When UFOs Land
By Jim Wilson
note: photos available at

The rich really are different. When Laurance S. Rockefeller-yes, those Rockefellers-wanted to know more about UFOs, he didn't have to satisfy his curiosity at alien-hunters' Web sites or in the Weird Science section of Barnes & Noble. He asked Peter A. Sturrock, the former director of the Center for Space Science and Astrophysics at Stanford University, to convene a private meeting of a dozen top scientists at the Pocantico Conference Center, on the grounds of the old Rockefeller family estate 20 miles north of Manhattan. Sturrock's guest list and agenda was noteworthy for its omissions. Bob Lazar, who claimed to have reverse-engineered UFOs at Area 51, wasn't invited. Neither was alien-buster Philip J. Klass of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Roswell, the "face" on Mars and other familiar sightings got little attention. Instead, researchers from Princeton University, Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Center for Space Research in France focused on cases with more meat on their bones-sightings in which physical evidence was left behind. "While their findings were not conclusive, I hope [they] will raise the level of the debate," Rockefeller said afterward.
"Ask most scientists what they think of the UFO enigma and you will almost certainly get a scoff and a brushoff like, 'There's not one shred of evidence,'" says Bernard Haisch, an astronomer with more than 100 scientific publications to his credit. "That answer is simply not true. The problem is that this evidence does not follow our expected scientific logic, and so scientists dismiss what is, in fact, a huge number of accounts. Many sighting reports, as absurd as they sometimes appear, are probably real. Most professional scientists never bother to look at the evidence. Instead, the dogmatic dismissals by professional debunkers, which are often patently ridiculous, are simply taken at face value."
As you will see for yourself, some of the cases discussed at Pocantico are difficult for even die-hard skeptics to ignore.
Police Cruiser Blackout Luis Delgado was a 28-year-old patrolman for the Haines City, Fla., police department when he became part of one of the most compelling UFO sightings. It happened about 3:50 am, on March 19, 1992. Delgado noticed a rapidly descending green light in his rearview mirror as he drove down a street alongside a citrus grove. The light seemed to keep pace with his cruiser, until he slowed down. Then the silent, dome-shaped object flew overhead, filling his police cruiser with a brilliant green glow. He pulled to a stop, and the power in his vehicle went dead. For the next several minutes he stood outside his car watching the 15-ft.-wide craft hover silently in front of him. It seemed to float about 10 ft. off the ground, cooling the surrounding air to the point at which it formed a foggy mist. Then, just as quickly as it appeared, it sped away. Delgado returned to his car, and found the electrical system was again operating.
"The scientific panel was very impressed by cases in which electrical equipment was disrupted," says Michael D. Swords, of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich. A conference participant at Pocantico, Swords told Popular Mechanics that this type of encounter is far more common than most people realize. UFO investigator Mark Rodeghier of the Center for UFO Studies in Chicago told the conference at Pocantico that over the past 50 years more than 500 similar reports had been filed. What distinguishes the Delgado sighting is the inherent credibility of the observer. As a police officer, Delgado had nothing to gain-and possibly a great deal to lose-by coming forward with his account.
Trans-En-Provence For UFO investigators, the most disappointing aspect of the Delgado sighting isn't the absence of evidence, but the way evidence has been allowed to simply disappear through neglect. Samples of the nearby road and vegetation were never collected. No radiation measurements of the area were made.
UFO researchers in France take the scientific investigations of unexplained aerial phenomena more seriously than those in the United States. The Center for Space Research, France's counterpart to NASA, even has a team that swings into action when these types of events occur. The team is called GEPAN, after the French acronym for Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena Study Group.
Investigator Jean-Jacques Velasco told the Pocantico conference the details of what is perhaps the most completely and carefully documented sighting of all time, the Trans-En-Provence incident. Renato Nicolai didn't think he had seen a UFO, but instead a secret military aircraft that had strayed from its test site. A contractor who had been retired for about two years when the episode occurred on Jan. 8, 1981, Nicolai was working on his terrace in the late afternoon when he heard a faint whistling. In the distance he saw a lead-colored object, about 5 ft. high, a bit wider in diameter, and shaped like a pair of inverted bowls, fall from the sky. It came to a floating stop about 6 ft. above the ground. For the next half-minute he observed the object, and then watched it rise into the sky, creating a small trail of dust. "When my wife came home in the evening, I told her what I had seen," he said in his official report. "My wife thought I was joking." The following morning, he showed her where it had hovered and the two of them spotted circular traces it had left in the ground. Neighbors suggested they tell the police. Through the police, word reached GEPAN, which routinely checks to see whether such sightings are of a military activity or an aircraft. When both were ruled out, GEPAN interviewed Nicolai and collected soil from the area where the object had reportedly hovered. The mystery only deepened. There was black material mixed with the soil, but chemical analysis ruled out combustion residue, oil or concrete. Later analyses showed the soil had been contaminated with traces of metal, and the surrounding vegetation showed subtle damage. Something happened in Trans-En-Provence, but to this day no one is certain of what that was.
Metal Rain There was absolutely no question about what happened in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the night of Dec. 17, 1977. A UFO ejected about 40 pounds of molten metal onto the ground. While most of America was settling down for the evening sitcoms, Mike and Criss Moore, who were each 24 at the time, were driving to Mike's mother's home in Council Bluffs. About a half mile ahead, just above the treetops, they saw a glowing red ball falling toward Big Lake Park. "It hit the ground in the vicinity of Gilberts Pond in Big Lake Park, across the Missouri River from Eppley Airfield. The exact street address is 1900 N. Eighth St.," says Jacques F. Vallee-a computer scientist who has compiled a database of thousands of sightings-in detailing the episode. When onlookers arrived at the impact point on a small levee, they found a 4-in.-thick mass of molten, red-orange metal covering the frozen ground, about 16 ft. from the road. The metal mass was still glowing 15 minutes later when Mike Moore's father, assistant fire chief Jack Moore, arrived.
After the metal had cooled, Robert Allen, a local astronomer, collected samples. Part of the roughly 40-pound slab went to the U.S. Air Force's Foreign Technology Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. A portion also went to the Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University. The Air Force never made its analysis public, but in a letter assured local authorities that "re-entering spacecraft debris does not impact the earth's surface in a molten state." In his report, Ames Laboratory director Robert S. Hansen ruled out a meteor.
Officially, the episode remains an unsolved mystery, but Vallee sees it as something more telling. The Council Bluffs episode was not unique. At the Pocantico conference, Vallee said that in at least nine other sightings, aerial objects in distress were accompanied by the ejection of molten metal. "Reports of unusual metallic residue following the observation of an unexplained aerial phenomenon are detailed enough for a comparative study to be undertaken."
True Skeptics Needed Bernard Haisch, a former Lockheed scientist who had served on the Rockerfeller panel in 1997, believes it is time for the scientific community to become more skeptical in the truest sense of the word. "We need to be skeptical of both the believers and the scoffers," he told PM during a visit to the California Institute for Physics and Astrophysics in Palo Alto, Calif., where he is currently director. To this end, Haisch recently created The Web site encourages mainstream scientists to reconsider the UFO phenomenon in light of recent advances in physics, such as superstring and M-brane theories, which postulate the existence of multidimensional space. "I have been an active professional astronomer since earning my doctorate in 1975," he says. "I've learned quite a bit about the UFO phenomenon over the years, certainly more than I had bargained for. UFO sightings are not limited to farmers in backward rural areas. There are astronomers, and pilots and NASA engineers, who have witnessed events for which there is no plausible conventional explanation."
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