched with the balloon. Dubose said that the debris on the floor wasn't switched. That statement is correct.

What this means, quite simply, is that the debris Marcel brought from Roswell was never displayed on the floor in Ramey's office. Marcel unwrapped one of the packages containing the real debris and set it on Ramey's desk. The two officers then studied a map of the debris field in another room. When they returned, the debris had been removed from Ramey's desk and the weather balloon was displayed on the floor.

I could go into a longer explanation of the situation in Ramey's office on July 8, 1947, but have done so in the November/December 1990 issue of The International UFO Reporter and the April 1991 issue of the MUFON UFO Journal. Both publications provided detailed accounts of those critical hours, including a long listing of sources used in the preparation of the articles. It is interesting to note that Shandera and Moore quote sources but never supply copies of the tapes or transcripts to independent third parties. I have done both.

But Klass is not content to leave it there. He reports, "One indication of the 89-year old DuBose's flawed memory is that when Schmitt asked if Shandera had visited his home a few months earlier to interview him, DuBose said Shandera had not. But when Schmitt asked Mrs. DuBose, she confirmed that Shandera had indeed visited their house for an interview."

The conclusion, which Klass is so impressed with that he typed it in all caps, boldface, and underlined it, is, "Thus, while Moore/Shandera debate with Randle/Schmitt over which of DuBose's recollections of events that occurred more than 40 years ago is correct, DuBose demonstrated for Schmitt that he could not remember a visit and interview by Shandera which had occurred only a few months earlier."

Ignoring the fact that long term memory is better than short term, and that the elderly often display perfect memories of long ago events while being unable to remember what they had for breakfast, let's examine that whole statement by Klass.

First, DuBose remembered the interview, but not the name of the interviewer. That's a far cry from Klass' claim that DuBose didn't remember the interview.

Second, the real question is not which of DuBose's recollections of the events are accurate, but which version reported by others, is correct. DuBose's recollections have not changed. Once again, I have made copies of the tapes available to disinterested third parties for review. Shandera/Moore have yet to do that. While I prove our claims, we must accept what they say without corroboration.

Klass does give us an answer, of sorts, to the question of which version is correct. Klass points out, "Randle/Schmitt managed to locate and interview the reporter for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram -- J. Bond Johnson -- who had taken at least several of the photos in Ramey's office. According to their taped interview, Johnson said he then doubted that he had photographed the authentic recovered debris. But several months later, when Johnson was interviewed by Shandera, he changed his account and said that he was confident that his photos did show the actual debris that Marcel brought to Fort Worth."

Here is an opportunity to examine the methods and techniques used by Shandera. There is a wealth of documentation that can't be altered. Johnson left a legacy of writings in the newspaper so that we can compare his original story with what he is saying today.

What we learn is that Johnson's first version of the events, that he saw and photographed the bogus debris, and that the cover story of a balloon was in place before he arrived at Ramey's office, is correct. After talking to Shandera/Moore, Johnson's story changed. (For a complete analysis, see the November/December 1990 International UFO Reporter.)

It boils down to Shandera's version of events against that given and documented by outside sources. Shandera's version is at odds with both my tapes and the newspaper articles written (including one by Johnson and published the next day in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in the right time frame.)

In fact, further evidence of Shandera's altering facts appears in Shandera's published version of what Irving Newton, one of Ramey's weather officers, said and did in Ramey's office. Shandera, writing in the MUFON UFO Journal suggested that Newton had changed his story after I had interviewed him, but a complete review of his testimony published in The Roswell Incident, shows that Newton's testimony is consistent throughout all interviews with the exception of the new data written by Shandera. (For a complete analysis, see the MUFON UFO Journal, April 1991.)

So Klass seizes on the changes in testimony, condemning the witnesses, claiming that forty year old memories are flawed. The problem is not the memories of the witnesses, but the reporting of their testimony by third parties. In fact, it is a single individual, Shandera, who is causing the trouble. It is Shandera who is saying that I have been wrong. It is Shandera who has altered and misreported DuBose's testimony, it is Moore and Shandera who have created the controversy over the Marcel interview, and it is Shandera against Newton. I offer copies of the tapes, the documentation, and the transcripts to independent third parties to prove my veracity while the others offer nothing other than their opinions and versions of the events.

Klass, trying to prove that Roswell was something mundane, probably a balloon, reports everything that raises the remotest question, but never tells the full story. He stops short. Klass, it seems, is treating this as a debate and not as a search for the truth.

