Case 38 : Spurious sightings, amateur UFO researchers ‑ Condon Report

Case 38 - North Eastern

Autumn l'année d'avant

Investigators: Ahrens, CraigCraig, Roy F.


Over 800 sightings of UFOs were claimed in the North East region. The sightings, most of which could be attributed to aircraft lights and stars, were largely stimulated by individuals engaged in UFO "research." No evidence was offered to support claims of close sighting of manned saucers, footprints, and saucer "nests."


Sightings of UFOs were reported almost every night at a small town, location B, seven miles SW of location A. The sightings were purportedly made by dozens of persons, some of whom allegedly had seen 50 or more UFOs, many of them in a single night. A total of over 800 sightings, was claimed in the vicinity by Mr. A, local resident and observer, and Mr. B, who claimed to be investigating on behalf of a civilian UFO research organization. Besides getting radio and newspaper publicity for the events, these individuals had arranged public meetings to discuss UFOs. At one such meeting, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, two Air Force representatives from a nearby airfield, and four news representatives were present, along with several dozen interested local people.

Most sightings were of the moving-light-in-the-sky type. A notable exception was the report by two boys, aged 10 and 12, that they observed at close range a "flying saucer" in which they saw two occupants. Another exception involved a report by a 55-year-old woman residing a few miles from location B. She stated that she had observed a large glowing light behind her house. The next morning, she found a "saucer nest" in the cattails where she had seen the light, according to her account. In another locality, Mr. A claimed to have taken a photograph of a strange footprint, as yet undeveloped.


Project investigators interviewed 12 witnesses, and spent a part of each of three nights on a hill on the outskirts of location B, the locale of most of the reported sightings. Discussions with persons familiar with the situation brought out the following facts:

  1. The region has a high density of commercial airplane flights, at both high and low altitude.
  2. A charter air service operating out of the airport at location A has four planes equipped with the relatively new stroboscopic anti-collision light. On these planes, this light is mounted on top of the tail fin and can be seen in all directions other than directly below. The light emits 50-60 seven-second flashes/min at an intensity of 2 x 106 candlepower. Its use is under the control of the pilot. Mr. Allen Hayes, operator of the charter service said that his planes frequently fly around the area at night. Many private planes land at location A; a route of several commercial lines pass over this area also. Mr. Hayes felt certain that anti-collision lights on his and other planes were responsible for many of the local UFO reports.
  3. The sheriff's office advised that the Asplundh Tree Expert Company had perhaps been flying helicopters at night along the power lines for an electric and gas corporation checking for corona discharge along the lines and sparking from lines to vegetation. Since aerial observation of such an operation could conceivably result in UFO reports, the information was checked. It was found that although this company uses helicopters to spray defoliants along the power lines, the work is done during daylight hours, and had not been conducted within the past two months.
  4. Local state police were interested in the UFO reports. State Trooper Eisenberg had responded to a call from Mr. A, had found him and several youngsters with blankets over their heads, peering from under the blankets to look for UFOs. The trooper observed with them for a time, watched their excitement as they saw "another one," which he also observed. Trooper Eisenberg was certain he and the others were looking at an airplane.
  1. Mr. John Levy, Assistant Manager of location A's Chamber of Commerce and occasional reporter for a newspaper in a nearby city, said he went out one evening to observe the UFOs with Mr. A, Mr. B, and the interested local youngsters. While he was there, the others saw three "UFOs", two of which he could identify as airplanes by the sound of their motors. Mr. A has insisted that were were noiseless and therefore not airplanes. (No noise whas heard when the plane lights were first sighted). The third "UFO" was silent, and looked to Mr. Levy like a satellite.

During the investigators' observations, only airplanes and stars were seen. The first two nights were overcast with intermittent snow flurries. On the third night the sky was clear. A project investigator accompanied Mr. A, Mr. B, and one of their friends to the hill outside of location B for observation, while the other investigator remained at the hotel to receive incoming telephone calls.

During the early evening, two calls were received which reported that an UFO was being observed at the time, still hanging in the sky. The UFO he now described was the bright star Sirius. After the suggestion that this might be the case, he phoned back to agree that he had been looking at Sirius. One caller was a high school teacher who had reported earlier a light-in-the-sky sighting that might have been an airplane.

The sky observation party returned to location A later in the evening. The project investigator reported that when Sirius rose over the distant trees as he and the others were watching on the hill, his companions also immediately called Sirius one of the UFOs. They watched it change color, particularly when it was low in the sky. Only after some time did they agree that this "UFO" was a star.

