April 18, 1962
Like many of the reports of UFO crashes, the Las Vegas case was overlooked by most of the UFO research community. Frank Edwards, who mentioned the Roswell case in a single paragraph in his 1966 book Flying Saucers-Serious Business, wrote more about the crash near Las Vegas in his 1964 book Strange World. Although he often wrote from memory and didn't always check his facts as closely as possible, he did get the basics of the case reported before anyone else bothered with it.
According too him, an object sighted over Oneida, New York, was headed to the west. There were reports from Kansas and Colorado, and indications of something near the ground outside of Eureka, Utah. Something bright enough to later light up the streets of Reno, Nevada, like the noonday sun, and then turn toward Las Vegas, far to the south and hack to the east. It flared brightly and disappeared from the Nellis Air Force Base radar scopes at ten thousand feet. (1)
This was an object seen by thousands as it crossed the country on the evening of April 18, 1962. (2) The air force and debunkers quickly wrote it off as a bolide, a meteor so bright that it could light the darkened ground like the afternoon sun. (3) That is, the reported explanation is of a natural phenomenon that is rare, interplanetary, but certainly not under intelligent control.
Edwards claimed that only one newspaper carried anything about the exploding object. The Las Vegas Sun had printed the story, and Edwards, without interviewing a single witness himself, had used that as the basis for his report.
The April 19 edition of the Sun reported BRILLIANT RED EXPLOSION FLARES IN LAS VEGAS SKY. Their story left no doubt about what had happened and the many witnesses to it. In the lead paragraph, Jim Stalmaker, a reporter for the Las Vegas Sun, told of a flaming sword that started a ground search for a weird unidentified flying object that had the air force on alert in several states. (4)
A spokesman for the North American Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs. Colorado, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Rolph, told reporters that the first observers, in the Oneida, New York, area, had seen a glowing red ball heading to the west. It was at great altitude, made no sound, and disappeared in seconds. (5)
Radar picked up the object, and operators watched it as it streaked into the Midwest. The Air Defense Command alerted a number of bases, including Nellis in Las Vegas. Reports indicate that fighters were scrambled from Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix. (6)
In Nephi, Utah, according to the Las Vegas Sun, witnesses reported the glowing red object flew overhead. When it was gone, there was a rumbling like that of jet engines. (7) Edwards thought it might have been from the engines of the interceptors as they chased the UFO. (8)
Then, according to the reports, the UFO came down near Eureka, Utah, interrupting electrical service from a power plant close to the landing site. It took off a few minutes later, continuing to the west. (9) It was seen over Reno, Nevada, apparently made a sweeping turn to the south, and then disappeared from the radar screens east of Las Vegas. (10)
The Clark County, Nevada, sheriff's office was swamped with phone calls about the explosion. Witnesses said the object was traveling almost horizontally northeast of Las Vegas until the final explosion from the direction of Mesquite, Nevada. (11)
Sheriff's deputy Walter Bun, who led the search and rescue unit, moved the unit into the Spring Mountain area in jeeps to search for wreckage. (12) In a phone interview conducted in November 1988 Butt told me they searched through the night, and when the sun came up they continued, using aircraft. They didn't find anything of importance, except some ashes that could easily have been the remains of a campfire started by a hunter weeks earlier. When no one reported a downed or missing aircraft, Bun and the other deputies called off the search. (13)
Also mentioned in the Las Vegas Sun story was Frank Maggio, a staff photographer Using the Las Vegas telephone directory, I looked up Frank Maggio. There was no listing for him, but there was a Maggio Photo Lab. Thinking it had to be the same person, I called. It was.
He couldn't add anything to the story that had appeared in the paper. He described the UFO as a "tremendous flaming sword." There was a series of bright explosions that broke up the trail across the sky. It vanished east of Las Vegas. (14)
The next step seemed obvious. In 1969 the air force had announced the closing of Project Blue Book, the official UFO investigation. Six or seven years later, the Blue Book files were declassified, and anyone who could get to Maxwell Air Force Base near Montgomery, Alabama, could do research in them. Not long after that, they were transferred to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and put on microfilm. Anyone with the resources could buy copies of them. Ninety- six rolls of microfilm at $22 a roll. All I had to do was check in the Blue Book files and see what they had to say about the case.
0n April 18, according to the Blue Book files, there was a
radar sighting at Nellis Air Force Base that was at first labeled as
"Unidentified" but later changed to "Insufficient Data for a Scientific
Analysis." On the Project Record Card (ATIC FORM 329) the case was
summarized as a :
That last statement was ridiculous. No visual sighting, except for all those people in Las Vegas who called the sheriff's office. No visual, except for Frank Maggio, who reported the fiery end to the object. No visual, except Walter Butt who led a search party into the desert to look for wreckage.
