L'"Incident d'Exeter"

Hynek, Josef AllenHynek, Josef Allen: Nouveau Rapport sur les OVNI, 183-193, J'ai Lu 1979, 1977

Le mot "incident" n'est sans doute pas le terme qui convient pour ce "classique" des Rencontres Rapprochées, connu de tous ceux qui ont suivi le phénomène OVNI. Cette rencontre, survenue à Exeter, dans le New Hampshire, et qui émut tout le pays, fut pour ses témoins comme pour l'Air Force une considérable source de mortifications. Face à ce fort bon cas de RR1, l'Air Force se surpassa : négligence de Blue Book, manque de considération envers les témoins, tentatives pour discréditer le témoignage d'observateurs sérieux en accumulant les explications "officielles" et, pour couronner le tout, capitulation du Pentagone qui dut reconnaître, des mois plus tard, que l'événement aurait dû être répertorié parmi les "non-identifiés". Les dossiers de Blue Book comportent cependant toujours l'évaluation initiale Astro-Etoiles/Planètes et Avion de l'opération Big Blast (l'évaluation astronomique est absolument indéfendable, et quant à l'opération Big Blast, elle s'était close 1 h avant le début de l'incident d'Exeter, comme en font foi les documents officiels).

John Fuller a étudié ce cas de façon très complète dans son ouvrage : The Incident at Exeter, tandis que Raymond FowlerFowler, Raymond E. et son groupe, au terme d'une enquête beaucoup plus consciencieusement menée que celle de Blue Book, en faisaient un excellent compte-rendu. Je dois à l'obligeance de M. FowlerFowler, Raymond E. d'en publier les extraits que l'on trouvera plus loin. Le dossier Blue Book sur cette observation est lui-même assez copieux, encore qu'il s'appuie notablement sur le rapport de M. FowlerFowler, Raymond E..

C'est sous la forme d'une requête émanant du quartier-général du 817ème groupe aérien (SAC), base aérienne de Pease, datée du vendredi 15, que l'incident d'Exeter est mentionné pour la première fois par Blue Book. Elle est adressée, au nom du commandant, par le directeur de l'Information de la base de Pease, à l'officier responsable de l'Information, base aérienne de Wright-Patterson :

There have been an unusually high number of reported sightings of unidentified flying objects in the Pease AFB, New Hampshire, area which have been the subject of much discussion and numerous newspaper, radio and television reports. Many of these sightings have been reported to this base and your records will show that we have performed thorough investigations of the . . . Several members of this command have actually been called to view UFOs by sincere and sober citizens but as yet, we have always been too late or "unlucky." The most interesting sighting, in the nearby town of Exeter, aroused special interest as two policemen saw the object at very close range. . .

This office has, of course, not commented on sightings reported to the Air Force other than to say that they have been or are being investigated, that the reports will be sent to your organization, that further releases will be made from the Public Information Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, etc. The fact that we cannot comment on the investigations has led to somewhat alarming suspicion of Air Force motives and interest in this area, the most popular belief being that "...the Air Force won't release the truth because if the truth were known, everyone would be panicked." I have attempted to counter this by explaining the USAF's interest in this matter every time I speak to the press or private citizens about this matter. . . Still, however, an alarming number of people remain unconvinced {!}.

Many members of the two nearby Military Affairs committees and key citizens from surrounding towns and cities have inquired concerning the possibility of an Air Force speaker on this subject. Do you operate a speaker's bureau or would you be able to suggest where I might be able to obtain knowledge of an Air Force spokesman who could explain the Air Force UFO program and what happens to reports sent to your organization? If speakers from your organization are available, it might be possible for us to arrange transportation via Pease Base C-47, Billeting poses no problem.

Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

For the Commander
A.B.B., 1st Lt. USAF
Director of Information

The initial report which came in from Pease AFB on September 15, 1965, was the soul of brevity.

The following report of an unidentified object is hereby submitted in accordance with AFR-200-2.

