Kinross AFB / F-89 Disappearance
November 23, 1953


  Lt. Felix Moncla near his F-89

Richard Hall:
On the night of November 23, 1953, an Air Defense Command radar detected an unidentified "target" over Lake Superior.   Kinross Air Force Base, closest to the scene, alerted the 433rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Truax Field, Madison, Wisconsin, and an F-89C all-weather interceptor was scrambled.  Radar operators watched the "blips" of the UFO and the F-89 merge on their scopes, in an apparent collision, and disappear.  No trace of the plane was ever found. 

U S Air Force accident-report records indicate that the F-89 was vectored west northwest, then west, climbing to 30,000 feet.  At the controls were First Lieutenant Felix E. Moncla, Jr.; his radar observer was Second Lieutenant Robert L. Wilson.  While on a westerly course, they were cleared to descend to 7,000 feet, turning east-northeast and coming steeply down on the known target from above.  The last radar contact placed the interceptor at 8,000 feet, 70 miles off Keeweenaw Point, and about 150 miles northwest of Kinross AFB (now Kincheloe AFB). 

The incident is not even labeled as a "UFO" case in Air Force records; instead, it was investigated by air-safety experts.  There were several layers of scattered clouds (one with bottoms at 5,000 to 8,000 feet) and some snow flurries in the general area.  Official records state, however, that the air was stable and there was little or no turbulence. 

The Air Force later stated that the "UFO" turned out to be a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) C-47 "On a night flight from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Sudbury, Ontario Canada."  The F-89 apparently had crashed for unknown reasons after breaking off the intercept.  In answer to queries from the NATIONAL INVESTIGATIONS COMMITTEE ON AERIAL PHENOMENA (NICAP) in 1961 and again in 1963, RCAF spokesmen denied that one of their planes was involved.  Squadron Leader W. B. Totman, noting that the C-47 was said to be on a flight plan over Canadian territory, said "... this alone would seem to make such an intercept unlikely." 

The Air Force suggested that "... the pilot probably suffered from vertigo and crashed into the take."  Harvard University astronomer and UFO debunker Dr. Donald H. MENZEL accepted this explanation, adding that the radar operators probably saw a "phantom echo" of the F-89, produced by atmospheric conditions, that merged with the radar return from the jet and vanished with it when the plane struck the water. 

Exactly what happened that night remains unclear, as the Air Force acknowledges, and serious unanswered questions remain.  How likely is it that a pilot could suffer from vertigo when flying on instruments, as official records indicate was the case?  If the F-89 did intercept an RCAF C-47, why did the "blip" of the C47 also disappear off the radar scope?  Or, if Menzel's explanation is accepted and there was no actual intercept, why did the Air Force invoke a Canadian C-47, which RCAF spokesmen later stated was not there?  No intelligence document has yet surfaced that reports the radio communications between the pilot and radar controllers, and what each was seeing. Without this information, it is impossible to evaluate the "true UFO" versus the false radar returns and accidental crash explanations. 

Richard Hall

(Produced for the NICAP site by Francis Ridge)

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