I continued to search the file, looking for a reference to the sighting from the Eureka, Utah, area: information that was available to the Las Vegas Sun, but not in the official air force file about the sighting near Nellis.
The master index showed no sighting in Utah on April 18, but did list a meteor on April 19. (16) (Later notes in the file itself confirm the April 18 date.) The Project Record Card claimed: "Object came in over Cuba and apparently landed in rough terrain West of Eureka, Utah. Bright enough to trip photo electric cell which controlled city street lights." (17)
They also note, "Multiple rpts. Attempted recovery by Col. Friend and Dr. Hynek." They finish by noting the explanation is "Astro, probably meteor." (18)
There was a file folder available, but it was not filed where it should have been but stuck at the end of the April 1962 section. Included in it were a number of reports by military officers made shortly after the incident
According to Captain Herman Gordon Shields, who was
interrogated at Hill Air Force Base by Douglas M. Crouch, the chief of
the criminal investigation sections:
Later in the same report, Captain Shields said, "I saw only a slender object. I don't know what the shape was. It was only a slender object ... There was no exhaust, no trail following after it. It was clearly defined. I saw it for a period of maybe one to two seconds." (20)
Also available in the Eureka file was an unclassified intelligence report that ran to seven single-spaced pages on legal- sized sheets. Many of the witnesses reported only a ball of fire passing overhead. They reported a series of explosions after the object was gone (sonic booms?) and a trail of gray smoke. (21)
A man in Silver City, Utah (name blanked out by air force officers in 1976) claimed that the object was a glowing ball of light about the size of a soccer ball. He said it was white with a yellowish tint and a bright yellow jagged flame coming from the rear (confirming the description of Captain Shields). The unidentified witness claimed:
At the end of the report, Crouch wrote:
The final report was signed by Douglas M. Crouch and by Major Charles W. Brion, chief, Sec. and Law Enforcement Division, both at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
Air force investigation of the sighting had also showed that the object came down near Eureka, Utah. An orange, glowing object that was bright enough to shut off the photoelectric cells had been reported in that area. (24)
But even with the conclusions drawn by the first investigators of the sightings, the air force sent J. Allen Hynek and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Friend to Utah on May 8, 1962. Crouch accompanied them on their investigation. They spent "one full day" tracking down the witnesses in central Utah. (25) At the end of the day they decided that the residents had seen a very rare phenomenon known as a bolide. (26) That would be the end of the case.
Later Friend, writing to "Hq USAF, SAFOI-3b [Major Hart]" reported:
Friend's statement, the fact that he and Hynek went to the area, and the absence of conflicting data suggest that the most likely explanation is the one they offered. In fact, Dr. Robert Kadesch, an associate professor of physics at the University of Utah, confirmed that view with me. Also quoted in several area newspapers, Kadesch said, simply, it "probably was a bolide." (28)
But the official air force file, Friend's letter, and Kadesch's statements are not the whole story of the Utah end of this case. Interviews I conducted with the principals in the case create more questions than they answer. And the newspaper reports create an interesting enigma. According to the Nevada State Journal, the object flew over Reno, passing west to east. Yet the witnesses in Utah universally claim the object was traveling from the southeast to the northwest. (29) At some point the UFO seems to have reversed its course, and a meteor wouldn't do that.
Among the first to sight the object was Sheriff Raymond Jackson of Nephi. According to him, he was on Main Street and "heard kind of a roar." (30) He glanced up and saw a yellow-white flame going west, heard a series of loud booms, and saw the lights in Nephi go out. Jackson noticed specifically the lights in the doctor's office, but said, "All the lights went out temporarily." (31) That would become an important clue when the rest of the case was put together.
Also in the Nephi area were Maurice Memmott and Dan Johnson. According to a story published in the Nephi Times News, both men were south of town, working on their farms, when the object shot overhead. (32) Memmott claims that he no longer remembers much about the incident, just a bright light in the sky that lit the ground like the sun. He told me that he now believes that it was a meteor. (33)
Dan Johnson, on the other hand, remembers the event quite well. He. said, "The two of us were out in the fields ... there were no lights so we were in total darkness." It came over the southeastern horizon and passed directly over them. "It was a very bright light." (34)
Johnson didn't remember hearing any sound, but did claim that the object landed somewhere in the northwest. He didn't think it was more than five or six miles away.
