Wednesday, August 31, 2011

UFOs: Top Cases

All in all, the guess is that about 95% of UFO sightings are explainable. 

They’re mistaken perceptions, things that can be easily explained, military tests, hoaxes, or the results of someone missing their dose for that day.  It’s the other five percent, to paraphrase Dr. Michio Kaku, that should give us the willies.  The History Channel’s Secret Access: UFOs On The Record, does a very good job of examining a few cases from that five percent.

The program is basically, from my understanding, an overview of Leslie Kean’s book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go On The Record.  Meaning the program eschews conspiracy talk in favor of quality witnesses and hard evidence, going strictly on what is known.  Kean even acts as a sort of emcee for the show in intercut interviews.  Five cases were highlighted.  Three were puzzling as always, one changed me from skeptic to tentative believer, and one still left me doubtful.  Two of the cases were the Rendlesham Forest Incident and the Belgian Black Triangle Wave of 1990, both of which have been discussed on here before.  So if you’d like to know more, please click the links.
Again I must warn, when I write about this subject, I write primarily for the UFO newbie.  Seasoned Ufologists may wish to skip this post entirely.

One case was from November of 1986.  A Japanese 747 was flying over Alaska at night.  The pilot, Kenji Terauchi, an ex-fighter pilot with 10,000 hours of flight experience, sighted two glowing objects approaching his aircraft.  The UFOs “had two rectangular arrays of what appeared to be glowing nozzles or thrusters.”  These objects then went on to enter a massive, walnut-shaped UFO ahead.  Terauchi estimated the size of the “mothership” as that of two or three aircraft carriers. 

Understandably concerned, Terauchi contacted Anchorage tower.  Flight control officials confirmed that they had a large contact in the 747’s vicinity.  A call to Elmendorf AFB revealed that there was no military traffic in that area and that the Air Force radar was indeed tracking the same object.  The UFO continued to follow Terauchi’s 747, following every turn and at times causing the plane’s flight crew to brace for collision. 

Terauchi decided to go public with his UFO encounter.  The FAA investigated.  After reviewing radar tapes and audio recordings of Terauchi and the control towers, John Callahan, Division Chief for the FAA, concluded that this was indeed something serious.  After all, an airliner did almost have a collision with something in U.S. airspace.  Callahan was called to the White House to brief national security officials on the incident.  After reviewing the tape, Callahan reports that an official from the CIA confiscated the data and stressed that both the White House meeting and the incident “never happened.”  Terauchi was later relieved of flight duty by JAL.

Another case was that of The Phoenix Lights.  On March 13th, 1997, the residents of Phoenix, Arizona witnessed an enormous formation fly over the city and surrounding region.  The video shown on TV from the sighting convinced me that the official Air Force explanation was the correct one: a flight of A-10s from the Maryland Air National Guard dropped bright magnesium flares while on maneuvers from Luke AFB.  The footage made it obvious that it was flares and if not, the size of the supposed “craft” would have been that of one of the massive ships from Independence Day and that would be tough to hide away.

What were shown on TV were indeed flares.  There is a rub in that explanation, however and it is twofold: one, the flares were dropped nearly two hours after the initial UFO sighting and two, witnesses reported seeing not just lights but a physical craft the size of “three football fields.”  The UFO was black in color, boomerang in shape, and carrying five bright lights beneath its fuselage.  It moved silently and slowly but would demonstrate sudden bursts of great speed.  One witness described the material of the hull as looking “wavy,” almost like the surface of water.  There were hundreds of witnesses to this event…including the Governor of the state, Fife Symington.

During the days following the sighting, Symington did not reveal his own encounter for obvious political reasons.  He even staged a hokey press conference with a guy in an alien costume to diffuse public tension.  It in fact, only outraged or intimidated witnesses.  In recent years, Symington expressed regret for that action and has gone on official record with his sighting:

“As a pilot and a former Air Force Officer, I can definitively say that this craft did not resemble any man made object I'd ever seen. And it was certainly not high-altitude flares because flares don't fly in formation.” 