At the end of his discussion of the Roswell events, he writes, "As reported in the July 9, 1947 edition of the Roswell newspaper, Brazel was quoted as saying, 'when the debris was gathered up the tinfoil, paper, tape and sticks made a bundle about three feet long and 7 or 8 inches thick, while the rubber made a bundle about 18 or 20 inches long and about 8 inches thick. In all, he estimated, the entire lot would have weighed maybe some five pounds.' Brazel was quoted as saying there was 'considerable Scotch tape and some tape with flowers had been used in the construction. No strings or wire were to be found but there were some eyelets in the paper to indicate that some sort of attachment may have been used.' (Curious construction techniques for a very advanced ET society to use in building spacecraft intended to traverse jillions of miles.)"

But what Klass never reports, though I have told him about it repeatedly, was that Brazel was escorted to that interview by Army officers. There are six separate witnesses who saw Brazel in downtown Roswell. They were surprised by Brazel's refusal to acknowledge them, and the fact that there were three officers with him.

Klass, when I pointed that out, said that maybe it was easier for the officers to drive Brazel into town than for them to give him directions to the newspaper office. Three military officers drove Brazel into town so that he could be interviewed because it was easier than telling him, "Drive out the front gate, stay on Main Street, and the newspaper office will be on the right."

Paul McEvoy, an editor at the newspaper said that Brazel was obviously under duress as he told his "new" story. Friends commented on Brazel's lack of friendliness while he was in town. No, Brazel was taken to the office to tell a new story. The one that the military wanted him to tell.

But even so, Brazel slipped in a statement that was duly reported in the Roswell Daily Record, but ignored by Klass. In it, Brazel said, "I am sure what I found was not any weather observation balloon."

Klass completes his report asking, "How would Ramey (who never talked to Brazel) know what kind of bogus material to use to replicate the description that Brazel would give to the Roswell newspaper? And how would Ramey be able to find and obtain such 'look-alike' material so quickly??"

But Klass again overlooks the testimony of others. DuBose suggested that debris had been in Fort Worth at least two days before Ramey made his press release. Ramey was in communications with Colonel Blanchard in Roswell, as well as SAC Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Orders from the top had trickled down through the chain of command. Ramey knew what to say, and probably obtained the balloon from his own weather station. It didn't matter what Brazel had seen because Brazel's statements to the newspaper the next day were fed to him by the military. He repeated what he had been told because the military was there watching him.

The answer to the first part of the question is that Ramey knew what Brazel would say because he had read the script. It wasn't Brazel telling the truth at the newspaper office, but telling the reporters what he had been told to tell them.

And the answer to the second part is that they had been working on this for more than three days. The craft and bodies had been found before Brazel walked into the sheriff's office. Ramey, as well as many others, had already seen the debris, and he may have seen the craft and the bodies. Remember, DuBose was in charge in Fort Worth because Ramey was off station on Sunday, July 6.

The major problem is that Shandera, and at times his partner, Moore, are trying to confuse the Roswell issue. They publish statements that are in direct contradiction with statements they have published in the past. They have reinterviewed witnesses and then claim that there are changes in the testimony.

Klass, wanting to destroy the Roswell testimony, uses these supposed discrepancies to refute the good work being done. He claims that witnesses can't be relied on to remember accurately events of more than forty years ago. In fact, Klass has admitted that his job is to debuke UFO reports. Not investigate them to learn the truth, but to debuke them regardless of what that truth might be. This is, of course, in direct conflict with the supposed by-laws and purpose of CISCOP (or as it is now called CSI). Klass headed their UFO subcommittee. Just how scientific are their investigations if Klass's expressed purpose is to debuke?

Klass also reports that "If a crashed saucer had been found 40 miles south of the debris field found on the Brazel ranch, the 'retrieval team' surely would have spent many days searching along the 40-mile flight path between the two sites, looking for more debris and perhaps even an ET who might have parachuted to safety. Yet no such search effort is reported by R/S's 'witnesses.'"

Klass is assuming that because we, or our witnesses, reported no such effort, it is a flaw in the story. It is true that none reported such an effort immediately after the event, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen, only that those we have interviewed were not participants in it. The only legitimate conclusion to be drawn is that it hasn't been reported, not that it didn't happen.

