The other day I stumbled
into an episode of Expedition Unknown that was investigating the Socorro
UFO landing of April 1964. I would have ignored it, except it seemed to suggest
that the UFO was, in fact, terrestrially based, meaning it was a
misidentification of something made on Earth. The investigators were impressed
with the idea that the UFO was a lunar landing being tested at the White Sands
Missile Ranch at the time and they produced a document showing those tests.
The problem was that
the times didn’t match. The sighting, by Police Officer Lonnie Zamora, was
about 6 p.m. on a Friday night. The document suggested the testing much earlier
in the day. You can see that for yourself here:
On Friday, April 24,
the date of the sighting, the testing of the surveyor was between 7:45 a.m. and
11:45 a.m., which means the testing was finished about six hours before Zamora
saw a craft. I will also point out that the testing was over the White Sands
Missile Range which is south of Socorro. There is no evidence that the testing
was delayed or that the surveyor strayed off the range. To suggest a delay or
the off-range trouble is pure speculation.
For the tests on April
27, these are irrelevant. All it demonstrates is that there were scheduled
tests on the range and there were no corresponding UFO sightings.
There were mentions of
the landing gear impressions that Zamora found. These were documented by the
military that night. Captain Richard Holder requested assistance from the
military police to first guard the site and later to make measurements about
the landing traces. That documentation appears in the Project Blue Book file. The
illustration shows an asymmetrical landing gear, which, I believe is the result
of the terrain, meaning that the uneven surface gives the impression of asymmetry.
If it had been a flat surface, then the landing gear would have been symmetrical.
The surveyor landing
gear is asymmetrical. On its longest dimension, it is just over 31 feet. The
landing impressions, on the longest dimension is just under 15 feet. The overall
pattern does not match that of the surveyor.
|Site survey conducted on the night of the sighting. From the Blue Book files.|
Here is the problem.
There are various models of the surveyor and there is no indication which was
being tested in New Mexico. There might be a surveyor that has landing gear
that more closely matches that of the markings found by Zamora.
In a point that isn’t
all that important, they suggest they might have found a corporate logo that
matches that seen symbol by Zamora. They said, during the program, that Zamora
had drawn the symbol from memory, implying a passage of time. But, according to
Zamora, he made the drawing within minutes of the UFO taking off and that
drawing is available in the Blue Book file. It does not resemble the corporate
logo very closely, though the investigators in the show were impressed by it.
In the Blue Book file,
there is another corporate logo that more closely matches that which Zamora
saw. It is not an exact match and it does stretch credulity to claim it does,
but it is closer than the one shown on the program.
Finally, they displayed
an illustration, drawn by Dave Thomas, that shows an OH-13 helicopter used to
suspend the surveyor under it. This contraption might be what Zamora saw,
except that he never mentioned a hovering helicopter.
On the show the two
investigators pointed out that there was a two-man crew in the helicopter and
Zamora had reported seeing two beings on the ground. I can think of no scenario
in which both pilots would leave the helicopter with the blades turning and the
engine running. One would remain behind, which is another reason to reject this
At the end of the
segment, it seemed that all agreed, that is the two investigators and Dave Thomas,
that the Socorro sighting have been solved. The surveyor straying off the Missile
Range, held aloft by a helicopter, was what Zamora saw. Well, of course, I wasn’t
convinced, which set off this investigation.
As noted, the landing
gear impressions don’t match, the range times for testing the surveyor don’t
match, the theory that the object was a surveyor carried by a helicopter doesn’t
come close to the description offered by Zamora, and the corporate logo isn’t a
match. In other words, there were too many unanswered questions.
My first step was to
look all this up on Dave Thomas’ website which can be found here:
It’s clear from that
website that the solution for the case isn’t quite as solid as presented.
According to Thomas:
course, this new evidence is far from conclusive (emphasis added). A lot
has happened since 1964, and it's difficult to reconstruct events from that
long ago, especially events with strong implications. Was it a college prank? A
hoax? A balloon? An alien craft from another world? Perhaps we'll never really
know. Gildenberg is confident that William of Occam, of Occam's Razor fame,
would think kindly of the Surveyor explanation, especially over some of the
I reached out to Dave
Thomas for his impressions, rather than just relying on that had been broadcast
and what was found on his website. He responded, telling me:
I would describe the WSMR Surveyor log Duke Gildenberg found as at
least tantalizing evidence.
It's my understanding that there might have been more than two
people involved, two to stand in for astronauts controlling Surveyor rocket
jets, and one or maybe two pilots for the helicopter itself, which was required
because of Earth's 6x gravity.
It would have been a strange looking device, indeed. Of course,
it's not 100 percent Surveyor or the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). There are
former Tech students swearing by the playing with dynamite explanation, and
then there are locals like Ron and Dorothy Landoll, who heard a fresh
description of the craft from a police colleague of Zamora's, and later
realized its similarity to the LEM when it was publicized in 1965. When I
interviewed Stirling Colgate about his report of a student-led hoax, he
unfortunately couldn't recall anything about that incident, and has passed away
While we don't know for sure what Zamora saw, I think he honestly
did see something strange that day. I don't think it was extraterrestrials,
however, that would require much stronger evidence to get me onboard.
Please note the
language used here. There are qualifications in it, and in a discussion such as
this, we all use qualifications. Nothing is written in the absolute, rather there
is a suggestion that an extraterrestrial explanation is not the likely solution
and given that we have only witness observation and landing traces, that is understandable.
To be fair, to reach the extraterrestrial should require more concrete
evidence. However, none of the other solutions offered, and over the years
there have been several, have been proven.
I will note here, that
Thomas interviewed Stirling Colgate, who, in other communications, didn’t seem to
support the idea of a student hoax, which had also been offered as the
solution. I draw attention to that here, only because Thomas mentioned it
without any prompting from me.
In the end, we’re left
with a sighting that is unexplained. I have covered parts of this in the past,
and it is reported in great detail in Encounter in the Desert, which is
about the Zamora sighting.
For those who wish more
information, just type Socorro into the search engine for a listing of
articles. For those who wish a little help, see:
This contains a list of
other relevant articles as well as being a good synopsis of the investigation.