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.”
5 The Westall UFO
On April 6, 1966, in Melbourne, Australia, witnesses say a silver, disc-shaped craft was spotted whizzing around, and that it then landed in a paddock near a high school and took off again. It would be a somewhat typical report of the type that is normally just a prank or misidentification of something else—except that this incident was observed by over 200 people in broad daylight, and no explanation has ever been offered.
Though eyewitness accounts vary, that is not unusual even in non-paranormal events when so many people are involved. What witnesses agreed on was that a large group of students were finishing their physical education class when several of them pointed out a silver or silvery-green craft about twice the size of a car, buzzing and hovering around a group of pine trees behind the school. After some time it landed among the pines. By that time, more students had come outside to see what was going on and some witnesses claim that private aircraft were approaching to investigate. In full view of this crowd, the craft rose from the trees, tilted at a 45-degree angle, flew into the sky at a rate of speed the private planes were unable to match, and vanished.
The nearest airport reported no private planes taking off in the area at that time, and neither did the military confirm any activity. Those who propose conventional explanations for this event are confounded by the fact that the object was in full view of hundreds of people for over 20 minutes, and was clearly not a plane or weather balloon—yet, no photographic or film evidence exists, and no pilot has ever claimed to have participated in the “chase.” The Westall incident remains one of Australia’s most debated unsolved UFO cases.
4 The Portage County Chase
According to Project Blue Book and the aforementioned Quintanilla, half a dozen or so police officers chased a communications satellite—and then, after losing sight of that, the planet Venus—into the Ohio wilderness and across the state line into Pennsylvania in the pre-dawn hours of April 17, 1966. When this official report was released, the police officers involved had a less-than-receptive response—in fact, they were infuriated by the insinuation that they could be that stupid. Especially considering this statement, signed by Deputy Sheriff Dale Spaur, one of the first to observe the object.
“We found an abandoned car on the berm on Rt. 224 between Atwater and Randolph. We left our car to routinely investigate this vehicle. Spaur noticed a light over the trees on the hill next to the berm, and called Neff’s attention to it. As we watched, the light came closer and a large, self-illuminated object was seen as its source. The object came directly overhead and hovered above us. Its light lit up the ground where we were standing, and our cruiser, P-13. It was too bright to look at without hurting the eyes.”
After they understandably retreated to their patrol car and called it in, at least five more officers assisted them in pursuing the object for over half an hour before finally losing sight of it. But it gets stranger still—shortly before Spaur and his partner’s encounter, Police Chief Gerald Buchert saw a saucer-like, illuminated object hovering near his yard at home and snapped a picture of it. While he kept the original photo, he was persuaded to send the negative to Quintanilla, who dismissed the image as a processing defect. The negative, of course, was never seen again.
3 Trans-En-Provence Incident
The French version of NASA documents UFO sightings a little more diligently than its American counterpart. The incident that took place at Trans-en-Provence in January 1981 has been called the most carefully documented sighting of all time. While the incident doesn’t seem spectacular at first glance, its simplicity leaves little room for interpretation.
Retired farmer Renato Nicolai was working in his garden when he heard a sudden whistling sound, accompanied by the appearance of something that he immediately took to be an experimental aircraft. In broad daylight, he watched as a saucer-shaped craft between five and six feet in diameter dropped out of the sky, stopping to hover for half a minute about two meters (six feet) off the ground. Then it rose into the sky, a plume of dust in its wake. Nicolai was about 30 meters (100 ft) away.
The French government’s study found evidence of compacting and heating of the soil near the landing site, depleted chlorophyll in plants around the site, and “black material” that was not oil or residue from combustion, but metallic in nature. A technical report stated, “It was not the aim of the author to identify the exact nature of the phenomenon observed on January 8, 1981 at Trans-en-Provence. But it can reasonably be concluded that something unusual did occur that might be consistent, for instance, with an electromagnetic source of stress.”
2 Warren Air Force Base
Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, has been the site of a number of alleged UFO visitations since 1965, when red and green flashing lights reported by civilians in the area had local missile sites like Warren on high alert. That’s right—Warren’s UFO problem is part of a troubling larger trend of instances where nuclear missile armories are visited by unexplained objects, and it’s happened several times there.
In a famous 1976 incident reported by retired Minuteman missile launch officer Bruce Fenstermacher, a bright white object with flashing red and blue lights was seen to the North. Guards stationed at the base observed the object, a cigar-shaped craft a little under 20 meters (65 ft) long, moving near the missile silos. Military and police personnel frantically converged on the site, by which time the craft had disappeared. The craft kept switching positions, with the police experiencing car trouble every time they started to get close. Finally, more than two hours after the incident began, the craft departed at blinding speed, becoming a bright white speck on the horizon.
Though several witnesses agreed on this account, it was not included in any official report. None of the other other alleged sightings at the base have been either. As recently as 2010, a power failure to 50 intercontinental nuclear warheads at the base meant that over 10 percent of the US nuclear arsenal was offline for nearly an hour, prompting renewed speculation from UFO enthusiasts.
1 Piney Woods Incident
One December night in 1980, friends Betty Cash and Vickie Landrum, along with Vickie’s grandson, Colby, were driving along a lonely highway through the Piney Woods of Texas when they saw something none of them would ever forget. It was an encounter that left its mark on them all—mentally, emotionally, and physically.
The three came up on a water tower–sized, glowing, diamond-shaped object in the middle of the highway, blocking their way. Flames periodically shot from its underside, making it rise slightly before settling back down. It radiated intense light and heat. The two women, who exited the vehicle to examine the object—the seven-year-old boy wanted nothing to do with it—would later say that they had to use their coats to avoid being burned on the door handles when they re-entered their vehicle, and the plastic dashboard was soft enough to leave a handprint in. As they watched the UFO ascend, one to two dozen military-style helicopters buzzed overhead, surrounding it—a Dayton police officer also confirmed seeing helicopters of this type near the same area at the time. The women drove on, watching the craft and helicopters recede into the distance.
All three suffered bizarre symptoms reminiscent of radiation poisoning or chemical contamination for some time afterward—weakness, nausea, and the feeling of having been sunburned. Betty Cash’s symptoms were bad enough for her to be hospitalized, and as such the Cash-Landrum encounter is one of very few UFO incidents to result in litigation. Citing the presence of the helicopters, the family sued the US government for $20 million—and lost. The military denied deploying any helicopters to that area, or possessing a gigantic, diamond-shaped UFO, and the judge ruled in their favor.