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Tuesday, July 10, 2012


ARE THEY OUT THERE? ICON MAGAZINE FEATURE, JULY 2012 The subject of UFOs remains a non-issue for most people until they see an unidentified object in the sky. But since most people have never seen one, the question, “Are there UFOs or flying saucers from other planets?” has very little relevance except as cocktail party fodder or as the punch line of jokes. The do you believe question is perplexing. On one hand, you have people who claim to have seen triangular, round or cigar shaped objects, hovering or orbiting or racing at speeds unheard of in the known world, but their personal stories almost always seem to lack what Carl Sagan called empirical evidence. Many personal photographs of unidentified objects raise similar questions: were they doctored or artificially produced? It doesn’t help that the field of UFO research has become overpopulated with people who have turned the phemenon into a kind of religion. From random sightings people have gone on to extrapolate that these are our ancestors; that they brought civilization to earth; they may be “us” in the future coming home to take a “looks-see,” or maybe they are here to save the planet. Then again, they may be gods, the ones who sent Jesus and Moses, built the pyramids, did weird things to the Sphinx, etc. etc. It is one thing to go on record as witnessing a sighting, quite another to construct a Scientology-like religion to explain the mysteries of the universe. Military and commercial air pilots are perhaps the best and most credible witnesses to come forward in recent years. A ground breaking new book, UFOs—Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go On the Record,” by Leslie Kean,” has been called “the most important book on the phenomenon in a generation.” Kean’s work skips “theology” and Henry Potter myth weaving and gives the evidence that there probably is something out there. The preferred replacement term for UFO among credible sources is UAP, or unidentified aerial phenomena, meaning (as defined by NASA senior scientist Richard Haines), objects “which do not suggest a logical, conventional flying object and which remain unidentified after close scrutiny of all available evidence.” While many objects in the sky are misidentified as UAPs—from weather balloons, the planets Venus or Mars, to satellites and ice crystals---Kean reports that “roughly 90 to 95 perfect of UFO sightings can be explained.” The author advocates a kind of agnosticism when it comes to UFOs. Agnosticism or skepticism helps, Kean says, because “the UFO debate fuels two polarities, both representing untenable positions,” meaning the two camps of believers and total debunkers. “This counterproductive battle has unfortunately dominated public discourse for a long time, only heightening confusion and creating more distance from the scientific…” Major General Wilfried De Brouwer headed the Operations Division in the Belgian Air Staff and helped investigate a rash of sightings over Belgium in 1989. For two years hundreds of people in Belgium saw what Kean describes as “a majestic triangular craft with a span of approximately a hundred and twenty feet and powerful beaming spotlights.” The craft moved at a snail’s pace and made no noise but it could accelerate instantly. The situation was so serious that Belgium’s defense minister, Guy Coeme, asked De Brouwer to handle the sightings. The consensus then was that something was invading Belgian airspace. During his investigation, De Brouwer interviewed hundreds of eyewitnesses. One of De Brouwer’s interviewees, Colonel Andred Amond, a former director of military infrastructure for the Belgian Army, reported seeing a craft flying close to the earth while driving with his wife. Colonel Amond filed a report as well as drawings of the object to Coeme. Suspicions that the wave of UAPs were American B-2 or F-117 military aircraft engaged in a secret mission over Belgian territory were quickly dismissed by the U.S. Embassy in Brussels. De Brouwer, in his investigation, describes what two police officers saw: “…They [the policemen] described a dome on the upper structure with rectangular windows, lit on the inside.” There were two crafts, one of which was “emitting red light balls.” These same policemen encountered one of the crafts sometime later, but by that time the craft was “immobile and silent, but it suddenly transmitted a hissing sound and reduced the intensity of the lights.” Both officers then saw a red light ball exit from the center of the craft, proceeding along vertical and horizontal paths until it eventually disappeared. De Brouwer reports that a total of thirteen police officers reported seeing “the craft at eight different locations in the vicinity of Eupen.” “Of the approximately 2,000 reported cases registered during the Belgian wave, 650 were investigated and more than 500 of them remain unexplained,” De Brouwer writes. In 1982, Portuguese Air Force pilot Julio Guerra was flying solo in a DHC-1 Chipmunk at about 10:50 a.m. when he noticed an airplane without a fuselage flying below him. “It didn’t have wings and it didn’t have a tail, only a cockpit! It was an oval shape. What kind of airplane could that be?” he recounts in his essay, Circled by a UFO. When Guerra steered his plane to the left in order to follow the object, “the object climbed straight up to my altitude of 5,000 in under ten seconds.” Guerra recalls that the object stopped in front of him, “at first with some instability, oscillations, and a wavering motion, and then it stabilized and was still.” He reported a metallic disc with two halves with a brilliant band around the center. For