- Life can serve up a good mystery every
once in a while. Weird things happen that defy explanation, that make us
wonder how much we really know about the world.
- Something of the sort happened in San
Diego County shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday, April 4, and so far no one
has come forward with an explanation.
- "My garage door is double steel
and it weighs about 500 lbs. It was rattling back and forth like a leaf
in the wind for about 3 or 4 seconds."
- e-mail from University City resident
on April 4 disturbance Whatever it was, it caused a woman's bed to shake
in Lakeside. It created waves in a backyard pool in Carmel Valley. It set
off car alarms in Kearny Mesa and rattled windows from Mission Beach to
Poway to Vista. At various spots throughout the county, people reported
a rumbling sound or a booming noise.
- Scientists insist it wasn't an earthquake.
The Federal Aviation Administration has no record of any planes producing
a sonic boom by breaking the sound barrier.
- Camp Pendleton officials say no activities
on the Marine base could have created such a disturbance. There were no
large explosions in San Diego County that day, and no meteor fireballs
were reported in the sky that morning.
- What was it, then?
- Maybe it was the same thing that caused
a strange disturbance in Mississippi on April 7, when the locals heard
a loud boom that rattled windows all over Jackson County, throwing emergency
workers "into a tizzy," said Butch Loper, Jackson County's civil
defense director. Authorities in that state still don't have a clue as
to the cause.
- Nor, to this day, can anyone explain
what was behind similar episodes in Maine two months ago, or Alabama three
months ago, or North Carolina four months ago. In each of those cases
as well as in other incidents around the nation over the years residents
reported hearing windows rattle and feeling floors shake even though no
earthquake was detected.
- There's almost certainly a simple, unromantic,
"Aha!"-type explanation for each of these odd occurrences, something
that everyone has overlooked for whatever combination of reasons.
- But who knows?
- Maybe we're not being told everything.
Maybe the Earth still does things that present-day humanity doesn't understand.
- The morning of April 4 was cloudy in
San Diego County, with rain in some areas and temperatures in the low
to mid-60s. In Lakeside, Judi Mitchell, an emergency medical technician
who works the night shift at a hospital, had returned to her home on Lakeshore
Drive and was just about to fall asleep. It was 9 a.m., give or take a
- Suddenly, the earth started to vibrate.
- "The windows shook; my bed moved,"
she said. "It moved my bookcase."
- The rattling lasted a few seconds. Mitchell,
44, has lived in East County all her life and considers herself an expert
at judging the size of an earthquake. She quickly guessed this one was
a 4.5 on the Richter scale.
- But to the astonishment of everyone,
a quake wasn't the culprit. Within hours, both the U.S. Geological Survey
in Pasadena and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla issued
statements saying no earthquake had been detected.
- Last week, USGS spokeswoman Stephanie
Hanna said the agency stands by its initial conclusion.
- "No, it wasn't an earthquake,"
she said. "We haven't changed our minds about that."
- By noon on the day of the incident, The
San Diego Union-Tribune was being inundated with e-mails from people wondering
what could have caused the strange tremors.
- "My garage door is double steel
and it weighs about 500 lbs.," a man in University City wrote. "It
was rattling back and forth like a leaf in the wind for about 3 or 4 seconds."
- A Mission Beach resident compared the
sensation to "somewhere in between an explosion and an earthquake."
A woman in Carmel Valley noted that the rattling was very distressing
to her cats.
- In recent days, the Union-Tribune has
tried to get to the bottom of this mystery. Our efforts haven't met with
- Was it a sonic boom? If so, it didn't
come from any aircraft at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, Maj. Jason
Johnston said. And it didn't come from any Navy planes in San Diego, said
Cmdr. Jack Hanzlik, a Coronado-based spokesman for the Naval Air Forces.
- "There were no Navy aircraft operating
in this area during that time capable of flying at transonic speed,"
- Officials with the California National
Guard and several Air Force bases also insisted their planes weren't the
culprit, as did a Colorado-based spokesman for the North American Aerospace
- If a plane had been traveling over San
Diego County at supersonic speeds, the Federal Aviation Administration
would have picked it up on radar, said Cheryl Jones, the FAA's San Diego-based
liaison to the Marine Corps.
- Jones checked with FAA control centers
in Palmdale and San Diego, which monitor 180,000 square miles covering
Southern California, southern Nevada and western Arizona. The agency has
no records of any plane, military or civilian, breaking the sound barrier
on the morning of April 4, she said.