A few minutes later, a phone call reported another sighting. Mr. B spoke to the woman, and, after short conversation, excitedly handed the phone to a project investigator, declaring: "The woman is seeing an object which is spewing out green, white, and red beams . . . ." Additional comment indicated the object had emitted glowing red globs and was now hovering near the woman's home. The location described again was that of Sirius. The woman was told there that the star should appear relative to the constellation Orion, and was asked if it possibly could be this bright star she was observing. She did not accept this as a possibility, and relayed information to her daughter for checking, before going into a discussion of other UFO activity in the area. After this review, she was again asked about the hovering object she had originally reported. Her response was, "Yes, I guess we've been bamboozled again. I guess that it is just the star."

Investigation of UFO reports that involved other than lights in the sky revealed the following:

  1. The "strange foot print" which reportedly was photographed by Mr. A (photo still in camera) was described and sketched by him. The sketch was the size and shape of a bear track.
  2. A daylight search of the small swamp where the "saucer nest" in the form of a 30-ft. diameter area where "cattails and been squashed down and found to lie in a clock-wise spiral pattern" revealed no evidence of existence of such a "nest." This search took place several weeks after the event, and it could be argued that the "nest" had been disturbed in various ways to make it no longer obvious.

The woman who made this report is employed in local government service, and impressed interviewers as sincere and intelligent. According to her testimony, she told her sons (aged 16 and 22) the night of the observation, about seeing the glowing object behind the house during their absence. They were incredulous and she did not tell anyone about finding the "saucer nest" the next morning until some three weeks later, after the report was circulated that the boys had seen a saucer with occupants. The 16-year-old son of this woman said he had never gone out to look at the saucer nest, even after his mother reported its existence.

With frequent prompting from Mr. B, the 10 and 12-year-old boys in location B told project investigators the story of their sighting. A tape recording of an earlier account by the boys was not entirely consistent with the new account and the taped accounts suggested that the mode of questioning itself was developing the story.

According to the boys, they saw a large saucer-like object which hovered between a tavern-restaurant and an adjacent house across the street from the younger boy's home. The object tilted up, and they saw two occupants by a window on its near side. Instrument control panels with red and white lights were visible through the window. The object disappeared after about two minutes, moving upward before vanishing suddenly.

There were no other observers. The reported event happened on the main street of this small town (location B) at about 9:30 p.m. Three dogs were said to have been howling strangely because of the object's presence. The 12-year-old looked at his watch during this sighting to see what time it happened, according to his account. Discrepancies in the report, resemblance of the reported object and occupants with those pictured in a TV serial, and the prior association of the boys with Mr. A and the group of youngsters he influenced created serious doubts that the described event was real.

After the visit of the project team, a reported discovery of four mysterious clearings on a densely wooded hillside near location A was presented in the magazine section of the local newspaper as tangible evidence that "saucers" had landed or hovered there. In circular or elliptical areas, from 100-150 ft. in diameter, the trees had all fallen. Some were uprooted, others broken off near ground level. Strange lights were reported to have been seen over the wooded area several months earlier.

A copy of the magazine, showing photographs of the areas of forest damage, was sent for comment to Mr. C. A. Shields, Director, Division of Administrative Management, United States Forest Service. He sent our request to Dr. Carl E. Ostrom, Director, Timber Administrative Management Division, who offered several possible explanations as accounting for the circular patches of damage: 1) A tornado touching down briefly at several places in the forest; 2) Islands of damage caused by heavy ice or snow. This kind of damage occurs to red and jack pine in the Northern Lake States; 3) Patch-like infestations of Fomes annosus, a root rotting organism that destroys supporting roots even though the trees remain green; and 4) Pine root-collar weevil, an insect that partially girdles the stem just below the ground line, giving rise to patches of timber collapse.

Dr. Ostrom considered the most likely explanation to be 2) above, perhaps superimposed on stands already weakened by 3) or 4). This area occasionally receives heavy ice and snow storms.

The claimed connection between the areas of forest damage and UFO sightings was extremely nebulous. Since there are natural, ordinary explanations for such patches of damage, it seems most logical to attribute the damage to them.


The lights-in-the-sky UFO reports apparently were caused by the suggestion and influence primarily of two individuals. Most, if not all, of these reports can be attributed to airplanes and stars.

One housewife testified that she and her husband saw what appeared to be airplanes, except that they were soundless. Yet, she could not believe there could be that many airplanes in the sky around location B on a given evening. On the other hand, she was quite willing to believe there could be that many flying saucers from outer space around her city.

This case stands out as an extreme example of the extent to which UFO excitement can be generated by one or more individuals in an ordinary community, where ordinary events are occurring.

Those reported sightings involving more than lights-in-the-sky were made by people who also were members of or close to the group activity stimulated by Messrs. A and B. There appeared to be little convincing evidence that these sightings involved objects that were physically real.