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Quintanilla in his unpublished book about UFOs, wrote: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