a few moments the object seemed to engage in a game of show and tell, flying at incredible speeds in left leaning elliptical orbits. Guerra called the tower and reported the object, but was told it was a weather balloon (“How could a weather balloon ascend from the ground to 5,000 feet in a few seconds?” he asked). Eventually he was joined by two other Air Force pilots who saw the same object. “It came toward me and flew right over me, on top of my aircraft, and stopped there, like a helicopter landing but much, much faster, breaking all the rules of aerodynamics,” Guerra wrote. At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on the afternoon of November 7, 2006, Kean reports, “For about five minutes, a disc-shaped object hovered quietly over the United Airlines terminal and then cut a sharp hole in the cloud bank above while zooming off. “ On January 1, 2007, the story was front page news in the Chicago Tribune. Numerous people saw the disc: pilots, terminal managers and US mechanics. Kean reports that even “pilots waiting to take off opened the front windows to lean out and see the objects for themselves. There was a buzz at United Airlines.” Unfortunately, the many witnesses of the O’Hare disc opted to remain anonymous, afraid for their job security, and Kean reports that the FAA “tried hard to ignore the incident despite its safety implications.” The FAA later went on record as explaining the incident as the result of “bizarre weather,” something Kean calls a lie because she was able to hear the airport tower tapes when the disc was first spotted. “Official distaste for dealing with the UFO phenomenon is entrenched to the point of being not only counterproductive, but possible dangerous,” Kean concludes. NATO coordinator of Allied Air Services, General L. M. Chassin, has also warned that by refusing to “recognize the existence of UFOs, we will end up, one fine day, by mistaking them for the guided missiles of an enemy—and the worst will be upon us.” In 2007, commercial airline pilot Ray Bowyer and his passengers saw two large UFOS while flying over the English Channel. The plane was cruising at 150 mph. and headed to Alderney, England from Southampton. “Both objects were of a flattened disk shape….they were brilliant yellow with light emanating from them,” Bowyer reported. After calling the tower, Bowyer says that the passengers began to notice the objects and were asking about them. “I decided not to make any announcement over the intercom so as not to alarm anyone, but it was obvious that some were getting concerned….the two identical objects were easily visible without binoculars.” Bowyer reports that he landed the plane safely and that there had been “no interference with any of the aircraft systems or instruments, and radio communications were likewise unaffected.” In September 1976, a war of the worlds of sorts occurred in the city of Tehran, Iran, when an unknown object began to circle the city at a very low altitude. Iranian Air Force General Parviz Jafari (now retired) was a major and squadron commander then and was one of the pilots charged with pursuing the object. “It was flashing with intense red, green, orange, and blue lights so bright that I was not able to see its body. The lights formed a diamond shape. Jafari attempted to fire at it when he says, “my weapons jammed and my radio communications were garbled.” Then he noticed “a round object which came out of the primary object,” which he says came at him at intense speed, “almost as if it were a missile.” “I was really scared,” he reported," so I selected an AIM-9 heat-seeking missile to fire at it.” Not only was Jafari’s weapons control panel out but his instruments and radar were as well. The object was headed straight towards him but at the moment of projected impact it disappeared, reappearing behind him. “To this day I don’t know what I saw. But for sure it was not an aircraft; it was not a flying object that human beings on Earth can make. It moved way too fast…this needed very, very high-level technology,” Jafari stated. Closer to “home,” I had the opportunity to interview five Pennsylvania-based UFO witnesses, most of whom have talked about their experiences on television news shows as well as CNN’s Anderson Cooper. I present their stories as evidence of the wider pool of personal UFO experiences that occasionally slip into esoteric areas that debunkers often use to dismiss the entire phenomenon. Levittown, Pennsylvania resident Denise Murter, grew up in Lansdowne. In July 2008, Murter, the former Optical Lab supervisor had an experience that changed her life. “It was in the middle of the night and I was asleep with my husband and our dog. Suddenly our Yorkie was growling. He never does that. I thought somebody broke into our place. He wouldn’t stop growling so I figured I’d better get up and see what’s going on. I figured since I was up I’ll take him out to go potty, so I took him out back and a light caught my eye. I thought it was the moon, but it was a craft overtop a treetop to the left of my backyard, about 1,000 feet in the air. I was staring at it trying to figure out what it was. It wasn’t a helicopter because there was no noise, everything was absolutely silent and you could see these three giant white lights underneath this thing in the sky.” Murter watched it shuffle across the sky. “You’d blink and it was in another position,” she said. When it finally did disappear she went back to bed but couldn’t sleep. One month later, the craft was back. Murter’s little Yorkie woke her up again at 3 a.m. She went out back, and saw the object much closer to her this time, a little distance above the trees. “I got my camera but every time I