  1. Description of Object
    1. round
    2. baseball
    3. bright red
    4. five red lights in a row
    5. lights were close together and moved as one object
    6. none
    7. none
    8. none
    9. extremely bright red
  2. Description of Course of Object
    1. visual sighting
    2. object was at an altitude of approximately 100 feet and moved in an arc of 135 degrees
    3. object disappeared at an altitude of approximately one hundred feet on a magnetic heading of approximately 160 degrees
    4. the object was erratic in movement and would disappear behind houses and building in the area. It would then appear at a position other than where it disappeared. When in view, it would act as a floating leaf.
    5. object departed on a heading of 160 degrees and was observed until it disappeared in the distance
    6. one hour
  3. Manner of Observation
    1. ground-visual
    2. none
    3. N/A
  4. Time and Date of Sighting
    1. 3/9/0600 Z
    2. night
  5. Location of Observer
    1. 3 nautical miles SW of Exeter in New Hampshire
  6. Identifying Information of Observer
    1. civilian, Norman J. Muscarello, age 18.... appears to be reliable.
    2. civilian, Eugene F. Bertrand, Jr., age 30, Exeter Police Department, Exeter, New Hampshire, patrolman, reliable
    3. civilian, David R. Hunt, age 28, Exeter Police Department, Exeter, New Hampshire, patrolman, reliable
  7. Weather and Winds
    1. weather was clear with no known weather phenomena. There was a five-degree inversion from surface to 5,000'.
    2. winds at Pease AFB (the winds were uniformly from the west, low velocity near the surface to quite high above 10,000')
    3. clear (unlimited)
    4. 30 nautical miles
    5. None
    6. None
  8. None
  9. None
  10. None
  11. Major David H. Griffin, Base Disaster Control Officer, Command pilot
    1. at this time I have been unable to arrive at a probably cause of this sighting. The three observers seem to be stable, reliable persons, especially the two patrolmen. I viewed the area of the sighting and found nothing in the area that could be the probable cause. Pease AFB had five B-47 aircraft flying in the area during this period but I do not believe that they had any connection with this sighting.

The report in Blue Book continues with the statements of the three witnesses involved. The first, from Norman Muscarello, follows:

I, Norman J. Muscarello, was hitchhiking on Rt. 150, three miles south of Exeter, New Hampshire, at 0200 hours on the 3rd of September. A group of five bright red lights appeared over a house about a hundred feet from where I was standing. The lights were in a line at about a sixty-degree angle. They were so bright, they lighted up the area. The lights then moved out over a large field and acted at times like a floating leaf. They would go down behind the trees, behind a house and then reappear. They always moved in the same sixty-degree angle. Only one light would be on at a time. They were pulsating: one, two, three, four, five, four, three, two, one. They were so bright I could not distinguish a form to the object. I watched these lights for about fifteen minutes and they finally disappeared behind some trees and seemed to go into a field. At one time while I was watching them, they seemed to come so close I jumped into a ditch to keep from being hit. After the lights went into a field, I caught a ride to the Exeter Police Station and reported what I had seen.

Norman J. Muscarello

The statement from the first patrolman, who after being called to the scene also witnessed the UFO:

I, Eugene F. Bertrand, Jr., was cruising on the morning of the 3rd of September at 0100 on Rt. 108 bypass near Exeter, New Hampshire. I noticed an automobile parked on the side of the road and stopped to investigate. I found a woman in the car who stated she was too upset to drive. She stated that a light had been following her car and had stopped over her car. I stayed with her about fifteen minutes but was unable to see anything. I departed and reported back to Exeter Police Station where I found Norman Muscarello. He related his story of seeing some bright red lights in the field. After taking him back to where he stated that he had seen the lights. When we had gone about fifty feet, a group of five bright red lights came from behind a group of trees near us. They were extremely bright and flashed on one at a time. The lights started to move around over the field. At one time, they came so close I fell to the ground and started to draw my gun. The lights were so bright, I was unable to make out any form. There was no sound or vibration but the farm animals were upset in the area and were making a lot of noise. When the lights started coming near us again, Mr. Muscarello and I ran to the car. I radioed Patrolman David Hunt who arrived in a few minutes. He also observed the lights which were still over the field but not as close as before. The lights moved out across the field at an estimated altitude of one hundred feet, and finally disappeared in the distance at the same altitude. The lights were always in line at about a sixty-degree angle. When the object moved, the lower lights were always forward of the others.

Eugene F. Bertrand, Patrolman

From the third witness:

I, David R. Hunt, at about 0255 on the morning of the 3rd of September, received a call from Patrolman Bertrand to report to an area about three miles southwest of Exeter, New Hampshire. Upon arriving at the scene, I observed a group of bright red lights flashing in sequence. They appeared to be about one half mile over a field to the southeast. After observing the lights for a short period of time, they moved off in a southeasterly direction and disappeared in the distance. The lights appeared to remain at the same altitude which I estimate to be about one hundred feet.

