Thursday, December 31, 2020

Coast to Coast - Belt, Montana UFO Sighting (Part One)


Here is the whole story of the Belt, Montana, sightings for March 24, 1967, as they appear in the Project Blue Book files. A truck driver, Ken Williams, saw what he said was a domed object land in a canyon near the road. He was curious enough that he stopped, got out of his truck and began to walk toward the object. The UFO then lifted off, flew further up the canyon and touched down again, now hidden from the highway by a ridge.

Belt, Montana, part of the Great Falls urban area.

Williams, in a handwritten document filed with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomenon, told what he had seen that night. In response to their request, on April 7, 1967, Williams wrote:


Object was first observed approximately 5 miles southeast of Belt, Montana. I was traveling North on Highway 87 enroute to Great Falls, Montana. Object was approximately 1 mile to my left and appeared to be about 5 or 6 hundred yards [1500 – 1800 feet] altitude. I would estimate its speed to vary from 40 to 50 miles per hour. I am judging this speed by the speed I was traveling as object seemed to be running evenly with me. Its appearance was that of a large doomed [sic] shaped light or that of a giant headlight. Upon climbing up the Belt Hill in my truck, I looked to my left and about ½ mile up a gully. I witnessed the object at about 200 yards [600 feet] in the air in a still position. I stopped my truck and the object dropped slowly to what appeared to me to be within a very few feet from the ground. [Underlining in original]. It was at this time that I felt something or someone was watching me. As a very bright effecting light emerged from the object it momentarily blinded me. This extremely bright light seemed to flare three times. Each time holding its brightness. By the third time the light was so bright [underlining in original] that it was nearly impossible to look directly at it. It was at this time that I drove my truck onto the top of the hill which was about another ½ mile. I stopped a car and asked the people [Don Knotts of Great Falls] if they would stop at a station at the foot of the hill and call the Highway Patrol. I went back down the hill and viewed the object for several more minutes. It was while watching it the second time that it rose and disappeared like a bolt of lightning. I went back to the top of the hill where my truck was parked and just as the Highway Patrolmen [sic] Bud Nader, arrived the object appeared once again. About 2 miles away and traveling in a Northeast direction, whereas it stopped once again and appeared to drop to the ground [Underlining in the original.]. There are several deep gullys [sic] in the area where it appeared to drop out of sight. This was my last sighting of the object.

The government file on this case contains what was known as a Project Record Card, which was a 4 x 6 card that outlined the details of the case. While the case is labeled as “unidentified,” it also noted that there was “(1 witness),” which they believed to be so important that it was underlined. But that isn’t true and other documents in the government files prove it.

According to a letter written by Lieutenant Colonel Lewis D. Chase, and addressed to Edward Condon at the University of Colorado, there was, at least, one other witness. According to Chase, “Mr. Nader [sent by the Highway Patrol] reported that upon reaching the scene he observed an unusual light emanating from the area that the truck driver, Mr. Williams, claimed the object had landed a second time.”

The Newspaper Accounts

The Great Falls Leader carried a series of articles about the UFO sightings in the area at the time. Interestingly, some of what was printed in the newspaper was not found in the government files. Those who conducted the military investigation should have been aware of the other sightings, but there is no mention of them. It seems that, to the Air Force anyway, those sightings never happened.

Ron Rice, a staff writer on the newspaper said that there had been UFO sightings all over the state that day. He wrote, “Before midnight it was the Belt area; after 3 this morning, Malmstrom Air Force Base where one was picked up on the bottom of a Federal Aviation Agency radar scope which tracked it for a time before it disappeared in the direction of the Belt Mountains.”

There were visual sightings as well. Airman Second Class (A2C) Richard Moore, a communicator-plotter said that he had seen something about five or ten miles from the base at 3:30 a.m. Airman Third Class (A3C) said that he had seen an object that he said was a bright light with orange lights on the bottom. This, according to Moore, was close to the ground and it was what the FAA radar had detected.

Moore also said that a sabotage alert team had located another object about 4:40 a.m. directly over Malmstrom. Moore said that he saw it as well, but it was more a point of light moving across the sky than anything else. He said it wasn’t a satellite because it was zigzagging.

Another airman, Warren Mahoney, said that Moore had told him about the UFO at 3:10 a.m. and that at 3:42 he had received a call from the FAA that there was an object on their radar northwest of the base. Three minutes later it had turned, flying toward the southeast. At 4:26 a.m. it disappeared from the FAA radar.

Rice also mentioned that there had been a search of the canyon where Williams and Nager saw the UFO and they found some evidence, though it isn’t clear exactly what they had found. Sheriff’s deputies Keith Wolverton, Jim Cinker and Harold Martin, searched the ground for about two and a half hours and discovered some freshly broken twigs on bushes and branches of the trees. They thought it might have been cattle, but there were no cattle in the area. Martin was reported as saying, “Some of the trees are 25 feet high, and had limbs broken from them, and some bushes below them were broken. All were fresh breaks.”

According to the Great Falls Tribune, Trudy Fender provided a rough drawing of an object she had seen with a steady white light on one end, a blinking white light on the other and a red light in the center. She had been waiting for her ride on March 26. The sighting isn’t important because of the object, but the fact that she saw something. That refuted a theory that there had been no UFO sightings in Montana other than Williams sighting two days earlier.

The Government File

With all that was going on that night, with the news media alerted and with local law enforcement involved, there wasn’t much that the Air Force could do other than respond. The government files, in a teletype message that was unclassified revealed, “Between hours of 2100 and 0400 MST numerous reports were received by Malmstrom AFB agencies of UFO sightings in the Great Falls, Montana area.”

