Physical Analyses in Ten Cases of Unexplained Aerial Objects with Material Samples

Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 1, 1998 0892-3310/98
© 1998 Society for Scientific Exploration

Physical Analyses in Ten Cases of Unexplained Aerial Objects with Material Samples1

1550 California St. #6L, San Francisco, CA 94109

Abstract — A survey of ten cases of unexplained aerial phenomena accompanied by material residues shows a broad distribution of natural elements, many of which are metallic in nature. They can be roughly described as belonging in two categories: “light materials” of high conductivity such as aluminum, and “slag-like materials” reminiscent of industrial byproducts. Most of those cases under consideration strive to meet four criteria: 1) the literature gives sufficient ground to support the fact that an unusual aerial phenomenon occurred, 2) the circumstances of the actual recovery of the specimen are reported, 3) there is data to suggest that the specimen is in fact linked to the observed aerial object, and 4) physical analysis has been performed by a competent laboratory of known reliability. In several instances the sample is available for continuing study by independent scientists. In the absence of a firm chain of evidence and of professional field investigation, most cases cannot lead to a definite conclusion about the nature of the phenomena that gave rise to each specimen, but much can be learned from the methodology involved in such analysis. Furthermore, compilation of similar cases on an expanded basis may eventually lead to the discovery of underlying patterns.

Keywords: UFOs — UFO sightings — physical evidence — propulsion


The combination of a reliable sighting of an unexplained aerial object with the recovery of a durable physical specimen is rare. While the media often allude to sensational finds and at least one former military intelligence officer has stated that he once had custody of advanced technology coming from a “crash” (Corso, 1997), the material is not available for independent study and the details of its composition are scanty and contradictory.

At a more modest level, in the course of their investigations of the phenomenon around the world, civilian researchers acting privately have patiently assembled the embryo of a sample collection, starting from physical specimens reportedly gathered at the site of a close encounter or “maneuver” type sighting.2
The present paper summarizes the data, stressing methodology while refraining from proposing premature explanations for the origin of the samples. We strive to find those cases where 1) the literature gives sufficient ground to
1Presented at the Physical Evidence Related to UFO Reports Workshop, Tarrytown, New York, Sept. 30-October 3, 1997.

support the fact that an unusual aerial phenomenon occurred, 2) the circumstances of the actual recovery of the specimen are reported, 3) there is data to suggest that the specimen is in fact linked to the observed aerial object, and 4) physical analysis has been performed by a competent laboratory of known reliability. In several cases, the sample is available for continuing study by independent scientists. In the present paper, we will try to establish the frequency of such cases and the type of analysis they suggest. In conclusion, we will examine hypotheses that may deserve further testing.

Statistical Frequency of Physical Sample Cases

In an excellent catalog compiled by Mr. Larry Hatch3 and made available to researchers and to the general public, one finds 15,181 unexplained aerial phenomena reports that have been tabulated in computer-readable form. We have broken down these cases according to the classification system used by this author (Vallee, 1990) in order to bring out the distribution of incidents across various situations. Under this classification, inspired from Hyneks definition of close encounters (Hynek, 1972), each case is given a type and a category. Hynek used a single digit representing the “kind” or type of incident, ranging from “1” for a simple sighting and “2” for physical effects to “3” for the report of a lifeform or living entity. We have extended this typology using “4” in cases when witnesses experienced a transformation of their sense of reality (often corresponding to the popular characterization of the incident as an “abduction) and “5” in cases of lasting physiological impact, such as serious injury or death.

The categories to which the typology is applied range from “CE” for close encounters and “MA” for maneuvers (trajectory discontinuity) to “FB” for fly-by (no observed discontinuity in flight) and “AN” for simple anomalies in which no UFO was reported: unusual lights or unexplained entities fall into this last category.

Using this classification we would speak of a particular case as a CE-3 incident, or a MA-2 incident, etc., leading to the simple matrix of Table 1, which provides a convenient way for establishing a baseline in comparing reports from various countries or from various epochs.

