The Project Blue Book files reveal that on March 24, 1967, near the small town of Belt, Montana, a truck driver, Ken Williams, saw 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.
Williams, in a handwritten document filed with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomenon, told the whole story of 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.
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 Blue Book 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
All mention of the radar reports are missing from the Blue Book files, as are the reports from Air Force personnel. Even if Chase was uninterested in most of the civilian sightings, 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.
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.
Robert Salas and Jim Klotz were the first to tell the story of Echo Flight, first in an online article at cufon.org and later in their book, Faded Giant. Robert Hastings, in his UFOs and Nukes, provided additional information. The story they told started early on the morning of March 16, 1967, when two missile maintenance teams who had been working on two of the flight’s widely scattered launch facilities had said they had seen strange lights in the sky near where they were located. A mobile security team confirmed this, saying they had seen the lights as well. All of this was told to Colonel Don Crawford by Captain Eric Carlson and 1st Lieutenant Walt Figel as Crawford came on duty, at least and according to what Salas had been told during his 1996 taped interview with Figel. Hastings had been told virtually the same things during his interviews with Figel.
About 8:30 a.m., that same morning, as both Carlson and Figel were performing routine checks, the flight’s missiles began to drop off line. Within seconds, though Figel would later suggest it was minutes, all ten missiles were inoperable. In the event of war, they could not have launched. This was a major national security issue and a point that would become important later as the government files are searched.
Hastings wrote, “Immediately after the malfunctions at Echo, the launch officers ordered two separate Security Alert Teams to drive to each of the launch facilities where the UFOs had been sighted. Nevertheless, the maintenance and security personnel at each site reported seeing UFOs hovering near the missile silos.”
He added, “…some months after my book came out, in July 2008, I interviewed Figel on tape. He said one of the two SAT teams reported seeing the UFO over one of the silos. In 1996, he told Salas that both teams had seen it. A faded memory, it seems…”
But the story wasn’t quite so mundane, as Hastings learned during his interviews with Figel. When Hastings talked to Figel, a retired Air Force Colonel on October 20, 2008, he was told that one of the guards had suggested the UFO had shut down the missiles. Figel thought the guard was joking. He told Hastings, “I was thinking he was yanking my chain more than anything else.”
Hastings asked, “He seemed to be serious to you?”
And Figel responded, “He seemed to be serious but I wasn’t taking him seriously.”
Hastings wanted to know what the man had seen and Figel said that it was just a large, round object that was directly over the launch facility.”
To clarify the situation Hastings and Figel discussed the security procedures. Figel said, “[When] the missiles dropped off alert, I started calling the maintenance people out there on the radio… [I asked] ‘What’s going on?’ … And the guy says, ‘We got a Channel 9 No-Go. It must be a UFO hovering over the site.”
Figel, of course, didn’t believe him. He said that one of the Strike Teams, they had dispatched two, but one of them thought they had seen something over the site. They told Figel that a large object was hovering there.
All of this, of course, suggests that UFOs were somehow involved with the sudden shut down of the missile systems. Although the government files reject the idea, there is a great deal of eyewitness testimony for this.
The maintenance teams were dispatched and once they had located the problem, they were able to bring the missiles back on line, but the process was not simple and required hours for each missile. There was an extensive investigation that involved not only the Air Force but also the contractors who had designed and built the missiles.
According to the 341st Strategic Missile Wing Unit History, recovered through Freedom of Information:
On 16 March 1967 at 0845, all sites in Echo (E) Flight, Malmstrom AFB, shutdown with No-Go indication of Channels 9 and 12 on Voice Reporting Signal Assemble (VRSA). All LF’s in E Flight lost strategic alert nearly simultaneously. No other Wing I configuration lost strategic alert at that time.
Guidance & Control channel 50 dump data was collected from E-7 facility and E-3 Facility and all 10 sites were then returned to strategic alert without any LF equipment replacement. All 10 sites were reported to have been subject to a normal controlled shutdown…
The only possible means that could be identified by the team involved a situation in which a couple self test command occurred along with a partial reset within the coupler. This could feasible cause a VRSA 9 and 12 indication. This was also quite remote for all 10 couplers would have to have been partially reset in the same manner…
In the researching of other possibilities, weather was ruled out as a contributing factor in the incident.
A check with Communications maintenance verified that there was no unusual activity with EWO-1 or EWO-2 at the time of the incident.
All of which, in the short term, did not explain why the missiles all went off line at virtually the same time. In other words, at that point they didn’t know why the missiles went off line. In a very technical aspect of the Unit History, it explains that a “30 micro sec Pulse… was placed on the Self-Test Command (STC) line… Seven out of 10 separate applications of a single pulse would cause the system to shut down with a Channel 9 & 12 No-Go.”
Or according to the files, a randomly introduced electronic pulse which might be considered an EMP, which shouldn’t have affected the missile systems, had shut them down. The point of insertion was apparently the Launch Control Facility, but all those areas should have been shielded from just such an occurrence.