Johnson also said that several men -- he thought they might have been military though none were in uniform -- came out to interview both Memmott and him. The men drove them back out into the country and made them point to the location where the object landed. (35)
The Times-News confirmed Johnson's story of the investigation and added an interesting note. The speculation was that the investigators were not from the air force, but soldiers from the army's Dugway Proving Grounds not that far from the area. (36)
Tracking the dates supplied by Friend's report and the information available from the Times-News, it seems that the conclusion is correct. Two separate teams of investigators made the rounds in Nephi after the events. And a few people remembered talking to Colonel Friend and Dr. Hynek. Friend, it seems, was in uniform during the one day he was there. There is no way that the two teams could have been confused.
Sergeant E. C. Sherwood of the Utah Highway Patrol was also in Nephi that evening. He looked up in time to see the ball of fire and thought that it was something from New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range. It was a bright light that was mostly blue and it seemed to explode right over him, throwing off a cloud of white sparks. (37)
Sherwood's wife heard the explosion and ran outside. She saw the bright light but nothing beyond that. She mentioned to me that the neighbors were also outside, looking up into the night sky. (38)
A number of other residents in Nephi reported the explosions or the roar. Some of them explained that it was a series of explosions, twenty or thirty of them strung together Their descriptions ran from a rocket's engine to an artillery shell flying over. (39)
From Nephi, the object traveled to the northwest, toward Eureka, Which is about thirty miles away. It flew over Bob Robinson and Floyd Evans. According to Robinson, they were traveling south of Eureka when they stopped for a moment and climbed out of their pickup truck. Robinson saw the light in the southeast and pointed it out. Evans thought that it was a jet aircraft.(40)
The object approached them rapidly and passed directly overhead. Robinson said that he thought it was no higher than five hundred feet. It was a flaming object, and he thought he could see a series of square windows on the craft almost hidden in the glow of it
Robinson said that both men were frightened by the experience. They dived under the truck for protection. The engine of the truck began to sputter and run roughly as the object approached, and the headlights dimmed, but the engine didn't stall and the lights didn't go out completely.
As it reached them, the object seemed to slow, as if taking a look at the truck. Robinson thought the object or the light from it was visible for about two minutes. As it disappeared in the west, the lights of the truck brightened and the engine smoothed out, running normally. (41)
When Robinson returned home, his wife, Betty, said that he looked as if he had seen a ghost. His face was white, and he was so excited that it was hard for her to understand what he was trying to say.
She was able to tell him about her sighting. While sitting in the house, she had heard the roar of the object as it passed over, and had seen the light. The interior of the house had been brightly illuminated with a strobing effect. (42)
She wasn't alone in her sighting. Joseph Benini, the police chief, said that he was at a city council meeting when they all heard the roar. Bernini said that it sounded like an artillery shell going over He saw the bright light but didn't see any object. He had been inside the whole time.
As the object flew over Eureka, the street lights all went out. Bernini, interviewed by reporters, said that the street lights were on photoelectric cells and the bright light caused them to go out. According to him, no one else reported any power failures. (43)
Bernini's wife and son saw the light, but the son, David, also saw an object. Those who did see the object confirmed the direction. It was moving from southeast to northwest. (44)
Many of those who saw it said that it was within a thousand feet of the ground. There was an object visible behind the glow, and Shields, the pilot, had said that he not only saw the glow but also the object. The important fact was that Shields was looking down when he saw it.
Kadesch, when asked, said that he believed the object was a bolide and that it had exploded sixty to seventy miles in the air. The flash was so bright that residents of Gridley, Kansas, reported seeing it. Others, such as witnesses in Reno, also claimed to have seen the flash.
Kadesch took it further, explaining that the people on the ground, looking up into the night sky, had no points of reference. It was difficult for them to judge size and distance, especially if they didn't know exactly what they were seeing.
Kadesch, who hadn't seen the object himself, but whose family had, still said it was a bolide. There was no doubt in his mind. when asked about the flight crews who reported the object below their aircraft, he said, "That information is too fragmentary. It could be the curvature of the earth that made them believe that." (45)
But in Reno there was an added complication. A witness there, Homer Raycraft, said that he saw a "big fireball traveling due east." He claimed that the object disappeared behind a mountain range and then there was a big flash. (46)
Others in Reno, such as Dwight Dyer, Reno bureau chief of the Associated Press, the controllers in the Reno airport control tower, along with the controllers in Elko and Las Vegas, also reported they saw the flash. It was described as a brilliant white with a long tail, changing to green, orange, and red. (47)
Another aircrew also saw the object. According to officers at Stead Air Force Base, a Bonanza Air Lines pilot said that the light passed beneath his aircraft, which was flying at eleven thousand feet. (48) That made two flight crews in two different aircraft who had reported the object below their planes. Coupled with the testimony of three witnesses in Utah who said the object was about five hundred feet above them, it tended to rule out the bolide theory because the meteor would have been too low for too long.
