PURSUIT Winter 1979
By Robert Barrow
THE paragraph was very short and concise. In fact, it I contained only two sentences consisting of 22 words. And, although we on the "outside" of the Pentagon would hardly be able to find out, the brief letter from the Air Force's Office of Information in Washington, D.C. must have caused considerable embarrassment for the U.S.A.F. The Air Force letter was probably all the more troublesome because it concerned one of the most famous UFO incidents of all time, the dramatic Socorro, New Mexico case of 1964.
Looking back fourteen years, here's how the whole story began.
At about 4:45 p.m. on April 24, 1964, with plenty of daylight in his favor, Patrolman Lonnie Zamora of the Socorro, New Mexico police department was chasing a speeder outside town.
Zamora's attention was suddenly distracted as he looked off in the distance and saw a blue flash in the sky, accompanied by a loud noise. Knowing there was dynamite stored in a shack in that direction, he thought it best to forget the speeder and check on the activity by the shack. This was no easy task, as Zamora had to drive through rugged desert terrain and drive up an inclined area.
Rising to the top of one incline, he looked ahead and saw what he thought was an automobile standing on end, with two small, apparently human forms standing beside it. Zamora was now several hundred feet away from the "car" and his view was not altogether unobstructed due to airborne dust, apparently disturbed by and surrounding the object. Before continuing to climb up the desert mesa, Zamora radioed headquarters and requested assistance.
Nearing the scene at last, he heard two noises like metal striking metal. Zamora pulled his cruiser up to the spot where he thought he had seen the object, departed and walked a few steps further.
To his utterly unexpected amazement, Zamora no longer saw any little figures, but he discovered that the object was not a car; it was a large, white egg-shaped thing. And almost as soon as Zamora spotted the object, he heard a deafening roar and the thing ascended into the air. The officer took hasty cover as he watched it emit a long blue flame and move directly over the nearby dynamite shack, barely missing the structure by a few feet. The roar soon changed to a high-pitched whine, the flame disappeared, and the object - now a UFO in every sense of the term - accelerated to a high speed, maintaining a low altitude. It was gone in a matter of a few seconds.
Just as the UFO was out of view, fellow Patrolman Sam Chavez arrived to aid the officer. What he found was a thoroughly frightened and dirty Patrolman Zamora.
Afterwards, when some sense could be made of the incident, Zamora recalled that the object rested on four legs which retracted into the thing as it arose. Investigations revealed a spot in the gully where four depressions, apparently made where the UFO rested, were found. Vegetation in the area clearly showed signs of having been burned with high intensity heat and, in fact, some of the grass and shrubbery was still smoldering the next day.
Because of the nature of desert soil, investigators quickly determined that, had a hoax been involved, tracks would have been left all over - but there were none. Nobody had visited the area prior to Zamora and Chavez, on foot or by machine. Further, Chavez himself noted that Zamora could not have implemented a hoax because he had available no tools with which to make the impressions, etc.
Within just one week after the Socorro incident, Zamora and Chavez were questioned, not only by James and Coral Lorenzen of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, but also by U.S.A.F. UFO consultant Dr. J. Allen Hynek (who, formerly very skeptical about UFOs, discovered many unsettling facts about the Zamora report that helped change his mind), Army Intelligence officer Capt. Holder, F.B.I. agent Arthur Byrnes, Sgt. David Moody of Project Blue Book, and a Maj. Connors of Kirtland AFB. Without exception, the interrogators were impressed with Zamora's integrity and vivid desire for an explanation of the incredible event he had witnessed.
Few sightings have received the attention the Socorro incident gained, and it is still listed as unidentified in Air Force files.
When the Socorro case took place, I was fairly new to UFO research and, by coincidence, had joined the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) - my first UFO organization membership - a little more than a month before the New Mexico furor began. Therefore, this was the first big UFO case I had seen splattered across the nation's newspapers, and I began searching for whatever information I could find on it.
As months passed, the Socorro mystery grew more impressive and continued to defy a lot of ridiculous explanations. (In recent literature, we find, for instance, UFO skeptic Philip J. Klass going to lengths to come up with a solution: that Zamora and others had participated in a hoax to cause publicity for their town. My personal opinion on that "theory" is that anybody who accepts it is gullible, ignorant of the facts, and, just maybe, a little bit stupid.)
By late 1964 1 could stand the enigma of Socorro no longer. I wrote to the Department of the Air Force in Washington, D.C., seeking information. While, at this point in time, I don't recall exactly how I phrased my question, I remember that I asked whether the Socorro UFO might have been extraterrestrial, as I was very curious about the outer space UFO theories at the time.
But, of course, the last thing an Air Force letter would have stated was that a UFO might have an extraterrestrial origin but, being rather young and new to all this at the time, I didn't know what to expect in reply.
The letter reproduced here, dated 8 January 1965, is the response I received. It seems pretty routine at first glance, explaining that the Air Force has found no solution, and that there was no reason to believe the thing was from outer space.
However, one word does make a difference: vehicle. For a sighting which had absolutely no explanation, and for anyone familiar with the usual bureaucratic ho-hum tone of official government letters, designating the Socorro UFO a vehicle of whatever sort was a first class surprise.
I immediately notified NICAP officials, who, instinctively realizing the letter's significance, asked for a photocopy. If AF Public Information Officer Maj. Maston M. Jacks had entertained any misgivings about inserting the unfortunate word in his reply, the entire AF Office of Information he worked in was about to find itself the object of, I'm sure, unwelcome publicity from NICAP. The Air Force had always held NICAP in contempt due to the organization's relentless criticism of its absurd UFO investigation.
In its popular and influential newsletter, the U. F. 0. Investigator (Vol.3, No.2, 1965), NICAP took the opportunity to comment, first. that AF Spokesman Maj. Jacks had recently given Patrolman Lonnie Zamora a "top believability rating."
Then, the NICAP editorial staff (consisting then of Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe, USMC, ret.. Richard Hall and Donald Berliner) added to the mystery by referring to the unusual letter:
Even more surprising, . . . Jack's letter to NICAP
However, this official admission that the UFO was
...The original Socorro report had wide publicity,
The only portion of this story that hasn't been revealed now is the one hidden somewhere behind the doors of the Air Force Dept. in Washington. Only there might we be able to answer the lingering questions posed by the strange letter: What did Air Force officials really think
For accuracy, details on the Socorro case itself have been paraphrased from the investigation results of James and Coral Lorenzen of APRO, 3910 E. Kleindale Rd., Tucson, AZ. 85712, who arrived at the landing scene less than 40 hours after the incident. Further information on Socorro may be found in the Lorenzens' excellent book, Encounters with UFO Occupants, a 1976 Berkley paperback (Berkley Publishing Corp., 200 Madison Ave.. New York. N.Y. 10016).