UFO Conjectures

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Cautionary Story

This small article in a Fort Wayne, Indiana newspaper [1/27/10] indicates how easy it is for observers (witnesses) to misconstrue a mundane event:


The details (recounted in the piece) reminds us, slightly, of the Rendlesham UFO incident and should provide caveats for those who think witness testimony is the best evidence for UFO sightings (or other significant events).


  • Hello, fellow Iconoclasts!

    I usually agree with your discerning posts, but this time, I couldn't disagree more. When you say this incident "reminds us, slightly, of the Rendlesham UFO incident," I can't possibly understand why.

    This local incident was witnessed from afar, by untrained observers. Their original report included lights from nearby houses and an actual landing plane, and still, their conclusion was incorrect.

    But to compare this to a famously well-documented event, the Bentwaters/Rendlesham Forest incident over four days in 1980, is a disingenuous comparison at best. For those unfamiliar with it, a good recap is online at http://www.ufoevidence.org/topics/RendleshamForest.htm.

    Where the Ft. Wayne incident was witnessed by civilians, no less than a dozen US Air Force personnel witnessed the anomalous event in the woods just beyond a highly secure nuclear weapons storage base. From the above website: "According to USAF security patrolmen on duty, 'the object was described as being metallic in apperance and triangular in shape, approx. 2-3 meters across the base... it illuminated the entire forest with a white light, and had a pulsing red light on top and a bank(s) of blue lights underneath.' "

    These close-in observations included a number of unique reports: the airmen experienced something like static electricity as they approached what appeared to be a craft hovering close to the ground in a clearing, as well as "a sense of slowness, like time itself was an effort.” An NCO described, " 'The nearer we got to that thing the more uneasy I felt...it was as if I was moving in slow motion. I felt really hot and as if the hair was standing up on the back of my head'...There was then a silent explosion of light, causing the airmen to throw themselves to the ground in a defence. The object disappeared towards the coast and 'was gone like a blur.' "

    These descriptions by trained personnel alone would mark Rendlesham as a striking event, if it weren't that two nights later, the same lights reappeared. This time, the deputy base commander went out with more personnel, as well as a small tape recorder and large illuminating floodlights -- which mysteriously malfunctioned when near the previous night's location. They gathered soil samples and recorded unusually high radiation levels. But what was truly unique was the deputy commander's tape recording, eighteen minutes of chilling descriptions that included "star-like lights, moving in box-grid patterns and scattered about the sky... (and) pencil-thin beams of light coming from the sky."

    While certain skeptics have attempted to explain away all the sightings as a misidentified lighthouse, the fact that locals also witnessed the events (and were well aware where the lighthouse was) preclude this explanation from covering all the unusual events.

    While I agree that the Ft. Wayne event may be blamed on untrained observers, to pair this up with an event witnessed by so many trained personnel, concurrent with ground phenomena and radiation readings, is truly an error of comparisons.


    By Blogger TemplarScribe, at Friday, January 29, 2010  

  • TS:

    Our linking of the story here with Rendlesham is a stretch, I agree.

    Our point, if we really have one, is that observation is often marred by exigencies that make interpretation iffy.

    Rendlesham is a good story, but when we hear and see the military witnesses, we get the impression they were almost hysterical at the time, clouding their experience.

    I saw this kind of hysteria, first-hand, during the infamous swamp gas sighting in Ann Arbor/Dexter, Michigan in 1966 when cops and newspaper people were seeing all kinds of things that they interpreted as "flying saucers."

    (One turned out to be a Japanese Beetle trap, which was thought, at first, to be a saucer on the ground.)


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Saturday, January 30, 2010  

  • Howdy, RR!

    I agree with you that eyewitness testimony has a surprisingly bad track record. For example, in court cases, eyewitness evidence is often proven to be vastly incorrect.

    I also agree that Rendlesham has a number of interesting elements that may have common answers to them: originally, high-flying UFOs were part of the four-day series of events, until it was realized that a Soviet booster rocket had reentered the atmosphere at about the same time.

    Also, the first night, the security patrolmen chased the hovering object through the woods, and wound up looking at the distant lighthouse, although they stated quite firmly that that wasn't what they initially saw.

    And yes, the best descriptor for the reaction of some of the airmen could easily be described as "terrified." Emotion can certainly cloud the responses of even the best responders.

    But perhaps what we need to ask, in this instance at least, is this: what could have so terrified a large number of highly trained individuals -- who were armed, BTW -- so close to their station?