David R. Hunt, Patrolman

Blue Book's way of dealing with these witnesses' reports was to make every effort to locate some type of aircraft operation in the area in question; none was successful.

A news clip from the Amesbury News, Massachusetts, stated that the UFO was identified as an "ad gimmick"; but Ray Fowler checked with the Skylight Aerial Advertising Company and was advised that their aircraft was _not_ flying on the night of September 3. He was also informed that the company aircraft rarely flew into southern New Hampshire, and when it did, it was usually in the Salem and Manchester areas, miles away from Exeter. Furthermore, he learned that the "Skylight" aircraft does not carry red flashing lights; it carries a rectangular sign with white flashing lights. Yet the manager of the advertising company had stated to the Amesbury News that "perhaps some UFOs reported in the New Hampshire area could have been their aircraft." Unfortunately, the press anxiously latched on to this bit of irrelevant information to "explain" the Exeter case.

The two simultaneous investigations of this case are an interesting study in contrasts. The Air Force records are at best sketchy, and focus essentially on attempts at locating existing aircraft in the area; as usual, Blue Book started out its investigation with a negative premise. On the other hand, Raymond Fowler and his associates made an exhaustive examination of the case, keeping their minds open at all times. Their final reports were duly submitted to Blue Book.

The following is excerpted from Fowler's report, which supplements Muscarello's statement to the Air Force investigator:

Muscarello reported the incident to Desk Officer Reginald Towland at about 1:45 A.M. EDT. Side view and angle view seen. He was hit with fear and hardly able to talk. A radio call was made to Officer Bertrand asking him to return to the station, pick up Muscarello, and investigate at the scene of the sighting which he did. Upon arriving at the Carl Dining field, the object was nowhere to be seen. After waiting and looking from the cruiser for several minutes, Bertrand radioed headquarters that there was nothing there and that the boy must have been imagining things. It was then suggested that he examine the field before returning, so Bertrand and Muscarello advanced into the field. As the police officer played his flashlight beam back and forth over the field, Muscarello sighted the object rising slowly from behind some nearby trees and shouted. Bertrand swung around and saw a large dark object carrying a straight row of four extraordinarily bright, red, pulsating lights coming into the field at treetop level. It swung around toward them and just clearing a sixty-to seventy-foot tree and seemingly only one hundred feet away from them. Instinctively, Officer Bertrand drew his service revolver (he stated that Muscarello shouted, "Shoot it!"), but thinking this unwise, replaced it and yelled to Muscarello to take cover in the cruiser. He told me (Fowler) that he was afraid that they both would be burnt by the blinding lights closing in on them. They ran to the cruiser where Bertrand immediately put in a radio call to headquarters for assistance. Officer Hunt arrived within minutes, and the trio observed the object move away over and below the tree line.

Now let us return to the Blue Book coverage for a look at an interesting exchange of letters between the then Major Quintanilla and the police officers involved. Quintanilla states:

Our investigations and evaluation of the sighting indicates a possible association with the Air Force operation "Big Blast." In addition to aircraft from this operation, there were five (5) B-47 aircraft flying in the area during this period. Before final evaluation of your sighting can be made, it is essential for us to know if either of you witnessed any aircraft in the area during this time period, either independently or in connection with the observed object. Since there were many aircraft in the area, at he time, and there were no reports of unidentified objects from personnel engaged in this air operation, we might then assume that the objects observed between midnight and two A.M. might be associated with this military air operation. If, however, these aircraft were noted by either of you, this would tend to eliminate this air operation as a possible explanation for the objects observed.

Hector Quintanilla, Jr.
Major, USAF, Chief,
Project Blue Book

It is interesting to note that Maj. Quintanilla had used the term "before a final evaluation of your sighting can be made," whereas the Pentagon had in fact already issued its evaluation (attributing the sighting to Operation Big Blast) some time before Quintanilla wrote his letter.

Maj. Quintanilla received a prompt reply from Officers Bertrand and Hunt. Their letter of December 2, 1965, reads:

"Dear Sir: We were very glad to get your letter during the third week in November, because as you might imagine, we have been the subject of considerable ridicule since the Pentagon released its "final evaluation" of our sighting of September 3, 1965. In other words, both Patrolman Hunt and myself saw this object at close range, checked it out with each other, confirmed and reconfirmed the fact that this was not any kind of conventional aircraft, that it was at an altitude of not more than a couple of hundred feet and went to considerable trouble to confirm that the weather was clear, there was no wind, no chance of weather inversion, and that what we were seeing was in no way a military or civilian craft. We entered this in a complete official police report as a supplement to the blotter of the morning of September 3rd (not September 2 as your letter indicates).