took a picture the camera kept going off. I just kept snapping but it kept going off.” The craft returned for a third visit, only it was much closer to Murter’s house this time. “It was a little off to the right when it began dumping stuff on two trees. It was during the month of July and the stuff looked like snow. I open and shut my eyes to make sure I wasn’t sleep walking, but once the stuff hit the trees it was sparkling like a show. I felt that I was paralyzed. As I watched the stuff come down something in my head said, ‘Don’t be afraid, we’re not here to harm you.’” Murter says the entire episode lasted about twenty minutes, and that the “snow,” poured down from the craft in an inverted ‘V’ shape and was then sucked back up gracefully in regular ‘V’ formation. “When it was finished, it was just gone in a flash of an eye,” she says. After going public about her experiences through the MutualUFONetwork (or MUFON), Murter says she got letters and emails from people around the country stating that they saw similar things. One letter stood out among the rest: it was from a scientist who told her that he had the same experience with his father when younger. “The trees in my backyard that were sprayed with white stuff were tested by three different scientists and found to contain huge amounts of Boron and magnesium. It’s as if someone took a microwave and radiated the tree,” she said. After Murter told her story on TV’s UFO Hunters, and on the History and Discovery channel, the radiated trees in her backyard began to attract the curious. This stopped when she and her husband took a trip to Florida to bring back her son’s family who were moving back to Pennsylvania. “When we returned home we saw that the apartment complex had chopped down the tree. They said it was their property. I was devastated. The other tree, which is further back, is falling apart now. The scientists who took samples from the tree earlier came back after the complex chopped it down to investigate this weird growth coming out of the remnants of the tree—it looked like celery stalks, but they took it all. They also took samples of the tree down the road and found boron and magnesium in that one too.” For Rich Ferello, a Northeast Philly accountant, seeing a UFO has meant questioning everything he’s been taught. On a summer’s evening in 1992, he and Jo Anne were walking towards Verree Road when suddenly something appeared before their eyes. “Oh my God,” he said to Jo Anne, “What’s that?” According to Rich it was “a large oval shaped vehicle, like an orange color with a bulge around the mid-section, and underneath that it had like portals.” The craft appeared to be drifting north along Verree Road. The Ferello’s watched the craft hover over the intersection where there was a large tree. “As this thing slowed along,” Rich says, “I separated from my wife and headed to the other side of the tree to see it pass along, but nothing appeared. I called back to Jo Anne and said ‘Where is it?’ and she said, ‘It went behind the tree.’” The craft had been just several hundred feet above their heads before it disappeared behind the tree, as if slipping into another dimension. As soon as the Ferello’s got home, Jo Anne called the Northeast Airport and Philadelphia International and asked if they had a record of any blimps floating around. Both airports said no. The couple told their respective families about the encounter. “This was in 1992, when people who said they saw UFOs were thought of as complete idiots,” Rich says. “We got a lot of that from our families.” Eighteen years later, in 2008, in a new home in the Hatboro area near the Willow Grove Air Force Base, Rich took his dog for a walk when he saw four bright lights flying in formation coming towards his home. “I figured they were Black Hawk helicopters because of the nearby Base, but then I realized that four big helicopters should be making a hell of a lot noise. The helicopters also don’t fly after 7:30 pm because of the neighborhood.” The lights then seemed to make a right turn and headed north. Rich took the dog inside and slipped into the bathroom before heading off to bed when he told his wife he thought he had another sighting. No sooner did he say this then he turned the lights off and opened the window blinds, and there were the lights again. “They’re back,” he told Jo Anne. He recalls that this time they resembled a police or military action. “Two of the craft held back and hovered, while two rotated around and seemed to search for something.” Rich describes the lights as looking like a floating star of Venus. He says the two rotating craft stopped circling and joined the other two and then the four of them flew North in formation, disappearing behind trees. The entire episode lasted about 15 minutes. In 2011, while walking the dog, Rich saw what looked like a star moving very fast across the sky. “I’m watching it, there were two stars in the sky and the light was going between them. I called my wife; she came out. The light going between the stars makes a U-turn and disappears.” “Is that what you mean?” Jo Anne said, pointing to the end of the street. Rich looked and saw 3 to 4 orange globe objects that just seemed to pop up over the trees and then flew away over the Southwest. “I’m thinking to myself, the ones up in the sky made a U-turn because of these things.” Unexplained phenomena like UFOs can cause many people to rethink old beliefs. For Rich and Jo Anne, this meant the end of regular church going. “We used to be regular church goers. I was a lay minister, but seeing these things got me to reassess even the birth of Christ and the role of the Virgin Mary,” Rich said. “I now think outside the