We are treated to his analysis of the facts, but as we've seen, the conclusions drawn are not accurate. He leaves out that which doesn't conform to his opinions, and attempts to discredit testimony by claiming the memories are nearly fifty years old and can't be trusted to be reliable.
Which brings us back to the blogosphere of today and a continuation of this debate. The blogger reported only what Shandera had found and said nothing about the controversy. The blogger might have been unaware that this whole thing had been studied in the past and that Shandera’s version of events has been seriously challenged.

Which leads to the final point here. To understand the Roswell case, it is necessary to review all the relevant material and not just that which supports a single point of view. Nothing in this case is easy, as I have just demonstrated. There is an immense amount of information out there, much of it in conflict... but the conflict often centers around divergent points of view of the researchers and not the testimony of witnesses. To understand this means you have taken a step in understanding the Roswell events.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Amana, Iowa Sighting November 22, 1975

High school student Mark Leonard was attempting to take time exposures of the moon on the evening of November 22, 1975 when his attention was drawn to a bright light overhead. He thought it would be a good reference point for a shot across the pond and centered the light in the view finder and snapped the shutter (seen at the left). When he looked through the view finder again, he saw that the object had moved. He centered it again and took the second picture. After that exposure, he saw that the object had moved so far, he had to move the camera so that he could take the third, and last, of the photographs (seen below and at the left). The object finally moved behind some trees and was no longer in view.

Leonard said that the light seemed to flicker as it moved, not unlike the way a railroad engines front light sweeps from side to side. He believed that it was accelerating to the north as it disappeared.

Leonard was quick to show investigators all the negatives he had taken that night. There was no evidence that he had been experimenting with trick photography. The film seemed to bear out the tale he told.

Plotting the flight path on a map, revealed that it seemed to be flying too slowly to be meteors or aircraft. At ten miles distance, the object would have been moving at only sixty miles an hour and it is unlikely that the object was that far away. Operations at the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Airport had been suspended for the night by the time the object was photographed. That certainly ruled out commercial aircraft.

Although the explanation has been found, it is one that is somewhat speculative. The speeds were plotted assuming that the object was flying perpendicular to the camera. If, however, it was flying at an angle away from the camera, the speed computations would be flawed. Leonard said that he heard no sound of an engine, but with the wind blowing away from him, he might not have heard it.

The sighting is most likely of a small, private aircraft (seen at the left in an enhanced print), heading either to the Cedar Rapids airport, or to one of the other small fields in the area. The weather was fair, though cold. Given that, it could be a private aircraft operating under visual flight rules with no flight plan filed and no way to discover, when the investigation began, if such a flight had taken place.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sighting Report - November 17, 1975

On November 17, 1975, two college students, driving near the Palisades-Kepler State Park outside of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, spotted a "star-like" object in the southwestern sky. Both Suzanne Erenberger and Dave Vardeman watched as the object slowly descended (as illustrated in the drawing at the left). Vardeman then pulled onto a gravel road, and both got out of the car.

According to Erenberger, first interviewed within hours of the sighting, the object moved slowly, lost some altitude and a red light appeared under it. She said, "We watched it come down and as it hit about one to two hundred feet, this bright, white light came on.... There was a big red light on the bottom...."

Interviewed by a reporter for the Cedar Rapids Gazette two days after the sighting, she said, "We were very close to it, maybe about thirty feet away and it was about twenty-five feet off the ground.... It looked like it, or at least the top part, was made of glass."

When I interviewed Erenberger about ten days after the event, she told me that there had been a very bright, very intense light that was glowing inside the craft. Erenberger thought that the light came from some kind of cockpit and she thought that she could see two shapes behind the light. These were dark shapes of a torso with a head but with no sign of arms or legs and certainly no facial features.
Erenberger said, "We could see it quite well." She said that the craft was disk shaped, with a huge glass dome and about thirty feet in diameter. The UFO stayed close to the ground, and finally disappeared behind some trees, suggesting to her that it might be landing.
As the first object disappeared, according to Erenberger, a second began the same, strange descent. It was farther away and she couldn’t see the details as well. After it reached the ground and disappeared, a third, similar object, began its descent. While this was happening, she was sure that she could see another dozen or so lights in the sky above them, all looking as if they were waiting their turn to descend.
All of this frightened both Erenberger (seen at left at th location of her sighting) and Vardeman. They returned to the car and drove into nearby Mount Vernon. They called the police, and an officer accompanied them back to the site. Although Erenberger thought she could see a number of the lights still hovering in the sky, the officer thought they were just stars. He didn’t see anything strange.

