There are many jewels hidden in the Project Blue Book files. Had I discovered the information about this case earlier (which is to say, had I paid attention to it), it would have been included it in The Best of Project Blue Book. This is a physical evidence case that was marked as “unidentified,” even after samples had been taken and analyzed. They too, remain unidentified.
to the documentation and newspaper reports, a farmer, Monroe Arnold, living in
the Lacamp, (sometimes La Camp) Louisiana area, reported that he had seen a
fiery red, disk-shaped object strike the ground about 300 yards from where he
was standing. He estimated that it was about eight feet thick, eight feet wide
and twelve feet long with a short exhaust flame extending about a foot from one
end. This happened about 9:00 on April 12, 1960.
The UFO struck the ground, bounced, and there were three or four explosions. Arnold was the only one to see the object but others, in the area, heard the explosions. The object bounced along for about a thousand feet, finally became airborne again, turned west and disappeared in the distance.
The ground where the UFO hit, was plowed up and there was damage to a nearby tree. The grass and the tree had been scorched but not burned according to the investigation. Metallic residue was recovered, described as looking like paint chips of some kind.
Deputy Sheriff Oscar Haymon, of the Leesville, Louisiana, Sheriff’s Office was the civilian who investigated. The newspaper quoted Haymon as saying:
It came from the dark and landed about 300 yards from the Monroe Arnold home. When it hit the ground there was an explosion that could be heard for miles around.
After landing it bounced around on the ground in an easterly direction… then rose and headed west just above the tree tops.
You could see where it bounced around on the ground and places where it hit the ground and made an impression about the size of a water bucket. It scorched but did not burn the grass.
It cut the top out of a tree and strange as it seems, hit only the one tree.
The sighting was investigated for the Air Force by Major Ray F. Grodhaus and Master Sergeant Robert F. Plympton. Both men were assigned to the intelligence office of the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing at England Air Force Base, Louisiana, which is not all that far from the crash site.
Included in the Blue Book report were nine photographs of the crash site (landing site?) and a description of damage to the tree. According to the report prepared by Plympton:
A piece of scorched bark and a branch of scorched tree leaves… were taken from the tree at the impact area… at approximately 0300 Zulu 13 April 1960. [Zulu is GMT and the event took place at 9:00 p.m. local time).
The leaves and the bark were removed by the UFOB [which is what they were designating UFOs at that time… to be added to the term UAO, UAP and UAV being used today]. This is evident because the leaves and the bark are missing from one area of the tree only. The branch… that the officer is holding [in one of the photographs] was broken off and laying beside the tree. It is not known if the UFOB did this or not.
|Officer holding the branch broken from the tree. Notice|
the leaves are missing from part of the tree
Plympton also interviewed B. E. Allbritton, Jr., who lived about five miles from the UFO landing site. Although Allbritton, who had not seen nor heard the UFO, pointed out that he had heard, over the radio, that the Navy had been conducting missile tests in the Gulf of Texas. He said that what he heard was a warning to stay away from the area and he thought that a runaway missile might have been responsible for the sighting. Plympton wrote, “This office has no way to inquire to the Navy about these related missile firings.”
I’m not sure why this would even be included in the report. One man heard a radio broadcast about missile tests more than one hundred miles away and thought this might be an explanation. And I’m not sure why the intelligence officer (well, the NCOIC) couldn’t figure out which military department to call for information. This seems to be something of a red herring.
Listed as other contacts, but with no names attached, Plympton wrote, “Other contacts were made with people in the general area. All contacts shared the same description of the sound as it passed over their houses; that it sounded like artillery shells passing overhead, but much louder with a high velocity shrieking sound and low in altitude.”
An official teletype message received at ATIC on April 18, 1960, at 10:50 a.m., provided a couple of additional, and a few additional and interesting, details. According to that document:
The 1908 AACS (RAPCON UNIT) picked up an unidentified target on their radar screens at approximately the time of this sighting. This unidentified target was travelling at an estimated speed of 800 knots. Further investigation is being conducted on this unidentified target…
Major Ray F. Grodhaus... 401st TFW intelligence officer… From interrogation of the witnesses and the marks on the ground it was apparent that the object hit the ground at a terrific rate of speed. It is my opinion that some type of rocket hit the ground and then ricocheted off across country. It is possible that a wing-tip could have made the impressions on the ground, but I think it is very improbable. There was no sign of, or pieces of any type of equipment in the area at the time of the investigation. Mr. W. P. Harper, a fifty (50) year old farmer, who lives approximately 100 yards from the source said that his T.V. set blacked out for about five (5) seconds at approximately 130310Z Apr. [9:03 local time on April 12]. Before it blacked out, he heard a high whine followed by about ten (10) to (12) fast explosions sounding like, but louder than artillery shells, since these two men live on the border of Fort Polk Reservation, they have much experience in hearing artillery fired. However, Fort Polk is now closed* and no artillery fire is being accomplished. Mr. Monroe Arnold has little formal education but is a keen observer with a passion for accuracy that is common with country folks of his generation. He had had JATO bottles fall on his farm before without causing undue excitement… All the people in the general area heard the explosions, i.e., Buddy Spurgen, Pete Brown, and Wes Geeter.
The document ended, “It is impossible at this time for me to give any estimate of what could have caused the sighting. It is possible that equipment could have been removed from the area prior to my investigation. However, this possibility was denied by Mr. Arnold and Mr. Harper.”