box.” For Radnor, PA resident Jennifer W. Stein, an independent documentary filmmaker, founder and Director of Main Line MUFON, and a trained UFO investigator, reports of UFOs have not gotten adequate coverage in the United States. “We are entertained to death in this country,” she says. “In terms of getting the news especially on the UFO phenomenon, we are much more hushed. And our files are much more closed than other countries. Russia has been much more open. In Tehran, Iran, in 1976, there was a huge UFO event that made world news and it was all over the front page of the newspapers in Iran…that would not have happened here in the United States. It would be hushed immediately, as it was in the Roswell case. Roswell was our 1975 Iran,” she adds. The story behind Roswell is that an alien craft crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in July 1947 and that alien bodies—the size of children-- had been recovered. “By the time the newspapers were printing the Roswell story in California, Washington had already been in touch with them and said it was a weather balloon, so the papers had already recanted and had the original story killed,” Jennifer says. Stein reminds me that every American astronaut that has gone up into space has seen UFOs, including astronaut Edgar Mitchell who founded Noetic Sciences in 1973. Stein believes that Americans are as sheltered from the truth as the Soviet Union was in the Iron Curtain, Cold War days. “There is filtered news in the United States. The government is aware that we are not alone in the universe.” Her one sighting happened when she was nineteen years and asleep in her room in her parent’s home in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania, known as scenic Mennonite farm country. At 5:30 am she awoke from a nightmare, a dream in which she says she was falling, and proceeded to reach for her dream book to write the dream down when outside her window she noticed a rectangle of white light about 1500 feet in the air. At first she thought it must be light from an airplane that only appeared to be static but that any moment would begin to move, but that was not the case. “I was thinking ‘What the heck is that?’ when the thing skipped or jumped in 3 quick seconds, then disappeared, reappeared, disappeared and reappeared, and before I knew it, it was smack in front of me over this big tree.” While hovering motionless above the tree she was able to estimate it to be about 90 feet long. “Its brilliant undulating white light undulated the way early screen savers did; there was no propulsion system, no sound, no beings, no big grey alien heads, except I am totally shocked and I am paralyzed. I want to get up and run out of the room because I have the sense that some sort of consciousness is looking at me.” Stein says she started to cry when the craft “communicated” to her that it was leaving. “In leaving, it did almost the same movements but in an opposite direction.” She says that after the craft left she woke her mother up and asked if she saw it. “That was feasible because our house was almost all floor to ceiling Frank Lloyd Wright-style glass, designed by her father, an architect, but all my mother could ask was, ‘Are you on drugs?’ and ‘Why are your pajamas wet?’” Copious tears caused the wet pajamas, and there were no drugs of course, but there was missing time. “I went back to my room and the clock said 7 a.m. but I knew it was 5:30. That’s when I realized that something happened that didn’t make sense.” Physically and emotionally exhausted, she says she collapses into bed. The stereotypical question: Why, if UFOs exist, don’t they just land on the White House lawn or in City Hall Courtyard and announce, “We’re here, we’re alien, get used to it!” John Ventre, Pennsylvania state director of MUFON, a science fiction writer, and the State Director of Security for Pennsylvania (UPS), thinks he has the answer to that: “I don’t go in my backyard and try to build a better any hill for the ants and I don’t try to communicate with the squirrels.” He may be right. What would the ignorant among us do? Get out their guns and shoot? Ventre, who resides in Pittsburgh, describes himself as an inveterate reader who has never seen a UFO, but at age twelve however he says he had an out of body experience in which he flew out over his neighborhood. The sensation was so real he says that he could see the top of his parents’ house. Another OBE, this time in 1999, had him floating above his house where he looked down and “saw my green Cherokee in my driveway.” These two experiences became important to Ventre after he read a passage in Whitley Strieber’s Communion. “The one passage in that book that scared me is the one that talks about out of body experiences not being what you think they are. The passage said it is not the soul that leaves the body, like people believe, but they are abductions. When I read that I closed the book and said, ‘Oh my God, I’ve had two.’” Ventre believes that about 80% of the cases that MUFON gets are just misidentification. “We’ll go on a tracking site and find that a meteor passed at that time, or the space station passed over, but the 2008 case (Denise Murter) was the really first thorough case that I had.” Whoever and whatever they are---demons, glimpses of ourselves in the future, visitors from outer space---he knows that they “are not entirely benevolent beings.” “For a long time I thought that they were not harmful, that they were benevolent, because logically I thought if they wanted to take over the planet for the resources they could get rid of us very easily—like a virus in the air or water.” Ventre tells me to look inside the FEMA-approved “Fire