The chief of the Mount Vernon police, although unsure of what Erenberger or Vardeman had seen, believed they had seen something frightening. Erenberger, according to the police chief, was terrified, nearly hysterical. He joke with her, trying to calm her down. He did not believe, at the time, that either witness was lying or participating in a hoax.

The chief said that checks at the local airports revealed there were no aircraft in the area. He did find that a smoky fire was burning in the field where the UFOs were supposed to have landed, or over which they had disappeared and he wondered if Erenberger and Vardeman might have seen lights reflecting off the smoke.

Erenberger also talked to the Cedar Rapids police, who told her that the airport had no reported traffic at the time of the sighting. She was also told that there was no meteor activity that might explain what she had seen.

Erenberger told reporters that she was upset by the attitude of the police. She said, "It really upset me because they took it so lightly. I was really afraid, too, and told them, ‘Hey, look, this thing is real. We know what we saw.’"

Erenberger and Vardeman weren’t the only ones to see something strange that night. Richard Manson, a young man who was a member of the local squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, told me that he had seen the same thing. He said that as he was driving home from Mount Vernon, he noticed a bright red light. He thought there might be a bright blue light on top of the object. He said that the UFO appeared in the south and drifted across the highway to the north. He lost sight of it and didn’t stop to look for it. He said that he would never have reported the sighting had it not been for the news broadcasts carrying Erenberger’s story.

Mount Vernon police also said that about an hour after Erenberger and Vardeman made their reports, two others called to say they had seen some type of strange object. The police didn’t bother to take the names of the additional witnesses and I was not able to find them.

This sighting is unremarkable. Yes, there were multiple witnesses, and there was a report of either a landing or a close approach to the ground, and there was the description of two somewhat vague beings seen. It would probably be relegated to the unidentified file, if not for a couple of important points. This is what turns this into an important case.

During the investigation, I was able to obtain several drawings, and copies of the interviews that were given by Erenberger. The first came within hour or so of the sighting, the second two days later and the last about a week or ten days later. In other words, I have an evolution of the testimony given by Erenberger over the space of about two weeks.

One of the first things I did, after hearing the news reports, reading the various available statements, and interviewing Erenberger, to hear her tell the tale, was to find the other main witness. Almost the first thing that he told me was that he believed that the media handling of the report was irresponsible. He said that the TV reporters had no interest in talking to him and he made it sound as if they actually attempted to avoid him.

But, he also said that he had only seen lights in the distance and nothing else. He said that he had seen no shape behind the lights and that he thought the pictures, of the domed craft, and of the alien shapes drawn by Erenberger were "ridiculous." The one thing that he said that might be of most importance was that "She remembered more than I do."

That was the critical point of this case. "She remembered more than I do." She has a story that is certainly much more interesting because it involves alien creatures, and if not a landing, certainly a close approach to the ground. But now we have two witnesses, who were riding together on the night of the sighting, who apparently did not discuss the case between them after the event, and who have two very distinct, almost mutually exclusive stories. How do we reconcile these differences?

That’s easy, we go back to the original statements and the original descriptions. On the night of the sighting, both talked of lights seen in the distance, lights that seemed to float to the ground, and that disappeared behind the trees. Two days later Erenberger was talking about a domed disk that had a glassed in cockpit (seen on the left). And just days after that, she was telling people that she had seen humanoid shapes behind the lights. It is clear that her story evolved. She was not consciously inventing details, and just as clearly, she believed that she remembered all the new details, swearing to all, "Hey, look, this thing is real. We know what we saw."
On the night of the sighting, Erenberger and Vardeman were interviewed by the Mount Vernon police. They made a sketch that not only contained the geographical details from the location of the sighting, but also a representation of the objects they had seen. On that sketch, the UFOs were represented by star-shaped objects with a point under them to show the bright light. There was no indication on that drawing to suggest that there had been a disk shape behind the lights, and certainly no indication of any alien creatures.

Erenberger was next interviewed for a high school newspaper by Wade Wagner. Erenberger gave him a sketch, this one showing a disk-shaped object with a big light on the bottom, a row of flashing lights around the lower edge, and large glass-topped area. The drawing was much more detailed than the original.

Finally, I had the opportunity to interview Erenberger. She gave me a sketch (seen on the left)as well. It resembled, to a fairly fine degree, the one that she had given to Wagner. The major difference is that she had added two shapes that represented the flight crew, as she remembered them.