In the interest in fairness, and because it is relevant, there is supplemental information to the initial report. According to that document, received at ATIC on April 21, “It has been determined that the unidentified target could not have been the object in question. Subsequent investigation revealed that the unidentified target was picked up by upon the radar scope was subsequent to 0545 Zuly, 13 April 1960, which is approximately two and thirty minutes later than the original sighting.”
|The Lacamp landing (crash?) site.|
That would be, basically, the end of the reporting on the case. However, I received a letter from Robert Plympton that provided more information and provides us with a little bit of insight into Project Book and this investigation. He told me that he, and another sergeant, Warren E. Moore had made the investigation. He wrote:
This sighting is without a doubt one of those to which you refer on the inside cover of your book [Project Blue Book – Exposed] as: “…some reports are tagged with labels that don’t fit the facts…”
For instance, Mr. ARNOLD observed the object for longer period than stated. He reported hearing it passover his house, seeing it land, and seeing it lift off. Also, the physical evidence not only included a substantial quantity of paint samples (metal shavings) and soil samples but also tree limbs (branches) which had the appearance of having been scorched. Additionally, a number of high-quality photographs were taken from the air by a professional photographer and included close-up shots of “holes” and other indentations in the ground possibly caused by the object.
I and my associate [I will note here that it is probably Moore] conducted two visits to the point of the sighting. The second visit was prompted by Dr. HYNEK follow [sic] his receipt of my report. He called by phone asking that I return to the sight [sic] and obtain more soil samples from each “hole” as well as from other indentations in the ground with may have been caused by the object. Additionally he requested that additional photographs be taken of certain key points at the sighting. He instructed that all matters be properly packaged, including the tree limbs, and sent by Airfreight (Military or Commercial Airlines) to ATIC as soon as possible. His request was immediately complied with.
After several weeks had passed, I phoned Dr. HYNEK inquiring about the current status of my reports. He thanked me for our prompt handling of his telephone request and stated that we had conducted a very good investigation. He also told me that this was the first time that a report had been received under the Project Bluebook [sic] program where physical evidence was obtained from a reported UFO landing. He said that the paint samples (metal shavings) could not be identified as having come from ore deposits found on this planet. Those were his exact words. He concluded by saying that he would let me know if further assistance was needed. This was the last contact I had with Dr. HYNEK or with anyone else having interest in this report.
In my judgement, this was the only noteworthy UFO investigation that I ever covered. Considering the public focus on UFO’s [sic] at the time (1960), it was surprising to me that no one from ATIC or other Air Force interests come [sic] to the scene to assist us in our investigation of this unusual sighting.
It should be noted here that the Air Force did attempt to analyze the “paint” samples that were recovered. According to the Project Blue Book file, “Samples of paint from impact area obtained and correspondence with paint from rocket samples proved negative. Apparent rocket, however paint samples proved negative and no other physical evidence found.”
We have here, an opportunity to look beyond the activities of Blue Book at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. We see that some investigations were carried out by the intelligence officers and NCOs at the Air Force base closest to the event. There is nothing here to suggest that the investigation wasn’t competent. They talked to the witnesses, both Arnold who saw the object and those who heard it fly over. They gathered samples of soil, the metal debris labeled as “paint chips” for some reason, and the tree limbs and leaves. We do have some results from the analysis but those seem to be inadequate at best. We also know that Hynek requested additional samples be gathered but we don’t know anything about the analysis of that additional material.
I’m not sure why they even worried about the alleged missile testing in the Gulf of Texas. That gulf is, at least, more than a hundred miles from the impact site, and the actual testing, if there was such testing, could have been several hundred miles away. The only indication of this is one man who heard a warning issued over the commercial radio. Had such a warning been issued, then the FAA would have issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) and that warning would be available in the Operations section at England Air Force Base. Given that this was an Air Force base, I’m not sure why Plympton or one of the others didn’t ask the Operations Officer about it. This information is unverified and at this point, useless.
The real problem here, at least for me, was the disappearance of the samples and the analysis of them. Once the material had been gathered in Louisiana and sent on to ATIC and Blue Book, we learn very little about it in the case file. We know it was gathered and we know that the metallic debris was not identified. I’m not overly impressed with the unverified statement from Plympton that Hynek had said that the debris could not be identified as “having come from ore deposits found on this planet.” If there was something in writing in the file, some additional analysis, then would be a major find. Without that sort of documentation, it is interesting but it is also unverified. While I don’t believe Plympton invented the quote, it is certainly possible that he misinterpreted it, or that subsequent analysis revealed the source of the debris. No one ever got back to Plympton with that analysis and I find no reference to it anywhere in the Blue Book files.
However, it must be noted that the case was labeled as “unidentified,” at a time when Blue Book was busy changing designations to remove cases from the unidentified category and when the prevailing attitude was to accept “possible” answers as the true answer without qualification. That this one was left as “unidentified,” especially since there was physical evidence involved is significant.
In the end we have a case that has no explanation, with physical evidence and a suggestion by one of the investigating officials that, at one point, those at Blue Book were looking toward the extraterrestrial as the solution. Granted, without additional information, we shouldn’t make that leap, but the conclusion is intriguing.
*I can find no evidence that Fort Polk was closed at this time. I note that the armor division that had been stationed there was moved to Fort Hood in 1959, which would have required a draw down of forces at Polk. While the fort, in 1960, might have had areas closed (artillery ranges for example), it seems that the post was not completely closed and eventually became a huge training site for infantry soldiers. I took my basic training at Polk in 1967.