Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Great Central NY UFO Wave of 1978 - Part 1

Syracuse and Central New York have never been immune to UFO activity, and I doubt that any geographical area on earth can make that claim. The UFO is a universal phenomenon. Or phenomena, take your pick.
Beginning roughly in the spring of 1978, New York's mid-section began bulging with an array of credible UFO reports involving "solid citizens" from all walks of life. The sightings began turning up with a ferocity and volume that took UFO researchers, the press and law enforcement personnel by surprise, and the net result might best be summed up as confusion, cover-ups and national attention of the worst kind. All told, at least 100 separate UFO sightings were involved, and if data from outlying areas within a radius of 50 miles from Syracuse is taken into account, perhaps a figure of several hundred (including sightings by large groups of people, counted as individual observers) is closer to the truth.

Amongst numerous researchers and writers representing several UFO organizations and media outlets involved in investigating this series of events, I gathered what reports I could and sent them along primarily to APRO, and did write articles for The A.P.R.O. Bulletin, The UFO Research Newsletter and other venues. In many cases the witnesses kindly allowed their names to be used, greatly adding credibility to their accounts.

Even though single-witness UFO reports are often considered less significant than those including numerous observers, one such incident in particular impressed me, an encounter of March 30, 1978. Sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., Joseph, a 20-year-old college student had just dropped his girlfriend off at her home in Pompey, NY, and was returning to his parents' home in Syracuse. The road was fairly deserted on this cool and clear evening, with only one car passing from the opposite direction a few minutes before his encounter.

The witness's attention was not fully directed upon his driving, because he was attempting to tune in an FM radio station in his 1976 Ford LTD, peculiarly finding only static. He wasn't sure whether this might be normal, considering his road location.

At any rate, Joseph happened to notice a light far in back, reflected in his outside and inside mirrors, maybe a car with a single headlight, or even a motorcycle. He returned his attention to tuning the radio, but a few seconds later a bright flash equivalent to that of a camera flash bulb abruptly gained his attention. Quickly glancing all round on the dark road, he looked through the driver's side window and saw an object about 30-50 yards away, gliding above the field off the roadside. The road's shoulders were piled high with snow, which the object caused to reflect brightly white, and any visible trees would be far off in the distance, so the witness was able to get a clear view of the object as it appeared to pace his car.

With his side window closed, Joseph watched this object, as large as a boxcar (40-50 or maybe even 60 feet long and 10-20 feet high), flashing so many lights that it reminded him of a Christmas tree. I had submitted a drawing supplied by Joseph to APRO, indicating the object's shape and light pattern. The middle portion contained numerous bright white lights, while the top and bottom sported dull blue-white panels of light. One crucial observation by the witness was the fact that his car bounced up and down due to numerous post-winter road potholes and uneven surfaces, yet the object paced him smoothly from the field. After perhaps two minutes, the object suddenly ascended quickly in an instant blur of lights, and Joseph feared that it might have taken up a new position above his auto, so he sped away as fast as he could go.

Unnerved by his experience, Joseph pulled into a shopping center parking lot in Dewitt, NY to regain his bearings. His father later stated his son was visibly upset once he returned home, and law enforcement personnel were called and took a report. The witness noted no loss of time or physical effects. He readily admitted that he had indeed seen the new movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," but did not even think of its now famous highway-truck-UFO scene at the time. I found Joseph to be most sincere and he certainly gained nothing by relating his story to me or to others.

Yet, months before this, another highly intriguing incident had surfaced, this time in Plymouth, NY (about 50 miles from Syracuse). Featured in the May 21, 1978 edition of the weekly Syracuse New Times newspaper, writer Robert Monell related the UFO encounter of farmer Thomas Colledge and his family. Just before 1:00 a.m. he and his wife had gone to bed and they suddenly heard "a tremendous roar." Rushing to a window, they observed an arrowhead-shaped object approximating the size of a house. "By the time I could get a good look at it, the whole house was shaking," Mr. Colledge stated. He had never seen an aircraft like this, an object which bathed the entire back yard in intense light. He feared a pending crash directly into his barns, but the UFO went right over them, "putting out a mercury vapor lamp in the process."

Mrs. Colledge reported the object "was covered with flashing and streaming red and white lights. Visible for 20-30 seconds, the thing disappeared over a hill, the loud roar still audible. Adding to the drama, about 10 minutes later a couple and their teenage son heard and saw apparently the same object at the other end of town. And so went that report, until UFOs returned in alarming quantity to Central NY at the end of March.

Six days after Joseph's troubling UFO encounter in Pompey, NY, a police officer and his family living in Baldwinsville experienced an amazing UFO incident on April 5, 1978. According to both the Syracuse Herald-Journal of April 6 (see quoted sections below) and my own inquiry (I met the family, accompanied by Robert Monell, who represented the Syracuse New Times), the police dispatcher and his family observed a revolving, oval-shaped object displaying around its middle blue, green and yellow flashing lights. The object hovered over a wooded area, seemed to rock back and forth and moved in a rectangular pattern.

The officer's wife stated a passenger plane approaching Syracuse flew directly under the object. Significantly, the couple's son "saw two flashes of white light come from the UFO and arc to the ground. . .at the same time, the lights in the home went out." A Niagara Mohawk (power company) spokesman did confirm that "there were two brief, consecutive interruptions in power at 10:15. . .along the company's 115,000 volt line between the Long Branch substation north of Liverpool and Mortimer substation just south of Rochester." Further, a spokesman for the New York State Gas and Electric Power Corp. stated that about 3,000 homes in the Jordan-Elbridge area lost power briefly. Both utilities connect to the Mortimer substation.

The pilot of an incoming aircraft "observed the power blackout but did not see the UFO," while a police helicopter crew "observed the two flashes of light. . .and the temporary blackout." Of considerable interest is the fact that air traffic controllers at Hancock Field stated "an unidentified blip" appeared on radar. However, by the next day the FAA had publicly denied radar contact, and a power company official denied to me the significance of the outages.

Other sightings occurred on following evenings in this and other areas of the county, and there were even nighttime photos taken by teenagers which turned out to be inconclusive after analysis by APRO, though at least one showing a distant light in the darkness of an evening sky was felt to coincide with the photographer's account and integrity.

Reliable accounts of strange things in the sky continued to pummel local law enforcement agencies in early 1978, even as Dr. J. Allen Hynek's Center for UFO Studies took an active interest in the flood of intriguing reports. If harried representatives of official Syracuse and Onondaga County agencies thought the firestorm of public concern couldn't possibly get any worse, they were wrong: The National Enquirer was coming to town, and one of the "alien" faces they sought turned out to be mine. The Enquirer? Yes, The Enquirer -- in an era when The National Enquirer turned out some top-rate UFO reporting. These were the days of TNE reporter Bob Pratt's superb articles and accounts by other talented fact-diggers from Lantana, Florida, the weekly's home base. Surprised? More next time. . .