    It's perhaps worthwhile to realize they wouldn't be the first US military who had such a response to a nearby UFO. The sabotage alert teams who responded to the football-field-sized object that had triggered electronic sensors at a Minuteman launch site near Malmstrom AFB (November 7th, 1975) refused to approach closer than a half-mile. Their refusal was termed "fear" by at least one researcher.

    Perhaps if armed military personnel are fearful of something like this, there may be more to the object than simple misidentification.

    Good talkin' to y'all!


    By Blogger TemplarScribe, at Saturday, January 30, 2010  

  • Thanks, TS:

    You are right, of course: The Rendlesham event is interesting and complex.

    I only offered that the newspaper piece reminded me, slightly, of that case.

    Misperceptions can be egregious.

    The guys at Rendlesham were certainly scared, as you note.

    I put Rendlesham in with Roswell; that something stranger than strange happened, and we have no idea what that was.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Saturday, January 30, 2010  

  • Hi Rich,

    Ahh, the old "highly trained" canard.

    Soldiers are highly trained to do one thing - kill peoplet. They do, of course, have other areas of training as well, but this is their primary function, even in our feel-good age of nation-building and peacekeeping/making.

    But are they trained any better than Joe or Jane Q. Public when it comes to observing and reporting on events, particularly if those events are abnormal?

    I don't think so, at least not as a general rule. You have to look at the individual soldier. And there's nothing about the group at Rendlesham that stands out as being anything extraordinary in terms of their ability to observe events.

    Another canard is that military personnel are somehow immune - or at the very least, less susceptible - to emotions, perhaps even panic, than your average civilian. Again, there is no objective basis for this conclusion. It depends, at the end of the day, on the individual, and the circumstances.

    For example, a Green Beret might have nerves of steel, but a cook, or even a military policeman, might be less steadfast.

    This is not to dismiss the Rendlesham case, which is of interest. Rather, it is to remind people that no UFO case can stand on just eyewitness testimony, and no eyewitness testimony should be allowed a free pass, or the equivalent thereof, based on what amounts to an appeal to authority.


    By Blogger Paul Kimball, at Monday, February 01, 2010  

  • Paul:

    We are in agreement then?


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, February 01, 2010  

  • Rich,

    On broad principle, yes.

    A further note. Stan Friedman is often fond of saying that people are good observers, but poor interpreters. I agree with the latter part of the statement, but not the former. Having served with the RCMP myself when I was in law school, I know first hand how tricky observation can be, particularly under duress, and especially when one relies on memory after the event to reconstruct it. This is the biggest flaw in the Roswell accounts, which were given decades later.

    The best scenario - although still not perfect - is for a witness to have made notes immediately after an event, as police officers do. Then you can always "refresh your memory" later, as we used to say when being cross-examined on the witness stand.

    But no matter what, any single witness is of questionable value. What is needed is some sort of independent corroboration. Obviously, physical evidence would be best (and there is some with Rendlesham), but other witnesses viewing an event, preferably who are unknown to the first witness, and even better if they're looking at it from a different angle, will do as well in terms of making a case worth studying.



    By Blogger Paul Kimball, at Monday, February 01, 2010  

  • Of course, Paul, you are right and erudite as usual.

    But we're dealing with human nature, which is intrinsically flawed -- original sin?

    But some genius will, eventually, fathom the UFO mystery and clear up the Roswell, Rendlesham sightings, among others.

    (Or so we can hope.)


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, February 01, 2010  

  • No genius is going to "clear up" Roswell or Rendlesham. It is far too late for this now. This is because ET has become too entrenched in many peoples' minds for some magical solution to be acceptable to ET believers at this stage. Nick Redfern made a brave attempt at a new solution for Roswell. Unfortunately it did not catch on, and never will.

    As for Rendlesham I am quite happy with Ian Ridpath's lighthouse answer. Remember that Ridpath does NOT contend that this explains everything that happened over the two nights. (There have been some silly "flying lighthouse" remarks about it). Some of the other Rendlesham events were certainly due to other things like scintillating stars, a satellite re-entry and a bright meteor. And he does deal adequately with the radiation readings as well. But it will never satisfy everyone.

    With neither Roswell nor Rendlesham is there a magic answer that will cover it in one grand 'super-solution'. Neither is there, realistically, any chance of one turning up at this stage.

    By Blogger cda, at Monday, February 01, 2010  

  • Christopher:

    I'd like to be optimistic here.

    Something happened at Roswell and Rendlesham, and there are other UFO events that are interesting, to say the least.

    Once we get beyond all the accumulated detritus and nonsense that has marred those strange events, a fresh look by an objective researcher (like Kimball or Redfern) can provide a denouement that satisfies science, the media, and even you and me.