According to a recorded report to the National UFO Reporting Center, an anonymous airman stationed at Luke AFB that night alleges that the UFO was tracked on their radar and that F-15 fighters were sent to intercept.  One of the pilots returned to the base, “visibly shaken” and in disbelief of what he saw.  His description of the UFO to the airman matches that of other witnesses.  Luke AFB then “went on lockdown.” 

Given the presence of a physical craft sighted by numerous, qualified witnesses, the Phoenix Lights have yet to be adequately explained.

The one case profiled that still leaves me unimpressed is one that occurred right here in my own backyard.  On November 7th, 2006, multiple people at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport claim to have seen a UFO over Gate C-17.  The object was said to be metallic and saucer-shaped.  After an estimated five minutes, the UFO shot straight up through the cloud cover, leaving an open hole of clean air behind in the clouds.  The official explanation is that what was observed was a “hole punch cloud” or “fallstreak cloud.”  The problem with that explanation being that on the day in question, the temperature was not below freezing, a physical requirement for such clouds to form. 

According to a Chicago Tribune investigation, there are numerous pilots and other airline employees who witnessed the UFO but many are afraid for their careers should they go on the record.  I can understand that but it adds to my problems with the case.  All we have are stories from eyewitnesses, many of whom anonymous, and no real physical evidence.  I’m not saying that a UFO did not appear over O’Hare Airport.  I’m saying that I need to see a little more first.

There are numerous other quality UFO cases that this program could have gone with had time allowed.  The Washington D.C. wave of 1952 is one.  The Minot AFB incident of 1966-67 is also quite credible.  Taken en-total, the conclusion is clear:  the UFO phenomenon is a real one and deserves sincere, professional scrutiny…not ridicule.

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  1. The Phoenix Lights is the story that actually pushed me over the edge to become a devout nonbeliever. I’d always known to consider eyewitness testimony to be a poor substitute for solid evidence, but when I actually heard the people, so sure of what they saw, I was blown away, because every second of video showed that they were completely wrong.

    One guy was narrating his video he had shot, talking about the craft directly overhead. Then, with the mountain range laid over the top, it was clearly obvious that his camera had not been pointing as straight up as he had suggested and the mountain range came into play. I don’t think these people were deliberately trying to mislead. I actually think they believed in what they said. But sincerity doesn’t necessarily equate to truth.

    Desire plays an important role as well. Who wants to see some lame flares when your bud’s seeing a spaceship? It’s the same reason believers in psychics forget the misses and remember the hits during readings. As a personal example of this, I am completely onboard with the Kenji Terauchi story. Why? Because I would love to believe in giant flying walnuts! That’s just too awesome not to believe.


  3. Heh! Gotta love The Onion.

    You are correct on three points: the "I want to believe" factor is a filter that a certain strata runs sightings through, all video (that I know of) from The Phoenix Lights was of the Air Force flares, and eyewitness testimony is pretty much worthless in most cases.

    Most cases. The ones that intrigue me are where the witnesses are trained observers. People like cops, military officials, and pilots. Just in my volunteer work with police officers, I've come to realize what an enormous segment of a cop's job is made up by observation and quickly memorizing details. I'm not saying that they don't make mistakes, it's just rarer.

    The other thing about The Phoenix Lights is that the craft was sighted hours before the Air Force ever dropped the flares. Plus, the craft was seen that night in a pathway from Mexico to Phoenix and up into Nevada...pretty much on a heading for Area 51.
    I don't think that Phoenix was necessarily alien. I've been reading about how the military has been experimenting with massive airships that can haul a large amount of cargo for a low cost. That might have been what was over Phoenix, but then there's the issue of the startling speed. In short, I don't know.

  4. Since every video shot shows the flares, isn't it a more likely scenario that the timing discrepancy was simply a mix-up on someone's part?

    As for police, they are specifically trained to memorize things like facial features, license plate numbers, etc. I'm not sure how well that works in this sort of situation.

  5. That's what I used to think. Then I learned of the reports of a physical craft long before the flares. Kind of hard for so many people to mistake a black boomerang craft for flares. If they all did, then this would make for an amazing case study of collective hallucination. And with governor of the state reporting the same thing, I'd have to argue that he should have been suspended from duty pending an intake eval.
    I think that the flares were a diversionary tactic by the military after reports started coming in. Wouldn't be the first time.


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