- Under federal law, Jones added, the military
can fly at supersonic speeds only in certain restricted areas, three of
which exist in Southern California. One is 150 miles to the north of San
Diego, the second is 220 miles to the east and the third is 27 miles off
the coast. The odds of a plane in any of those areas creating a sonic
boom that could be felt all over San Diego County are virtually nonexistent,
- Could some sort of rocket be the cause?
A spokeswoman at Vandenberg Air Force Base, 60 miles north of Santa Barbara,
said the base didn't launch any rockets that day. Neither did NASA, a
spokesman for that agency said.
- Was it a meteor? Unlikely, said Ed Beshore,
a researcher at the University of Arizona's NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey,
which monitors asteroids and other heavenly objects.
- Every few months, a meteor enters Earth's
atmosphere and produces an "airburst" that can cause a disturbance
on the ground, Beshore said. In one recent case, an airburst over the
Mediterranean Sea broke the windows on a ship, he said. In the most extreme
incident ever recorded, a 1908 airburst over Siberia flattened trees for
thousands of miles.
- But an airburst powerful enough to cause
tremors all over San Diego County would have been noticed by scientists,
Beshore said. And the American Meteor Society reported no fireball sightings
over California on April 4.
- A spokeswoman for Camp Pendleton scoffed
at speculation that some sort of Marine mortar training exercise at the
base might have caused the countywide rumbling. "It was not us,"
2nd Lt. Lori Miller stated flatly.
- Miller was home in Vista on the morning
of April 4 when her windows began to rattle. There is no possible way,
she said, that a Pendleton training exercise could have caused a sensation
- Two months before the San Diego incident,
Robert Higgins, the emergency management director of Somerset County,
Maine, was confronted with a nearly identical set of puzzling circumstances.
In February, panicked residents in a 15-mile radius reported feeling earthquakelike
tremors. Authorities quickly ruled out an earthquake, explosion or industrial
- "I've called it the mystery of Somerset
County," Higgins said in a telephone interview last week. He still
hasn't figured out the cause.
- "I'm not done with it," Higgins
said. "I don't forget."
- Then there was the incident in Mobile,
Ala., on Jan. 19, when residents in two counties reported hearing what
sounded like an explosion and feeling "quakelike tremors," according
to news reports. To this day, no one is certain of the cause. By process
of elimination, authorities have settled on the sonic-boom theory, even
though no branch of the military has owned up to it.
- There have been other similar unexplained
events over the past few years. Something of the sort happened in Wilmington,
N.C., on Dec. 20, 2005; Winston-Salem, N.C., on March 5, 2005; Charleston,
S.C., on Aug. 1, 2003; and Pensacola, Fla., on Jan. 13, 2003.
- "The large boom that shook walls
and windows from Century to Milton on Monday remains a mystery, and probably
will stay that way," a reporter for the Pensacola News Journal wrote
after the Jan. 13 episode.
- On those occasions when a logical explanation
is wanting, it's sometimes necessary to consult that archive of wisdom
otherwise known as the Internet.
- Among bloggers and Web-based conspiracy
theorists, one of the leading explanations for the San Diego disturbance
is that the military is testing a top-secret spy plane called the Aurora,
which supposedly can travel several times the speed of sound.
- "Sir, I've never even heard of that
plane before," an Air Force spokeswoman in Virginia responded when
asked about the possibility.
- Even UFO experts are baffled by what
happened in San Diego. Asked whether a flying saucer might have caused
such an event, Peter Davenport of the Seattle-based National UFO Reporting
Center said, "Probably not."
- "UFOs almost never generate sonic
booms or shock waves," he added. "They accelerate so rapidly
that they leave a vacuum in the sky, much the way lightning does."
- What happened in San Diego on April 4
seems destined to remain one of life's little mysteries, as inexplicable
as those Bigfoot sightings in the Pacific Northwest.
- Mitchell, the Lakeside hospital worker,
remains convinced that an earthquake was the culprit, regardless of what
the experts say. The tremors were too strong, she said, too violent to
be anything else.
- "The earth actually moved,"
she said. "You could feel it. If it moved my bed, it moved the earth."
- If anyone out there has any answers,
would you please be kind enough to share them with the rest of us? A lot
of folks are really curious.