I devoted a whole week to viewing and reviewing The UFO Files, a four-hour DVD collection of the best UFO specials from Unsolved Mysteries. Well, I didn’t really do a lot of watching; I mostly just listened, because some of the episodes were very scary. That in itself was (if I may say so) a courageous endeavor: even just hearing about UFOs (or hearing them talked about in Robert Stack’s creepy voice) makes it hard to walk home at night. Several of the alleged “alien spacecraft” are obviously military spy planes (Roswell); others are obviously hoaxes (the alien autopsies); but that still leaves a handful that defy all rational explanation.
For example, the infamous Socorro encounter. On April 24, 1964, police officer Lonnie Zamora claims to have run across a mysterious, egg-shaped aircraft—and two little men—while chasing a teenager through the deserts of New Mexico. The two men were apparently taken by surprise; they disappeared into the spacecraft and it flew away in the direction of the town, where it was seen by over a dozen eyewitnesses. There are a number of factors that elevate this incident above the average UFO report. One is the physical evidence of its presence in the area: rectangular markings which penetrated into the sandy earth, burned soil, and fused glass. The other is Lonnie Zamora. Astronomer J. Allen Hynek (Steven Spielberg’s chief consultant for Close Encounters of the Third Kind) stated frankly, “I think this case may be the ‘Rosetta Stone’… There’s never been a strong case with so unimpeachable a witness.” In a private report, Project Blue Book’s director, Major Hector Quintinilla, noted, “There is no doubt that Lonnie Zamora saw an object which left quite an impression on him. There is also no question about Zamora’s reliability. He is a serious police officer, a pillar of his church, and a man well versed in recognizing airborne vehicles in his area. He is puzzled by what he saw and frankly, so are we. This is the best-documented case on record, and still we have been unable, in spite of thorough investigation, to find the vehicle or other stimulus that scared Zamora to the point of panic.”
The other two most interesting cases are the disappearance of pilot Frederick Valentich, and the Kecksburg incident of 1965. Mr. Valentich was making a routine flight over Bass Strait off the coast of Australia on October 21, 1978 when he reported being pursued by a strange, green object which he initially thought was an aircraft. It was moving at a high rate of speed and appeared to be toying with him. Confusion turned to panic as the object hovered over the plane. In his final recorded transmission, Valentich reported, “It’s hovering, and it’s not an aircraft.” This was followed by seventeen seconds of silence, during which “metallic, scraping” sounds could be heard, and then all contact was lost.
So either Freddy Valentich faked his own death—his father reports that he was fascinated by UFOs, and he may have used this as a cover story—or he lost his bearings and was flying upside down—in which case, the “object” he believed he was seeing was really the reflection of his own plane. The problem is, two eyewitnesses came forward within a week of his disappearance and reported that they had seen a plane flying over Bass Strait on the night in question, headed for the water and being tailed by an eerie green light. This is a particularly chilling piece of evidence, given that the details of the pilot’s description of the object weren’t revealed until the transcript of the final transmission was released, four years later.
So, who knows? It’s a big, scary world out there.
Equally compelling, though much less mysterious, is the Kecksburg incident. In this case, the object in question was almost certainly Russian satellite Kosmos 96. But that doesn’t make the story (as presented by Unsolved Mysteries) any less haunting. There’s a beautiful narrative progression to the events of that night, with each event producing new questions, new marvels. On December 9, 1965, a giant fireball flew over the United States and Canada. It was witnessed by thousands of people in six states, and it eventually crash-landed in the mountainous woods near Kecksburg, Pennsylvania. A small boy who was playing nearby saw the object land; his mother alerted the authorities, who immediately headed out to investigate. As dusk fell, witnesses reported a blue light, flickering on and off from inside the woods. The volunteer fire department was called in to find the object. Half-buried in the side of a hill they discovered a huge, acorn-shaped craft with mysterious hieroglyphics spanning the circumference of a band at its base. The military appeared almost instantly; cameras were confiscated, the whole place was quarantined, and the townsmen were commanded to return to their homes. Some time afterwards, various people reported seeing a flatbed truck leaving the woods with a bell-shaped tarp on its back. However, the military claims that no trace of the “meteor” (as they call it) was ever recovered.
It sounds like the plot of an early Spielberg movie. Notice the abundance of tropes: the object from another world that comes to rest in a small, peaceful town, twilight, the boys and their moms, the ragtag volunteers, the search for the object, the astonishing revelation in the woods, the lying evil army, the disappearance of all evidence.
It would make a great movie, or novel, even if the object in question wasn’t actually a Russian satellite. Russian space expert James Oberg explains why the U. S. government would claim that Kosmos 96 (an acorn-shaped spacecraft) had crashed in Canada thirteen hours earlier when they knew very well that it had not:
‘In the 1960s, U.S. military intelligence agencies interested in enemy technology were eagerly collecting all the Soviet missile and space debris they could find. International law required that debris be returned to the country of origin. But hardware from Kosmos 96, with its special missile-warhead shielding, would have been too valuable to give back.’
After all, he concluded, what better camouflage than to let people think the fallen object was not a Soviet probe, but a flying saucer?
‘The Russians would never suspect, and the Air Force laboratories could examine the specimen at leisure. And if suspicion lingered, UFO buffs would be counted on to maintain the phony cover story, protecting the real truth.’
For that reason, Oberg concluded, the Kecksburg scenario produced ‘delicious irony.’
‘A famous UFO case may actually involve a real U.S. government cover-up, but UFO buffs are on the wrong side. Instead of exposing the truth, they may be unwitting pawns in deception.’