When the Hatch catalog is mapped into this classification the resulting distribution is that of Table 2, showing 3,175 cases of physical effects, or 21%

Effects on Humans from UFO Encounters

of the catalog, broken down as follows: 90 are associated with simple anomalies, 19 with a fly-by, 1,782 with maneuvers and 1,284 with close encounters. It should be noted that we are using the January 1997 version of the Hatch catalog, which is an evolving entity. Statistics performed on other versions may differ from those given here.

In Table 2, “physical effects” may refer to soil disturbances, broken tree limbs, crushed grass, burned areas, or to a variety of electromagnetic effects.

The Alleged Crash at Aurora (Texas): April 17, 1897

In order to provide some background to the analysis that follows, it is interesting to note that allegations of extraterrestrial “crashes” are nothing new and did not even begin in the present century.

In the course of a survey of early aerial phenomena in the United States, Donald Hanlon and the author found numerous reports of sightings in the period 1896-1897, which has become known in the literature as the “airship wave” (Hanlon & Vallee, 1967). One of the most remarkable cases had been reported on April 17, 1897, in the small town of Aurora (Texas). The story, as told in a local newspaper, stated that an unidentified object “sailed over the public square and when it reached the north part of town collided with the tower of Judge Proctor’s windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres.”

Although Hanlon and this author regarded the story as an instance of early Americana and a probable hoax (in a context remarkably similar to that of Roswell, the press went on to state that the pilot of the ship, who “was not an inhabitant of this world,” had died in the accident and that undecipherable papers were “found on his person”), our article re-awakened interest in the case. It was investigated again in 1973 by William Case, a journalist with the Dallas Time-Herald, and by personnel from the McDonnell Douglas aircraft company. While the 1897 story reported that the airship was “built of an unknown metal resembling somewhat a mixture of aluminum and silver,” the fragment found by Case and his co-workers was determined to consist of aluminum (83%) and zinc (about 16%) with possible traces of manganese and copper. The combination could originate with numerous common aluminum alloys, according to the McDonnell scientists, but not prior to 1908.4

While we cite this case for completeness it is not included in the overall analysis.

Case Studies

The cases that follow have been extracted from the small subset of physical effects cases where recovery of a material specimen was achieved under conditions that are of sufficient reliability to warrant serious follow-up. One case (the Council Bluffs incident of December 17, 1977) will be described in detail. Other incidents drawn from the literature and listed in chronological order will provide the relevant backdrop.

Case no. 1 : 1933 or 1934. Ubatuba, near Sao Paulo (Brazil) — Classification: MA-2

This incident came to light in 1957 through the efforts of Dr. Olavo Fontès
4Holliday, J.E.: McDonnell report on the Aurora case, unpublished, 13 August 1973. The on-site investigators were Ronald A. and N. Joseph Gurney (12 May 1973).

of Brazil and Jim and Coral Lorenzen, the founders of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, a now-defunct civilian research group in the U. S. Witnesses on the beach at Ubatuba are said to have reported seeing a disc that plunged toward the ocean at high speed, rose again to about 100 feet and exploded, showering the area with bright metallic fragments, some of which fell into shallow water. A few of the fragments were recovered and analyzed in Brazil by Dr. Luisa Barbosa at a laboratory specialized in mineral production studies. Dr. Barbosa identified the major component of the specimen as highly pure magnesium, purer than commercially produced magnesium but possibly not as pure as multiply sublimed magnesium.

Subsequent work under the direction of Prof. Peter Sturrock has been conducted at Stanford University and at various laboratories in France, including Orsay University, confirming that the material was magnesium and magnesium oxide, with a very minute amount of impurities,5 primarily aluminum, calcium, and iron. Analysis of this sample is still ongoing, with an effort to measure isotopic ratios that might help establish the origin of the material. (Lorin & Havette, 1986).6

The actual date of this event, often wrongly quoted in the literature as 1957, is actually imprecise. Dr. Pierre Kaufmann of Sao Paulo believes the original incident took place in 1933 or 1934 when a bolide indeed passed over Ubatuba and crashed at a nearby beach. The only aerial event to occur at or near Ubatuba in 1957 was the crash of a DC-3.

