The debate about the existence or non-existence of extraterrestrial intelligence can be an exhausting one. Regardless of whether or not it can be proven, there are any number of strange stories that make the existence of E.T. visitations seem plausible. Some of them are so well-recorded and inexplicable that they might just have been genuine close encounters.
10 • McMinnville Incident
In Oregon, in May of 1950, a farmer named Mr. Trent saw a UFO at his farm outside McMinnville. According to Mr. Trent, his wife Evelyn first spotted the object, a silvery, metallic disk. She was outside feeding her rabbits when it appeared in the early evening sky. She called out to her husband, who came outside and watched for a couple of minutes. He then went and got a camera, and took two pictures before the object sped off to the west.
The most striking thing lending credence to the story is the Trents’ behavior. They never made any money off the photographs, and actually had to be convinced to let them be published by a local reporter—apparently, they were afraid of getting into trouble with the government.
There are disagreements as to the veracity of the photos. The Condon Report, a 1967 study into UFO phenomena conducted by the University of Colorado, concluded that relative photographic densities of objects in the photos suggested that the subject was distant, meaning they were somewhat likely to be genuine. A much more recent examination concluded that the object’s geometry was consistent with a small model hanging from a wire. But that wire has never been spotted in either photo, and Evelyn and Paul Trent earnestly insisted, until their deaths in 1997 and 1998, respectively, that the photos were of an actual UFO.
9 • Mariana Incident
In 1950, on the night of August 15, minor league baseball manager Nick Mariana became the first person to capture film footage of a UFO. It happened as he was inspecting the diamond before a game in Great Falls, Montana, which has since become a hotbed of UFO sightings, and is close to a US Air Force Base.
Mariana was able to capture two bright dots streaking across the sky on his 16mm movie camera, which he says he routinely kept in his car. After sending the film to be developed, he began to contact local newspapers—significant, as he had not yet seen the developed film and so would not have known if any fakery looked convincing. In October, he wrote a letter to the Air Force and was interviewed at Malstrom Air Force Base.
After examining the film, the Air Force concluded “possible aircraft” and dropped it. While two fighters were on record as having landed at Malstrom at around the time of the sighting, Mariana insisted that he saw those, too—in a different part of the sky. He also claimed that upon his film’s return, several frames that showed the spinning discs more clearly were missing—presumably cut by the Air Force. While the debate has never been resolved, the incident kicked off decades of over 100 sightings in Great Falls, and prompted the renaming of the minor league baseball team to the Voyagers.
8 • Chicago O’Hare Incident
When several people state flatly that they observed a saucer-shaped aircraft hovering around before bolting into the sky at incredible speeds, it is tempting to assume that they don’t know much about aircraft. But when just such an incident occurred in Chicago in 2006, it was pretty difficult to make that case—it took place at O’Hare International Airport, and most of the people who saw it were United Airlines employees.
No airline officials, air traffic controllers, or radar records indicated anything out of the ordinary, though a United supervisor did call the tower to ask if any saucers were hovering nearby. The FAA has declined to investigate, which has proved irritating to those who insist that they witnessed the incident. Officials have tossed out the usual balloons, optical illusions, and weather phenomena as possible explanations.
As for the witnesses, they counter that none of those could explain the hole that the craft punched in the clouds while making its quick ascent, which lingered for several minutes. All witnesses agreed that the craft was dark gray, didn’t have any lights or markings, and maintained its position steadily before blasting off.
7 • Edwards Air Force Base Sighting
One can’t blame the US Air Force for being sensitive about matters involving UFOs—in 1957, one supposedly landed at Edwards Air Force Base. If that sounds like an insane myth, keep in mind that it was allegedly caught on film and was reported by Gordon Cooper, a test pilot and astronaut in the United States’ first manned space program. He was at Edwards supervising the installation of a new precision-landing system at the time, and his account of the incident was pretty unambiguous.
“I had a camera crew filming the installation when they spotted a saucer. They filmed it as it flew overhead, then hovered, extended three legs as landing gear, and slowly came down to land on a dry lake bed. These guys were all pro cameramen, so the picture quality was very good. The camera crew managed to get within 20 or 30 yards of it, filming all the time. It was a classic saucer, shiny silver and smooth, about 30 feet across. It was pretty clear it was an alien craft. As they approached closer, it took off.”
The camera crew reported this incident to Cooper and turned over the film. Cooper says that he reported the incident to his superiors, and was told to develop the film and send it to Washington, which he did after watching it and finding it to be exactly as described. He says that, after that, the film vanished and didn’t come to light even when the Air Force began Project Blue Book. He suggested using it as evidence and was told it had been lost—not that it would have mattered much. According to Cooper, “Blue Book was strictly a cover-up anyway.”
6 • Socorro Encounter
On April 24, 1964, several witnesses in different parts of Socorro, New Mexico, reported different sightings of the same event. Some saw a low-flying object in the sky, some heard loud sounds reminiscent of the takeoff and landing of a powerful craft. But one man swears he actually saw it land and that it could only have been an alien spacecraft. His name was Lonnie Zamora, and it was such an astonishing encounter that it distracted him from the high-speed chase he had been engaged in when he first caught sight of the craft—at the the time of the sighting, Mr. Zamora was an on-duty Socorro police officer.
What grabbed Officer Zamora’s attention was a gigantic cone of blue light rising thousands of feet into the air, which he took to be flames. Abandoning his pursuit, he went in the direction of what was presumably a crash or a miners’ shack explosion—and that was when his day got really intense. He spotted a vehicle in a gully, then two small humanoids glimpsed from the corner of his eye seemed to “jump” at his approach before disappearing. He parked the vehicle and got out, then heard a series of metallic clangs coming from the gully. The source was a huge, metallic oval object standing on girder-like legs. Immediately, a bluish flame shot out of the bottom of the vehicle, and it rose before taking off quickly and silently, vanishing into the distance as the officer got on his radio to report what he had just seen.
A fellow officer responding to his call also saw evidence of the incident—angular indentations where the “landing gear” had made contact and burned foliage from its takeoff—and several witnesses in the area reported either an egg-shaped craft or a blue flame in the sky, some immediately afterward and independently of Zamora’s report. Several who have interviewed the officer about the incident, including journalists and Air Force officials, have similar conclusions to draw, such as former Project Blue Book head Hector Quintanilla Jr. “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 and a man well-versed in recognizing airborne vehicles in his area. He is puzzled by what he saw, and frankly, so are we.”
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