Since our job depends on accuracy and the ability to tell the difference between fact and fiction, we were naturally disturbed by the Pentagon report issued which attributed the sighting to "multiple high-altitude objects in area" and "weather inversion." What is a little difficult to understand is the fact that your letter arrived considerably after the Pentagon release. Since your letter says that you are still in the process of making a final evaluation, it seems that there is an inconsistency here. Ordinarily, this would not be too important except for the fact that in a situation like this, we are naturally very reluctant to be considered irresponsible in our official report to the police station. One of us (Patrolman Bertrand) was in the Air Force for four years, engaged in refueling operations, with all kinds of military aircraft; it was impossible to mistake what we saw for any kind of military operation, regardless of altitude. It was also definitely not a helicopter or balloon. Immediately after the object disappeared, we did see what probably was a B-47 at high altitudes, but it bore no relation to the object that we saw.

Another fact is that the time of our observation was nearly an hour after two A.M. which would eliminate the Air Force Operation Big Blast since as you say, this took place between midnight and 2 A.M. Norman Muscarello, who first reported this object before we went to the site, saw it somewhere in the vicinity of 2 A.M. but nearly an hour had passed before he got to the police station and we went out to the location with him.

We would both appreciate it very much if you would help us eliminate the possible conclusion that some people have made in that we might have: (a) made up the story, (b) were incompetent observers. Anything that you could do along this line would be very much appreciated, and I am sure that you can understand the position we are in.

We appreciate the problem that the Air Force must have with the number of irresponsible reports on this subject, and don't want to cause you unnecessary trouble. One the other hand, we think that you probably understand our position. Thanks very much for your interest.

Patrolman Eugene Bertrand
and Patrolman David Hunt

They received no reply to this letter. They wrote again on December 29:

Dear Sir:

Since we have not heard from you since our letter of December 2, we are writing this to request some kind of an answer since we are still upset about what happened after the Pentagon released its news that we had just seen stars or planets, or high-altitude air exercises.

As we mentioned in our last letter to you, it could not have been the Operation Big Blast you mentioned since the time of our sighting was an hour after that exercise and it may not have even been the same date since you refer to our sighting as September 2. Our sighting was on September 3. In addition, as we mentioned, we are both familiar with all the B-47's and B-52's and helicopters and jet fighters which are going over this place all the time. On top of this, Patrolman Bertrand had four years of refueling experience in the Air Force and knows regular aircraft of all kinds. It is important to remember that this craft that we saw was not more than one hundred feet in the air and it was absolutely silent with no rush of air from jets or chopper blades whatever. And it did not have any wings or tail. It lit up the entire field, and two nearby houses turned completely red. It stopped, hovered, and turned on a dime.

What bothers us most is that many people are thinking that we were either lying or not intelligent enough to tell the difference between what we saw and something ordinary. Three other people saw this same thing on September 3 and two of them appear to be in shock from it. This was absolutely not a case of mistaken identity.

We both feel that it is very important for our jobs and our reputations to get some kind of letter from you to say that story put out by the Pentagon was not true; it could not possibly be because we were the people who saw this, not the Pentagon.

Can you please let us hear from you as soon as possible?

Patrolman Eugene Bertrand
and Patrolman David Hunt

More than a month later, the patrolmen received the following response from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force:


Based on additional information submitted to our UFO Investigation Officer, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, we have been unable to identify the object that you observed on September 3, 1965. In nineteen years of investigating over ten thousand reports of unidentified flying objects, the evidence has proved almost conclusively that reported aerial phenomena have been either objects created or set aloft by men, generated by atmospheric conditions, or caused by celestial bodies or the residue of meteoric activity.

Thank you for reporting your observation to the Air Force, and for your subsequent co-operation concerning the report. I regret any inconvenience you may have suffered as a result.

John P. Spaulding
Lt. Col, USAF

Whether this letter satisfied the patrolmen, I do not know. Between the lines, it still says "It can't be, therefore it isn't" and that therefore their sighting must undoubtedly have some natural explanation. At least, however, the patrolmen had the satisfaction of the final admission from the Pentagon that they had been unable to identify their sighting.