The term that fits here is confabulation. Psychological texts define it as a "filling" in of memory, often associated with the black-outs that come from heavy drinking. This does not mean that Erenberger had been drinking, only that her mind had filled in details for her. She truly remembered seeing the disk with creatures inside it, though that was not what she reported on the very first night.

What happened to Erenberger is not all that uncommon, even with events that are considered "traumatic", and therefore, fixed in memory. Ulric Neisser, who was teaching at Emory University when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, realized that he had a perfect opportunity to study these sorts of "flashbulb" memories. The day after the disaster, he gave the students in his freshmen psychology class a short questionnaire about the events. He asked them where they were when they heard and how they had heard and other such questions. He then filed the questionnaires for three years.

The students, when they were seniors, were given the same questionnaire about Challenger. He added an additional question, which was about the accuracy of their memories. According to the results provided by Neisser and graduate assistant Nicole Harsh, a quarter of the students didn’t have a single memory that was accurate. In one case, a student said that he had been at home, with his parents, when he heard, though the questionnaire, prepared the day after the explosion, revealed that he had been in class when he learned of the disaster.

More important, however, was the reaction of the students to the proof that their memories were inaccurate. None disputed the accuracy of the statements they had made the day after the event, but one student, when confronted by the discrepancy between what she had written just hours after the explosion and with what she remembered three years later, said, "I still remember everything happening the way I told you. I can’t help it." She was defending the memories that were clearly an invention in her own mind.

This doesn’t mean that all memories are flawed. The rest of the students produced results ranging from a hundred percent agreement, to a point were there were some minor problems, on down to those who had no accurate memories. This suggests that when interviewing witnesses, just days after an event, the memories might not be wholly accurate. The evolution of Erenberger’s tale shows just how quickly these events can become clouded.

This suggests that it is important to talk to all the witnesses about the sighting. Such interviews can provide clues about what had actually happened rather than just what the witnesses remember. Had I only interviewed Erenberger, I might have believed that this was a close encounter of the third kind. In reality, I believe that the case can be solved.

Just days after the event, I drove out to the area and sat in my car looking in the same direction that Erenberger and Vardeman had been facing. Contrary to what the police in both Mount Vernon and Cedar Rapids reported, I did see aircraft in the area, apparently landing at the Cedar Rapids Municipal Airport. I saw the airplanes in the distance, I saw the bright red light, and I saw a sudden bright white light as the landing lights were turned on. I watched as the objects drifted down, and I saw them disappear behind the trees.

What the airport had told the police is that there had been no regularly scheduled flights into the airport on the night of the sighting. That didn’t mean that the airport was not open and it did not mean that private aircraft weren’t landing. In fact, it didn’t even mean that cargo flights, using multiple engine aircraft hadn’t been landing. It meant that there were no commercial passenger planes landing.

With the wind blowing away from the witnesses, there was no sound to the aircraft. They looked like distant lights, drifting silently through the sky. It was clear to me, based on the original descriptions, and on what I had seen, that this was a case of mistaken identity. The witnesses had watched the traffic at the airport.

Manson, a member of the Civil Air Patrol should have been familiar with aircraft and the Cedar Rapids airport. When I talked to him, it was clear that he had only the vaguest sense of what he had seen, and was basing his description, not on that observation, but on what had been reported in the newspaper. His drawing of the object (seen at the left) didn’t resemble that given by Erenberger, and certainly didn’t match that suggested by Vardeman. His sighting was clearly inspired by those others.

Again, I don’t believe that he was lying, or that he was seeking the spotlight. He was just trying to help with the investigation. And finally, based on the documentation that we were able to find, it turned out that he hadn’t even been on the road on the night of the sighting. His experience had taken place a day or two earlier.

The lesson, however, was that even when a witness reports a metallic, structured craft with great detail, that description can be a creation of the mind. Here, a point of light in the distance was turned into a spacecraft with a crew. Three descriptions were gathered, and all three were at odds. Even the descriptions given by Erenberger changed as time passed, distorting the facts, but providing an exciting story of alien visitation.

To learn what was actually seen, and to determine what had happened, it was necessary to interview everyone who had claimed some involvement. It was necessary to examine the scene because that provided clues about the reality of the sighting. Finally, it was necessary to compare the statements made at the time of the sighting with those made just days later. By investigating all aspects of the case, it was possible to remove the sighting from the "unidentified" file, into the "solved as an aircraft" file.