The message noted that “Reports of a UFO landing near Belt, Montana were received from several sources including deputies of Cascade County Sheriff’s Office. Investigation is being conducted by Lt. Col. Lewis Chase… The alleged landing site is under surveillance. However, daylight is required for further search.”

The investigation was apparently completed several days later and on April 8, 1967, Chase wrote a report that he sent on to Edward Condon at the University of Colorado who was leading the Air Force sponsored investigation into UFOs. After setting the scene, Lewis wrote:

Numerous reports were being received by the dispatcher at Base Operations, plus questions from the public. At 2205 [10:05 p.m.], Lt. Col. Lewis D. Chase, Base UFO Investigating Officer, was notified by the Command Post of a reported landing. Sequence of events following notification were as follows:

2215 – Check was made with Base Operations as to aircraft movement in the area. An outbound transient aircraft departed Great Falls enroute to Glasgow, Montana. Departure time was 2109 [9:09 p.m.]. All other aircraft were accounted for.

2230 – Discussion with the Sheriff of Cascade County revealed that he had dispatched additional deputies to the area. Requested that he notify me of any significant findings. While talking to the sheriff, he contacted one of his mobile units. The man reporting said that they were at the scene and that there was no activity at the time. Requested the sheriff to forward any subsequent developments.

2330 – I called the Sheriff of Cascade County for a status report. He put one of his deputies on the line (Ziener?) who had been at the scene and had interviewed the truck driver and highway patrolman. While on the phone, Sheriff Martin from Belt, Montana, called in from the scene. He discussed the possibility of manpower assistance from Malmstrom and/or helicopter support. Informed him that daylight would be the first possible helicopter support and that I would discuss the other manpower request with Colonel Klibbe.

2345 – Discussion with Colonel Klibbe. He suggested that I go out and evaluate the situation and make my recommendations from there.

0030 – Departed the base in radio equipped station wagon accompanied by Major John Grasser of the Helicopter Section, for an evaluation of the terrain for any possible helicopter survey at daylight, a driver, and the alert photographer.

0100 – Arrived at the scene. Was met by Sheriff Martin, who repeated the previous reports. He had been on the scene continuously. A study of the terrain revealed the hopelessness of any ground survey at night. A tentative plan was agreed upon – the sheriff’s office to conduct a ground search of the reported landing area on the morning of 25 March 1967, while concurrently a helicopter survey of the area would be performed by Malmstrom. (It had been reported by Major Grasser that a helicopter training flight was scheduled for 0730 Saturday morning. This procedure was later approved by 15th AF, provided no landing was made). Sightseers were in the area due to radio publicity and Martin reported some had gone on the ridges before he could stop them.

0215 – Reported to Colonel Klibbe the tentative plan agreed upon with Sheriff Martin. He approved.

0230 to 0340 – Numerous sightings reported.

0350 – Discussed the make-up of a message with Captain Bradshaw, Wing Command Post, IAW [In Accordance With] AFR [Air Force Regulation] 80-17, to notify concerned agencies, including CSAF, of numerous sightings, plus the reported landing under investigation. Was concerned with resulting publicity and the need to notify other agencies prior to press releases. Message will merely state reported landing, that it is under investigation, that daylight hours are required to complete investigation, and that a subsequent report will be submitted. Preliminary message dispatched.

0800 – Sheriff’s ground search and Malmstrom aerial survey completed with negative results. Follow-up messages dispatched to interested agencies (AFR 80-17) stating negative results of the investigation.

The last part of the report confirmed that Chase had conducted it and provided contact information for him. He later, in a teletype message reported, again, that there had been negative results.

None of the newspaper articles appeared in the official government file, which, in and of itself, is odd. Often the case files included many, if not all, the newspaper articles about the specific sighting. It could be, in this case, that those newspaper reports contradict some of the information contained in the official file. Although Chase wrote that there had been negative results to his investigation, the sheriff’s deputies did report they had found some evidence at the scene. The problem is that the evidence wasn’t sufficiently unusual and there were alternative explanations for it. Cattle certainly could have been responsible for some of it, though it is unlikely that cows were doing damage twenty-five feet above the ground.

All mention of the radar reports is missing from the government files, as are the reports from Air Force personnel. Even if Chase was uninterested in most of the civilian sightings, it would seem that he would want to talk to the airman who saw something, if for no other reason than to explain them. This is a hole in the investigation.

The radar sightings, with the corroborative visual reports would seem to be a very important part of the case. This would make it a stronger case, but Chase didn’t follow up on it. The government files that are available suggest he did not explore the radar sightings, he did not request information from the FAA, and he didn’t interview any of the radar operators. The newspaper files suggest that the information had been reported the next day. Chase should have known about it.

There might have been something else operating here, and that was the mission of Malmstrom AFB. It was a minuteman missile base, and just days before, an entire flight of missiles had suddenly fallen into a “No-Go” situation which meant that they had been deactivated. This was an issue that was a matter of national security and that might explain the reason the Belt, Montana sighting was so poorly investigated.


Matt Wiser said...

Lt. Col. Lewis D. Chase, if you have a look at NICAP's web page, was the pilot of Lacy 17, the RB-47H involved in the famous incident on 17 Jul 1957. A little bit of irony here....or was Colonel Chase assigned as a UFO officer due to his own experience?

KRandle said...

Which I pointed out in the update that I reported on Coast to Coast. I published a long analysis of Chase's experience in The UFO Dossier (and thanks for providing an excuse to mention the book). I did wonder the same thing... was he assigned the duty as UFO officer because of his experience in the RB-47, or is that simply a coincidence. Knowing the military, I suspect the reason because of his own UFO sighting.

Matt Wiser said...

A little suggestion, if I may: do a Coast to Coast and/or blog post devoted to the RB-47 incident. Granted, the crew are all deceased, in all likelihood, but this is one of the "Big ones' in UFO history.