Officers Guide for Disaster Control,” where there’s a section on UFOs and the Enemy Threat. “The guide warns against coming into contact with UFOs or their occupants,” he says,” because of their psychological effects, such as radiation. People who have gotten under UFOs have gotten radiation poisoning. There are good solid examples of not walking up to them and raising your hand to be taken. Nobody comes away from an abduction experience with a positive experience. “ Sightings in Pennsylvania have jumped since 2008 with an average of 275 to 300 cases a year. MUFON holds regular conferences in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while encouraging people who experience sightings to come forward. Ventre, however, shies away from a person when they say they were abducted. “In my mind they may need professional help, but MUFON is not qualified to counsel people on abductions.” He considers it strange that people today are seeing different sizes and shapes of crafts. “How can they be so different?” he asks, “sometimes right in the air they change or morph into something, first their circular then cigar shaped, that’s an aspect I don’t understand. How can they be so different?” Could they be beings from another dimension? “Could be,” Ventre says. “They could be doing this as a way to trick people. The devil was a powerful angel; maybe this is his way of creating disarray.” The question of demonic beings is an old one. In UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse researcher John Keel maintains that the UFO world “is one of ghosts and phantoms and strange mental aberrations… an invisible world which surrounds us and occasionally engulfs us….a world of illusion…where reality itself is distorted by strange forces which can seemingly manipulate space, time, and physical matter---forces which are almost entirely beyond our powers of comprehension….The UFO manifestations seem to be, by and large, merely minor variations of the age-old demonological phenomenon.” Iowa professor Brad Steiger, in his study on the Air Force “Blue Book” files has concluded, “We are dealing with a multi-dimensional paraphysical phenomenon, which is largely indigenous to planet earth.” Writers from antiquity, namely St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022 AD), have warned seekers of God “to rarely look into the sky out of fear of the evil spirits in the air. These miracles,” he attests, ‘have no good, rational purpose, no definite meaning,… they are monstrous, malicious, meaningless play-acting, which increases in order to astonish…” But according to Chris Augustin, a MUFON member and paranormal researcher, the unidentified crafts are absolutely “nuts and bolts real.” “I’m not saying there are no gray areas,” Augustin says, “they could be some type of spirit or energy, but some of the phenomena seems to be nuts and bolts craft. “ In 2009, Augustin claims that he and his wife had a shared abduction, the second of two for him, the first occurring in 1996 when he saw a large triangular craft over land in New Jersey. Augustin describes that first sighting this way: “There were three lights, one on each corner and a dim light pulsating in the center.” At the time he says he was extremely interested in UFOs and had an intense desire to see one, causing him to consider the possibility that he willed the experience to happen to him. In 2002, Augustin experienced a missing time episode, attributable, he thinks, to the 1996 sighting. After the 2009 sighting, he says he began to “experience a lot of synchronistic type things,” but things really got strange when a foreign object, an alien implant, he says, was I’d by ultrasound. Although the object in Augustin’s leg has not been removed, he cites a case showcased by UFO Hunters in which an object giving off two radio frequencies was removed from someone. Augustin believes that the implants are not tracking devices but some type of monitoring to measure health, blood pressure and sugar levels in the body. “But anything is possible. I don’t think it is a controlling device.” Sightings, according to Augustin, tend to follow multiple generations of the same blood line. “These experiences are probably much more widespread than people realize, but the thing to remember is, certain people become activated, something changes and their awareness is expanded…and then they suddenly remember all of these things happening.” What does he think about abduction stories? “We capture a species, we clip wings, we do tests on their bodies, and then we release them into the wild. In many cases we are doing this to save the species, so I don’t see abductions as an invasion thing at all. It’s our own fear, our close mindedness and the ‘You can’t do that to me’ mentality. How could a more advanced civilization convey their motives to such a primitive mammalian brain and be understood?” Augustin faults the United States with playing ignorant when it comes to UFOs. “Since this philosophy was adopted at the end of Project Blue Book at the end of 1969, the United States has been stonewalling the information and disclosure process, while at the same time through the power of the Internet the rest of the world is still exploring it and talking about it, and eventually it’s going to come out.” And come out it must—not as Harry Potter theology—but as clear cut answers related to what happening in the sky, and why so many people are seeing these things, from former President Jimmy Carter to Fife Symington III, the former Governor of Arizona, to Major-Generals and Four-star Brigadier Generals, to your next door neighbor who happens to glance at the sky, at the crack of dawn, while on her way to work. Thom Nickels