The information about the Echo Flight was, quite naturally, communicated to the Condon Committee, and Dr. Roy Craig responded. Although not exactly government files, Craig was working on a government contract for the Air Force when he made his notes on his meeting with Lieutenant Colonel Chase at Malmstrom. Craig’s notes on the meeting said:
After Colonel Chase and I exchanged pleasantries in his office, I asked him about the Echo incident. The Colonel caught his breath, and expressed surprise that I knew of it. ‘I can’t talk about that’… If I needed to know the cause of this incident, I could arrange through official channels, to see their report after the completion of the investigation… Although local newspapers carried stories of UFO sightings which would coincide in time with Echo, Colonel Chase had assured me that the incident had not involved a UFO… I accepted the information as factual and turned review of Major Schraff’s report (on the Echo incident) over to Bob Low [Dr. Robert Low, also a member of the Condon Committee], who had received security clearance to read secret information related to the UFO study… Low, in turn, had to interface with his Air Force Liaison in Washington, Col. Hippler [Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hippler]…. [Low wrote to Craig] ‘Roy, I called Hippler and he said he would try to get this, but he suspects it’s going to be classified too high for us to look at. Says he thinks interference by pulses from nuclear explosions is probably involved.
So, it seems that a cause had been found, or rather it seemed to have been found, but the ultimate source of the pulse was not identified. Hippler, speculating about the source of the pulse came up with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a nonexistent atomic blast. That the pulse shut down all the missiles made it a national security issue, which changed the level of the classification.
Oddly, in the 341st SMW Unit History, it noted, “Rumors of Unidentified Objects (UFO) around the area of Echo Flight during the time of the fault were disproven. A Mobile Strike Team, which had checked all November Flight’s LFs [Launch Facilities] on the morning of 16 March 67, were questioned and stated that no unusual activity or sightings were observed.”
But that doesn’t seem to be quite accurate. Hastings interviewed James Ortyl who had been assigned as an Air Policeman at Malmstrom. Ortyl said:
I was an Airman 2nd Class [A2C] at the time. We were working the day-shift at Kilo Flight in March of 1967… It was mid-morning and three or four Air Policemen were gathered in the launch control facility dispatch office. Airman Robert Pounders and I were facing the windows looking out to the yard and parking lot. The others were facing us. As we were conversing, I witnessed a shimmering, reddish-orange object clear the main gate and in a sweeping motion pass quickly and silently pass by the windows. It seemed to be within 30 years of the building. Stunned, I looked at Pounders and asked, “Did you see that?!” He acknowledged that he had.
To be fair, Ortyl didn’t know the exact date, but said that in was near his birthday of March 17th. But then there is Craig’s interview with Chase which also moves in the direction of UFO sightings on the proper date. Craig’s notes indicate that he had the names of some of those involved with the UFO sightings at the time of Echo’s shut down, but he never contacted any of them.
Craig also had the name of Dan Renualdi who, in March 1967, was a member of the Site Activation Task Force (SATAF). He said that he had been within a few feet of an object. There was also a sergeant with the Air Force Technical Evaluation Team who said he had seen a flying saucer. There is no record of Craig talking to either of these men, nor are there any reports in the Project Blue Book files to suggest that the sightings had been reported there. That was a violation of the regulations in force at the time, although it could be argued there were contradictory regulations.
All this demonstrates is that there was another reported UFO around the time that Echo Flight had gone down, contrary to what the Unit History said. It does not prove that the UFOs had anything to do with the anomalous pulse.
There is another aspect to this. Quite naturally, the Air Force wanted to know what had happened. The man who conducted the investigation for Boeing, the Defense Contractor for the missile systems was Robert Kaminski. In a letter dated February 1, 1997 to Jim Klotz, he wrote:
At the time of the incident, I was an engineer in the MIP/CNP (Material Improvement Project/Controlled Numbered Problem) group…. The group was contacted by the Air Force so that Boeing could respond to specific Air Force Minuteman Missiles problems that occurred in the field…
I was handed the E-Flight CNP assignment when it arrived by the group supervisor. As the internal Boeing project engineer I arranged meetings necessary with management and technical personnel required to determine a course of action to be taken, in exploring why 10 missiles had suddenly fallen from alert status – green – to red, with no explanation for it. This was an unusual request and we had no prior similar incident or experience to this kind of anomaly….
Since this was a field site peculiar incident, a determination was made to send out an investigative team to survey the LCF and the LFs to determine what failures or related incidents could be found to explain the cause…. After a week in the field the team returned and pooled their data. At the outset the team quickly noticed a lack of anything that would come close to explain why the event occurred. There were no significant failures, engineering data or findings that would come close to explain how ten missiles were knocked off alert. This indeed turned out to be a rare event and not encountered before. The use of backup power systems and other technical system circuit operational redundancy strongly suggests that this kind of event is virtually impossible once the system was up and running and on line with other LCF’s and LF’s interconnectivity….