Probably the most important lesson here was that none of the witnesses told a lie. All reported as accurately as possible what he or she had seen. Unfortunately, some of the statements made just days after the event turned out to be inaccurate. Without the complete notes, we all would have been fooled.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Major Jesse Marcel, Sr.

You might say that the whole Roswell case began with Major Jesse Marcel, who, in July 1947, was the air intelligence officer of the 509th Bomb Group at the Roswell Army Air Field. It was Marcel who told the world that he had picked up pieces of a flying saucer while he was stationed there. Strange metallic debris scattered over a large area. Metal that was thin and tough, that resisted repeated blows from a sledgehammer, thin foil-like material that wouldn’t burn, and slender I-beams, not much larger than the supports of a kite but that couldn’t be broken.

Marcel seemed like a sincere man who was relating to UFO researchers, reporters, and even college students, what he had seen on that hot, July day. His conclusion was that he had found something that came to Earth but that had not been built on Earth. In other words, he thought it was something of extraterrestrial manufacture.

Since that time, Marcel’s credibility has been attacked by those in the skeptical community, suggesting that he was mistaken... or that he was incompetent... or that he was a liar trying to improve his reputation because of his claim he had found a flying saucer was quickly shown by a higher headquarters to be a weather balloon.

Much of the attack rests on an interview that Bob Pratt, the late reporter from the National Enquirer conducted. Pratt was a serious reporter who chased flying saucers like the rest of us and who tried to get the facts of a case before reporting them. Regardless of the publication for which he worked, he did solid research and many UFO investigators take his word as the truth.

Pratt was kind enough to share his transcript of the Marcel interview with many of us. It is a sort of stream of consciousness transcript with notes added here and there and points where it is difficult to understand the exact meaning.

The easiest example of this is where Marcel tells Pratt he have been shot down during the Second World War. Pratt asked if everyone survived and Marcel said, "All but one crashed into a mountain."

That seems to suggest that everyone but one other crashed into the mountain and were killed. Of course, if I insert a comma, it now reads, "All, but one crashed into a mountain." That suggests that everyone but one man survived.

In the Pratt interview it says (reproduced as Pratt typed it), "I got shot down one time, my third mission, out of Port Moresby (everyone survive) all but one crashed into a mountain."

I asked Pratt if he had the tape so that we could hear Marcel make the comment and decide exactly what he meant but Pratt said he didn’t. They used the tapes over and over, so the actual words were lost. We can’t hear the inflection so we don’t know exactly what Marcel said. Pratt probably got it right... but it points out how important punctuation can be. The comma alters the meaning.

But that isn’t really the problem with this interview. It is the other things that Marcel said during that have taken on importance. In a few cases, this is the only time that he made some of the claims and I have to wonder about it. Some of them can be easily understood in the context of a rapidly expanding Army at the beginning of World War II but some of it is quite disturbing.

He said, according to Pratt, "Entered the US Army Air Force in April 1942; was an aide to Hap Arnold..."

Karl Pflock, in his anti-Roswell book, noted that Marcel’s record precluded this, but Karl isn’t quite right. Looking at Marcel’s assignments, we see a period of about two months in which Marcel was waiting for a school date, not an uncommon experience in the Army. During those periods, a soldier is often given a temporary assignment so that he’s not wasting the Army’s money. So, during that time, Marcel could have worked as an aide for Hap Arnold and it wouldn’t be reflected in his record. It would just be a job he filled in at until he could go to school.

I was a general’s aide for about a month back in 1976. Although assigned to the unit as a Public Affairs Officer, when the general’s aide went on leave, I was asked to fill in. So, my record does not reflect that period, but I did do it. Marcel’s claim of having been an aide to Hap Arnold could easily be something similar and in the grand scheme of things, not all that important.

Yeah, I would be happier if we could document this, but again, the point is trivial and unimportant. He could have served as an aide until his school date rolled around. He had to be doing something.

In keeping with this, Pratt asked Marcel about combat missions and Marcel said, "I had a total of 468 hours of combat time... was intelligence officer for a bomb wing, flew as pilot, waist gunner and bombardier at different times...:

Pflock and others point out there is nothing in Marcel’s record to suggest he was a pilot, waist gunner or bombardier. And here again we have to look at the words. He didn’t say he was those things, only that he had flown as them, meaning, I suspect, that he got flying time in the right seat as a pilot, and as a waist gunner and as a bombardier.

