Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Expedition Unknown in Socorro


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 theory.

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:

Of 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 other contenders.

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 since.

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.


RWE said...

I saw that episode as well and discussed it with a friend of mine. He replied that the Surveyor explanation had already been shot down, since aside from the obvious requirement of an invisible H-13, that Friday mission had been scheduled but actually was scrubbed and did not even occur that day.

KRandle said...


An interesting comment but is there any documentation for the mission being scrubbed. Such documentation would eliminate this proposed solution.

Paul Young said...

If there was a helicopter involved, it isn't feasible that Zamora wouldn't have noticed it. He was a cop for goodness sake...part of the job is to "notice" things.

As for the "student hoax" theory, I've never understood how this has ever been entertained at all.
A hoax is only worthwhile when at a later time you can proudly boast about how you have "hoaxed" someone in the first place!
It would have been an incredible achievement that someone would have owned up to by now.

Paul Young said...

If there was a helicopter involved, it isn't feasible that Zamora wouldn't have noticed it. He was a cop for goodness sake...part of the job is to "notice" things.

As for the "student hoax" theory, I've never understood how this has ever been entertained at all.
A hoax is only worthwhile when at a later time you can proudly boast about how you have "hoaxed" someone in the first place!
It would have been an incredible achievement that someone would have owned up to by now.

John Steiger said...

Kevin: So let me get this straight -- the program concludes that Lonnie Zamora could not distinguish a helicopter & lunar surveyor from the craft Sheriff Zamora reported seeing? This is ludicrous, in fact, even moreso than those who suggest Major Marcel could not distinguish between flying saucer components and a weather balloon.

In addition, please recall that Sheriff Zamora witnessed the craft blast-off and upward from its landing place. What type of helicopter blasts-off, pray tell?

And finally, Sheriff Zamora never mentioned hearing the singular sound of a helicopter either. Don't you think this might have come up at some point if a helicopter was in any way involved?

Woody said...

Hi Kevin, I think skeptics like myself will often rate a report and supposed explanations in terms of how far the explanations seem to be from the report. With a history of countless misidentifications, testing of rather curious looking devices and limitless imagination in terms of 'UFO excitement', we can care less for the accuracy and more for detail stretch.
When alternative natural explanations are considered and all shown to be no likely explanation for an amazing UFO report, does it then become a likely visiting alien?
Is it for skeptics to disprove incredible claims, or is it for the claimant to prove that it was an alien, interstellar craft?
I understand we wait for better suggestions that could possibly explain an amazing case. But does a lack of better explanation leave us with anything better than a mystery?

KRandle said...

Woody -

First, let me say that I understand that it is the claimant to prove the case rather than for the skeptic to disprove it. That almost goes without saying.

And, if all the mundane and natural explanations fail to explain a sighting, the default should not be alien visitation.

However, I also believe that it is the responsibility of the skeptic to acknowledge the failed explanation, or to scrutinize an explanation with the same skeptical insight given to the claim of alien visitation. Given the testimony of Lonnie Zamora, given the investigation that took place on the very night of the sighting, given the physical traces left behind, and given that a helicopter holding up the LEM is not a viable explanation, I believe that the Zamora/Socorro sighting remains unidentified.

Given the nature of the Socorro case, and some of the new evidence presented in Encounter in the Desert, I believe that all the terrestrial explanations offered to this point have failed but I say again, that does not lead directly to the extraterrestrial, only that, as of now, we have no good terrestrial explanation.

Woody said...

Well said Kevin. I understand that some of the reports and related reports (like the discovery of a report of an almost identical craft at a different location), add some strength to the case.
You make a good point about acknowledging failed denials, weak explanations and theories which seem no better than the incredible one.
That's one of the things I love about critical thinking, I can turn that deadly beam on myself and weigh my own interpretations with as much smarts and gusto as I aim at the incredible claims.

Your fan,


Moonman said...

Look at "Surveyor T-2 Accident Review". It was a balloon drop test. Meaning, the Surveyor model was lifted by a _tethered_ balloon 1200 ft and released. Being tethered means it is over "ground zero". It is not flying willy-nilly. It is not carried by helicopter. It screwed up on April 28, 1964 and fell improperly and burst into flames on the ground.

The first attempt at doing this drop test was 4-20-64 to 4-21-64.
The second attempt was 4-21-64 to 4-22-64.
The third attempt was 4-22-64 to 4-23-64.
The fourth attempt was 4-27-64 to 4-28-64.

Paul Young said...

Dr Kevin Randle "....if all the mundane and natural explanations fail to explain a sighting, the default should not be alien visitation.

However, I also believe that it is the responsibility of the skeptic to acknowledge the failed explanation, or to scrutinize an explanation with the same skeptical insight given to the claim of alien visitation."

I don't think I've ever heard this point ever made as well as this.

jamesrav said...

I'm incredulous that anyone could suggest Zamora saw some experimental craft from a distance of 33 paces (he got to within 100') and somehow could not determine what he was seeing. Every time I now read that in YT comments, my reply is "therefore you yourself could not distinguish a man-made craft being held aloft by a helicopter from a distance of 33 paces? Please admit as such, and I'll then entertain the idea Zamora could make the same mistake". Nobody seems to want to fess up to that. Plus, if that *was* the case, what prevented anyone in authority from saying that is indeed what happened. Done, over, mystery solved. Take Zamora at his word and go from there: either an ET craft/occupants that felt a 2 or 3 minute visit to Earth was more than enough, or something far more bizarre. As Vallee said recently "I'll be disappointed if UFO's turn out to be merely ET".

Woody said...

Thanks Kevin,
It is a curious case with a single-witness landing. There is description of vague second-hand corroberation but for all i've read about the case I feel a little lost. I don't like any of the banal, terrestrial explanations either. The 'aliens' were only described as 'people'. The inter-stellar craft was described as a 'blasting flame' propelled thing beyond our talent at the time but seemingly not far beyond.
Landing-trace reports can be important.
I recently ordered 'Encounter in the Desert'. I haven't read a UFO book in a very long time but i'm getting the feeling from you that this case is a little more interesting than i've gathered so far and I look forward to reading your book on the case.


Woody said...

I like the book Kevin!
You have included a lot about other UFO sightings, landings and even ufonaughts.
It seemed as if quite a localised flap was growing around that time which includes strange and exciting reports but which also led you to ask about how ufology itself can work against serious investigation. Reports lead to a flap, does the flap then lead to more reports? Or just more attention paid to the skies?
I remember long discussion and debate here about aspects of this case like the symbol or the 'humanoids' (a term we used to describe rather human-shaped monsters in Dungeons and Dragons).
Although one debate here which became quite heated but which got almost no coverage in the book was Zamora's glasses and the fact that they had fallen off his face for much of the incident. Without knowing more about the quality of his vision at the time I cannot use the missing glasses to automatically throw doubt on what he claims he saw.
I understand now that it was not a 'single witness case'. Blasting blue flame was reported by others, as was the deafening roar, both quite notable and specific sensory effects.
I agree with some skeptics that these might seem more like staged effects and might smell of hoax. I am certainly not in the habit of underestimating hoaxers ... but still, in that location and that time with the witnesses that were involved as fast as they were ... a hoax is very doubtful.
I agree that there is still more evidence we would need to provide proof of alien visitation but that this case (in terms of the quality and connections provided by evidence) comes very close to the mark.
Forgive my long absence, I will be looking over your collection of books a little more closely to provide my next ufology read.