The team met with me to report their findings and it was decided that the final report would have nothing significant in it to explain what happened at E-Flight. In other words there was no technical explanation that could explain the event… Meanwhile I was contacted by our representative… (Don Peterson) and told by him that the incident was reported as being a UFO event – That a UFO was seen by some Airmen over the LCF at the time E-Flight when down.
Subsequently, we were notified a few days later, that a stop work order was on the way from OOAMA to stop any further effort on this project. We stopped. We were also told that we were not to submit the final engineering report. This was most unusual since all of our work required review by the customer and the submittal of a final Engineering report to OOAMA…
However, as I recall nothing explained this anomaly at E-Flight.
Hastings, in a review of the material in 2013, wrote, “Actually, the large round object sighted by the missile guard, and reported to launch officer Lt. Walter Figel, had been hovering over one of the Echo missile silos, not the launch control facility itself. Nevertheless, Boeing engineer Kaminski’s revealing testimony essentially confirms Figel’s account of a UFO presence during the incident.”
As found in many other UFO incidents, there are a small number of people who seem to be outraged by the thought that a UFO had been seen and interacted with the environment. In this case, that is James Carlson, son of the Echo Flight MCCC on March 16, 1967, Captain Eric Carlson. He has carved out quite a presence on the Internet suggesting that Hastings and Salas, to be generous, were somewhat less than accurate.
But given all the information available, given the number of men who had been identified as being members of either Echo or Oscar Flight, and given the documentation that is available in the government files, some conclusions can be drawn. The situation, as it stands today, and looked at through neutral eyes, can be understood.
James Carlson is of the opinion that nothing UFO-related happened that day. He said that his father had told him about the events, and there was no need to speak to others. In fact, Carlson apparently wrote to Billy Cox, blogging as Devoid at the Herald Tribune (article at http://devoid.blogs.heraldtribune.com/ 10647/nukes-debate-gets-personal/), “I didn’t question Walt Figel because his response is already part of the record. It wasn’t necessary. My father was the commander at Echo Flight, and I questioned him… my father would never lie to me about something like that.”
Yet, according to Hastings, he interviewed Eric Carlson on October 6, 2008, and was told that the elder Carlson “he himself had previously received reports from missile security guards of UFOs during other missile alerts… but that he didn’t take them seriously.”
While not a ringing refutation of what he son was saying, it does speak to the idea that UFOs had been reported and that Eric Carlson didn’t believe them. In fact, he added, “You take an 18-year-old kid and stick him out there for days, with nothing but TV dinners, and they have a tendency to see things.”
Carlson noted that the 341st SMW Unit History didn’t mention any UFO sightings. It did say only that “Rumors of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) around the area of Echo Flight during the time of the default were disproven.”
But there is nothing in the Unit History to explain how they had been disproven, nor why, if the UFOs hadn’t been around, and there were no stories around, they would even bother to mention this. It seems to be one of those things that Sherlock Holmes would say. “It was strange that the dog didn’t bark.”
In reality, however, Figel mentioned the maintenance crew talking about UFOs. There are suggestions that the security teams saw lights and UFOs. In other words, the rumors weren’t disproven, merely ignored, which isn’t quite the same thing.
More importantly, any UFO sightings at the time, especially if linked to the failure of the missiles, would be a matter of national security. They would not have been reported through the same channels as other UFO reports. That none of these reports were filed with Project Blue Book, which regulations required, unless it was a matter of national security, is interesting.
In a similar vein, Carlson said that Figel had not believed the UFO story and thought it was a joke. He quotes Figel as saying, “I thought it was a joke.” But the line is taken out of context. True, Figel did think that the maintenance crew was joking, but it is also true that Figel said they sounded sincere. In other words, he thought of it as a joke, but they did not and were attempting to tell him what they were seeing above ground.
So, Carlson didn’t see any UFOs, but he talks of others, above ground, seeing these things and reporting them. He seems to reject the idea that any UFO was seen on March 16, and that UFOs had nothing to do with the shut down, contrary to what his deputy, sitting in the capsule next to him had to say about this.
Carlson makes a big deal that Figel didn’t attend the press conference held at the National Press Club by Hastings and Salas, wondering why he was excluded. But the reason for not wishing to participate, rather than being excluded, was that Figel didn’t want to get in the middle of an argument between Hastings and Eric Carlson. Figel severed his communications with all, once the acrimony among all parties became known. Figel had been invited, he just never responded to the invitation.
These sorts of arguments can become quite tedious, especially when one side takes statements out of context, doesn’t provide full disclosure on all that witnesses said, and is driven by an agenda that leads to a very narrow and extremely hostile point of view. It is clear, based on the government files that all ten Minuteman missiles of Echo flight failed in a matter of minutes, possibly seconds. There were reports of UFOs in the area, and both Captain Eric Carlson and 1st Lt. Figel knew of it. That Figel thought of it as a joke does not mean that it didn’t happen.
It is strange that there is no documentation for a similar failure at Oscar Flight just days later, but there are UFO sightings in the government files. There are witnesses to this other than Robert Salas, and while their stories don’t completely agree, the differences are minor. They are the sort of thing to be expected after decades when the men are relying on their memories.