    (But, I agree, the task will be daunting.)


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, February 01, 2010  

  • This doesn't even remind one "slightly" of Rendlesham, in which there were up close observations.

    I agree that a heavy snowstorm and blowing snow can cause optical illusions, especially at night. But these conditions weren't part of the Rendlesham "event", so no parallels can be drawn whatsoever.

    By the way, you're obsessed with Roswell, though Rendlesham and many other events subsequent to Roswell are far more intriguing, substantive, and compelling.

    Don't try to downplay those other events to justify your total absorption in Roswell (do you own tracts of real estate there?) when your analogies just don't apply.

    By Blogger purrlgurrl, at Monday, February 01, 2010  

  • PG:

    We're "obsessed" with many UFO sightings.

    In the comment section we've answered another comment about our being reminded [sic] of Rendlesham by the newspaper clipping.

    You have got to read and discern what's being said in a dialogue.

    That's the problem with UFO people: they don't engage their intellects, and are so quick to defend a case they lose track of what others are actually saying.

    You believe Rendlesham is an ET event apparently, and I'm guessing you're a Brit, who wants a UFO episode to equal the Roswell event.

    Take it easy. Some here are Roswell fanatics, others are not.

    Try to really know what you're attacking....please.

    Don't be a UFO hick.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, February 02, 2010  

  • "A UFO hick"! Now, THERE's a term I ain't never heard 'afore! (:^D)

    I can see it on a t-shirt now: the words "UFO HICK" behind a shotgun-wielding redneck fellow, chasing a concerned alien pilot poking out of a retreating silver saucer. I expect them on Spawlmart shelves in time for the Fourth of July!

    I appreciate your attempt, RRR, to educate us on the perils of relying on unsupported personal observation, but I feel that your warning to stay dispassionate regarding such sightings misses the point.

    My official connection to UFOs is that of a dispassionate observer, hoping to be more accurate by being unbiased one way or another. But I have to continually remind myself that the entire range of interested UFO followers must by nature include very passionate supporters. The subject overlaps that of religion for many people, since the possibility (or likelihood) that non-terrestrial lifeforms are visiting us, would severely impact traditional Western concepts of religion.

    In fact, one of the strongest reasons I can find for the continued coverup of UFOs, along with keeping new technologies in the hands of the Yanks and Brits, is that the supposedly all-encompassing reach of the triad of Jehovah, Jesus and Mohammad may be limited to our own tiny corner of the galaxy.

    But the denial of the UFO phenomena on so many fronts, from government to traditional scientists and major news networks, causes an equivalent push-back on the part of the true believers. I therefore anticipate a stronger emotional connection to first-person UFO sightings, and make allowances. Equally, many debunkers feel just as compelled to follow their own path.

    I've noticed, in just the past year, a subtle change in my own belief system regarding the phenomena. In the past, my personal connection with UFOs was simple: I'd love to see a UFO, a real, nuts-and-bolts craft, or even one of those bizarre floating octopus-type creatures being reported recently.

    But these days, it's not enough to have a simple first-person observation, especially with today's technological resources. Instead, the best reports include multiple witnesses, combined with radar contacts and optimally, some form of physical trace. So my personal desire (divorced from my dispassionate research, of course) is to be part of a widely-witnessed UFO event, a valuable piece of a strong bridge.

    Actually, RRR, my greatest skepticism is reserved for those crystal-clear images and videos that have proliferated on the Internet. From the wobbling giant UFO that floated behind a Mexico City office building a few years back, to the widely reviled drone hoax, I have more doubt when I see video-only reports then ever before, especially if their provenance is doubtful or nonexistent.

    And I always give a greater amount of credit to police and military sightings. In both instances, they have much to lose and little to gain from reporting such sightings. And when backed by secondary evidence -- such as Rendlesham or Malmstrom, or the January 2000 triangle sightings witnessed by multiple police officers in Illinois, or the famous Shag Harbor event with its RCMP connection -- the they are, for me, some of the most reliable reports we have.


    By Blogger TemplarScribe, at Tuesday, February 02, 2010  

  • Thanks, TS:

    You're no UFO Hick, that's certain.

    But the hicks are out there (and in here).

    The uneducated and just plain stupid proliferate in the UFO world. many pretending to be "researchers" or avid aficionados, whereas they are just dopes.

    But I quibble.

    The world is fraught with such, in religion, academia, media, et cetera.

    So maybe I'm just being cranky...


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, February 02, 2010  

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