Another problem developed when all the material from the Reno newspaper was reviewed. The newspaper contained a drawing showing the path of the object as it passed over Nevada. The problem is that the drawing showed it traveling from the north, over a corner of Nevada, to crash to the ground near Eureka, Utah. It was traveling, according to the Nevada witnesses, in a direction opposite that claimed by the Utah witnesses. Had the object been a fireball, everyone would have given it the same direction of flight. Those in Nevada would have been looking to the east when they saw it, but they would have talked about it moving in the same general direction as those who had sighted the UFO in Utah.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the object was seen over Reno and traveling to the east. It also reported that the light was seen in Las Vegas. (49) The question becomes, how is that possible for a meteorite?
An air force spokesman at Nellis Air Force Base said that meteors are not normally tracked by radar. The ionized trail left by them is sometimes detected, but that is a streak on the scope and not a single moving point as described by the military operators in Las Vegas. (50)
How do we know that the object seen in Las Vegas is the same one that was reported in Utah and over Reno? It looked as if we had two sightings: one over Las Vegas on April 18, and one over Utah on April 19. With two sightings, there isn't all that much unusual to explain. A meteor fell near Eureka, Utah, and something else tracked on radar near Las Vegas.
But I knew that wasn't quite right. I had talked to a man, who wishes to remain anonymous, who was in Eureka, Utah, on the night the "meteor" fell. He was driving through town and watched the glowing orange ball. He saw it close to the ground, but then saw it take off again. It knocked out the lights all over Eureka, before climbing out again. Something that a meteor could not do.
He was close enough to the object to see an oval shape and to hear a quiet whirring noise. It took off toward the west, heading into Nevada. He watched it until it faded from sight over Nevada. (51)
The point here is that there was a witness who had seen the object come down near Eureka as had others. But unlike them, he had seen it lift off again, streaking toward the west. It suggested that the object hadn't ended its flight in Utah. Linked to the reports in Nevada, it suggested that a single object was responsible for all the sightings.
The air force, which had received all the findings, initially did the same thing, linking the reports. Officers at Stead Air Force Base, Nellis Air Force Base, and NORAD all drew that conclusion. The reports from Utah and Reno claim the sighting was made about fifteen minutes after the hour (Utah, on Mountain Standard Time, reported the incident at 8:15. Reno, on Pacific Standard Time, reported it at 7:15). (52)
The Nellis radar case, according to the official air force file, listed the time of the sighting as sixteen minutes after the events in Utah, but the official spokesman at Nellis said the Air Defense Command was alerted by the fire trail that was seen at approximately 7:20 P.M., Pacific Standard Time, or within minutes of the reports from Utah. (53)
More importantly, fighters were scrambled from Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix after the radar sightings. (54) Other documents included in the Project Blue Book files suggested that fighters had also been scrambled from Nellis.
Another point must be made. The reports, as filed in Project Blue Book, were deceptively dated. The Utah case had the time logged in "Zulu," or Greenwich Mean Time, which means it was advanced at that time of the year by six hours. Add six hours to the 8:15 time, and you advance it to early morning the next day. A quick glance at the file shows the Utah case dated April 19, and the Las Vegas case logged in local time as April 18. On paper it looks as if they take place on separate days when, in reality, they happened within minutes of each other on the same day.
There are other interesting notes in the official files. A spokesman for the 28th Air Division at Stead Air Force Base admitted the power in Eureka was knocked out and that fighters had been scrambled from Nellis as a result of the radar sightings there. (55)
Then, on September 21, 1962, Major C. R. Hart of the air force public information office, responding to a letter sent by a New York resident, claimed:
Not intercepted? With reports in the files that clearly showed fighters were scrambled from Nellis and other reports of jets taking off from Luke? (57)
What about the explanation that the reported track was characteristic of a balloon or a U-2? Which was it? A balloon track would be made at the whim of the wind, "flying" in the direction the wind was blowing, changing direction as it passed from one level to another. A U-2, under intelligent control of a pilot, wouldn't be flying an erratic pattern. Surely the radar operator would have been able to tell if he was tracking a balloon or a jet.
The response to the man's letter was a lie, pure and simple. The evidence in the file showed that. But more important is the fact that the air force was claiming that the object might have been a U-2 or a high-altitude balloon. The reason they couldn't pin it down was that there were no records of such a flight or balloon launch. They were grasping at straws. Might have been a balloon. Could have been a high-flying U-2 spy plane. But it wasn't either.