This is not unheard of in Army Aviation. I was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and depending on the mission, we sometimes allowed the crew chief to fly as the co-pilot, giving him a little bootleg stick time. I flew as a doorgunner a couple of times. So Marcel could have flown in those positions without being "rated" in them.

In the long run, this is a relatively trivial point as well, and shouldn’t really color our thinking about Marcel. No, there are other things that dominate the landscape. Important things.

According to Pratt, and here I’m going to try to reproduce the transcript as Pratt did so that the areas of confusion can be seen.

Q– 3000 hrs pilot (right) 8000 hrs flying time (medals) I have five air medals because I shot down 5 enemy aircraft in combat (from B24) yes. from waist gun of a B24 in south pacific. and I was given a bronze star for the work I did re-teaching personnel that came to fly combat, that were greenhorns that came out of the states."

Here’s what we know. Marcel, according to his records, and the notations are in multiple places, and according to citations found among the documents of the unit histories of the units to which he belonged, show that Marcel had received two air medals, both of them for participating in aerial flight into combat zones and doing his job as well as could be expected. Nothing suggests that he shot down five enemy aircraft. Nothing suggests that, while flying as a waist gunner, he shot down any enemy aircraft, or even engaged them.

This then, is a real problem and I have no idea what it means, other than to suggest that Jesse Marcel stretched the truth on this point (Yes, I’m being a little mealy mouthed about this, but then I know Jesse Jr. quite well and we’re talking about his father).

And, we have no indication that Marcel ever held a pilot’s license and he certainly wasn’t rated as a pilot in the military. Yes, he could have had bootleg time, but 3000 hours is an awful lot of bootleg time, even with missions that might have lasted ten or twelve hours. Besides, Marcel himself limited the combat time to something under 500 hours.

There really is no way around this unless Bob Pratt made a horrendous mistake transcribing the tape, and while there are areas of confusion, nothing like this. Jess Marcel must have said it and even with Pratt’s transcript, it’s pretty clear.

Marcel, in that same, long paragraph, continued, saying, "... around the world 5 times, been in 68 countries... degree in nuclear physics (bachelors) at completed work at GW Univ in Wash. attended (LSU, Houston, U of Wis, NY Univ, Ohio State, Docotr pool? and GW..."

Quite confusing, but also suggests that Marcel said that he had a bachelor’s degree which might have been given by George Washington University, or maybe that he completed his work there and the degree came from somewhere else... Not that it matters. GW has no record of him and neither do the other schools except LSU. According to his military record, he had completed one and a half years and I have found no indication that he attended any of these other schools as a student.

I will point out that military schools, especially during the build up during World War II were often held on the campuses of universities and this might be the reason that Marcel said he had gone to school at some of them. It’s a possibility but I don’t think it’s very likely.

There really is no way around this unless Bob Pratt made a horrendous mistake transcribing the tape.

It is important to note that I haven’t seen these claims made again by Marcel and I don’t know what happened so that he made them with Pratt. When the skeptics point to them, they are raising legitimate issues about Marcel.

But Marcel was who he said he was in 1947 and that is the air intelligence officer at the base. He was pictured with the balloon debris in General Roger Ramey’s office that was alleged to have come from the crash site. He was a trained intelligence officer who would have been familiar with weather balloons and no matter what the Mogul crowd says, the array they claim is responsible for the story was nothing more than common weather balloons and rawin targets. Something that Sheridan Cavitt, who accompanied Marcel into the field recognized immediately as a balloon, or so he eventually claimed. He never explained why he didn’t mention this to either Marcel or Colonel William Blanchard, the base commander at Roswell. For some reason Cavitt kept this to himself.

Not to mention that during my first face-to-face interview with Cavitt, he told me that he had never been out to collect any balloon debris. In fact, according to what he said, he wasn’t even in Roswell in early July 1947. Later he changed this to having just arrived there in time to go out with Marcel.

Where does that leave us? Well, it seems that which ever side you decide to come down on, you’re going to run into some trouble. Marcel apparently embellished his record, though it seems only a single time and that he was who he said he was in July 1947.

Cavitt, it seems, changed his story on a number of occasions and then never explained why he’d never told Marcel or Blanchard it was a balloon if he knew the truth. So, as in so much of the Roswell case, you can look at the spin of the researchers and skeptics, look at the records of the soldiers, and still not know, for certain, where the truth lies.