Case no. 2: June 21, 1947. Maury Island (Washington) — Classification: MA-2

On the afternoon of June 21, 1947 (three days before the Kenneth Arnold case) four people who were on a boat close to the shore of Maury Island near Tacoma, Washington, reported an observation which has puzzled and divided researchers ever since. According to the published story, the witnesses were Mr. Harold Dahl (a salvage operator), his fifteen-year-old son and two crewmen. They had a dog with them. They reported seeing a group of six large, flat doughnut-shaped objects flying at an estimated altitude of 2,000 feet. Their central holes were about 25 feet in diameter and they glistened with a gold-silvery color. One object suddenly started wobbling and dropped to an altitude of 500 feet above the boat. One of the discs came down (as if to “help” the one in difficulty, according to Dahl). A dull explosion was heard and numerous sheets of light, thin metal issued from the central opening in the troubled object. At the same time, the witnesses were showered with hot, dark fragments that resembled lava rock or slag compared to brass in color. The dog was reportedly hit by one of the fragments and died.

A man named Fred Crisman, to whom the incident was reported, allegedly

5 Sturrock, Peter A.: “Brazil Magnesium Study,” paper presented at the Third Annual Meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration, Princeton (New Jersey).

6 Sturrock, Peter A. “Material Isotopic Analysis,” presentation at this conference.

went to the shore and found it littered with a glassy material and silver foil. Military authorities and the FBI, in a very confused series of investigations, attributed the case to a hoax: “analysis of the fragments shows them to be from a Tacoma slag mill.” 7 To this author’s knowledge, however, the composition of the original samples, assuming that they were in fact studied by the FBI, was never released.

In a book he co-authored with Kenneth Arnold (whose own classic observation took place three days later, on June 24, 1947), popular writer Ray Palmer published an analysis of the original fragments, whose primary constituents were calcium, iron, zinc and titanium. Also found were aluminum, manganese, copper, magnesium and silicon, nickel, lead, strontium and chromium. Traces of silver, tin and cadmium were also reported.

Those investigators who regard the case as a hoax base their opinion on the fact that it was Crisman who initially sent the samples to Ray Palmer, linking them to alleged experiences involving the “Shaver Mystery,” a science-fiction tale of underground beings. In their opinion, it is only after the Kenneth Arnold observation had been published that the story was changed to involve the alleged UFO incident. For the purpose of this discussion, we will keep this weak case in the present list, but it is clear that no firm conclusion can be drawn from the reported facts. As Ray Palmer commented: “There we have it. The samples first sent by Crisman and Dahl were not slag nor were they natural rock. What were they ?”

Case no. 3: 1952. Washington (DC) — Classification: MA-2

According to journalist Frank Edwards a metallic fragment coming from an object that fell in 1952 was examined a few years later by a Canadian researcher, Mr. Wilbert Smith. The fragment had been sawed off from the recovered sample, representing about one-third of its volume. Over one inch in size, it was remarkably hard and reportedly consisted of “a matrix of magnesium orthosilicate” composed of “particles of 15 microns” (Edwards, 1996). Interviewed by two civilian researchers, Messrs. C.W. Fitch of Cleveland (Ohio) and George Popovitch of Akron (Ohio), Smith stated that a Navy pilot had been chasing a flying disk when he saw a bright “scintillating” fragment detach itself and fall to the ground. It was recovered an hour later and weighed in at 250 grams. Smith reportedly showed the sample to Admiral Knowles. Unfortunately, there is no report of an independent analysis in the literature, and the sample is not available for further study.

7FBI teletype message dated August 5, 1947, on file. The Maury island case is mentioned in many books and magazines, notably in Ronald Story: The Encyclopedia of UFOs (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980). Details can be found in Fate Magazine no. 1, Spring 1948, p. #31 and in the book by Kenneth Arnold and Ray Palmer, The Coming of the Saucers, pp. 106-108.