Remember, there was a follow-up that claimed the object was so bright that it affected the photoelectric cells on the Eureka street lights. That is a good, logical explanation for the reported power outage, but doesn't account for all the facts. The lights in Nephi, according to Raymond Jackson, were knocked out. (58) Photoelectric cells fooled by the brightness of the object do not account for that.
And near Eureka, Bob Robinson reported that his truck engine and headlights were affected by the overflight of the object." It seems that the UFO was displaying the same kind of electromagnetic effect that had been reported in dozens of other UFO cases. (60)
So what do we have here?
We have the story of an object that was seen to begin its journey over Oneida, New York. It was seen by thousands. In Utah it neared the ground, landed, and took off not on April 19 as claimed by the air force, but on April 18. It was close enough to the ground that people in the center of Utah got a good look at it. It maneuvered while close to the ground, slowing down and speeding up. The witnesses in several Utah communities centered around the Eureka and Nephi areas thought that it landed. One witness reported it on the ground and then taking off. It continued its journey until it was close to Reno, then turned to the southeast, flew over Las Vegas, where it was tracked on radar, and then blew up.
Documentation for the sighting is available through a variety of newspapers, including the Las Vegas Sun, Los Angeles Tribune, Desert News and Telegram, Salt Lake Tribune, Eureka Reporter and Nephi News-Leader. Further documentation came from the Project Blue Book files and Frank Edwards. It is a case that demonstrates the air force's policy of explaining UFO sightings, even if they have to change dates to make the explanations wok. It shows that the air force would lie to the public about the UFO situation. And it shows that air force investigators, when handed a solution, wouldn't ask the basic questions. They accepted the solution quickly.
That means that the officer handing out the U-2 or balloon explanations would know that all flights above fourteen thousand feet were tracked carefully. And he would know that U-2s aren't like a privately owned Piper Cub or Cessna that operates below the critical altitude of fourteen thousand feet Flights are planned and logged, and those records still exist if there had been a U-2 flight in that area, the air force could have proved it.
And the same thing can be said for the high-altitude balloons. By 1962 they were tracked religiously. With so many commercial aircraft using the skies, the military couldn't af ford to have a passenger plane fly into a research balloon. They knew where the balloons were and what tracks they took. The radar sighting might suggest a high-altitude balloon or U-2, but that isn't the solution.
Finally, the air force files connect the two events, though they eventually separated the reports in Las Vegas from those in Utah. On a page in the file that appears prior to the intelligence report prepared by Douglas Crouch, an unknown officer wrote:
That notation is not in the Las Vegas file, but in the Utah file. And it suggests that radars in other parts of the country from New York to California tracked the object. The flight time, according to the Las Vegas sighting report, was thirty- two minutes, much too long for a meteor. A meteor would cross the United States much faster. And it means that the object, whatever it was, was not a meteor.On April 18, 1962, the Air Force Defense Command was puzzled by an aerial object that exploded and seemed to be a meteor, but had the unique distinction of being tracked by radar 70 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in a blinding flash. An Air Force Defense Command alert reported the object was tracked and traced over New York, Kansas, Utah, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona and California, so that its light covered almost as much area as that created by the big hydrogen space bomb test held later in the Pacific hundreds of miles high. (61)
With the cases separated, the air force was able to deal with them piecemeal. The Utah case could become a bolide. Robert Kadesch, a scientist not involved with the UFO project at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base or the Foreign Technology Division, made a plausible witness. His statement, reported throughout the country, sounded good, when the testimony of the other witnesses is overlooked.
ft is easy to accept the Air Force explanations of the case if they are taken as separate events. It is easy to believe that the Utah sightings were the result of a meteor, although the original investigators, Crouch and Brion, said that they had no explanation for the sightings.
This also reveals that the air force was not interested in investigation or solving riddles. They were interested in clearing cases, slapping a label on them and letting it go at that. We know it because they interviewed the Utah witnesses such as Bob Robinson and Floyd Evans. They interviewed a dozen witnesses, some of whom described the object and who said it was close to the ground. (62) They knew that power had been knocked out in Nephi but reported only that the light was so bright it affected the photoelectric cells in Eureka. They ignored the information that didn't fit with the bolide theory.
Something extremely extraordinary happened on the night of April 18, 1962. The air force offered a series of explanations ignoring the facts. But the witnesses who were there know the truth. They saw something from outer space, and it was not a meteor. It was a craft from another world.
Source: A History of UFO Crashes, page 79-94, (1995) Kevin Randle