The 701 club
Case # 10693
Brad Sparks’ listing of Blue Book unknowns gives the following description:
June 27, 1966. Pacific, 400 miles E of Wake Island (at 19° N, 172° E). 4 a.m. Radio Officer Steffen Sorensen, of the S/S Mt. Vernon Victory, saw a “cloud” expand with a light inside, then accelerate away. 1
The Blue Book file consists of several letters between Sorensen, Blue Book, and Dr. Hynek. While Major Quintanilla basically gave a standard thank you to Mr. Sorensen (along with asking him to fill out the standard UFO report form), Dr. Hynek sent a personal letter to him discussing his sighting among other things.
On June 27th, 1966, the ship S/S Mt. Vernon Victory was headed in on an easterly course away from Wake Island in the Pacific (location given as19° N, 172° E). The witness, Mr. Sorensen, was called up to the bridge by the watch officer, Donald Rominger. He was aware that Sorensen was reading about UFOs and something was seen in the sky that might interest him. Sorensen arrived on the bridge to see most of the event. The sighting can best be described by the witness:
By the time of my arrival on the bridge, the cloud had grown to the apparent size of a golf ball held at arm’s length and was moving either upward or towards the ship or both. Its position at the time was approximately dead ahead (ship headed about due east) with an elevation of perhaps ten degrees. From that time until the cloud became temporarily obscured by a “real” cloud some few minutes later, by which time it reached an elevation of perhaps 40 degrees and was about 20 degrees to starboard. I did not notice any outstanding characteristics beyond its luminescence, growth, and movement, and of course the flashing light at its center. On coming back into view two or three minutes later, it had by that time assumed the relative size of a six-inch ball at arm’s length, had thinned out and permitted stars to be seen through it. The white flashing light as at this time still located within the expanding cloud.
It was at this time that an interesting fact became apparent. Most of the perimeter of the lower right-hand quadrant of the cloud was visible.
Viewing through 8X30 glasses, I was struck by the perfect roundness of this sharply defined line, and thought immediately how this might resemble a shock wave radiating from a point source…Responsible for this impression was the fact of roundness, the fact of high contrast along the leading edge of the expanding cloud, and the fact of very rapidly diminishing intensity from the back edge toward the epicenter….
I wish I could say that all quadrants neatly fitted this description, but this is not so. Most of the upper semicircle was unobscured (sic) at this time, and seemed merely to blend gradually into the dark background. At about this time the flashing light, which I saw only as a flashing light and without form, accelerated southward from its cloud and was lost from my view shortly afterward….2
The duration of the sighting appears to have lasted many minutes. I would estimate about ten (possibly twenty) minutes based on his description.
The letters by Sorensen are very revealing about his mind set. Although, his account of the event seemed to be very objective, his personal views about UFOs and the USAF were made clear in the rest of his correspondence. The Radio officer, Sorensen, was a big reader of the NICAP UFO investigator and mentioned this in his letter to the USAF (which he also sent to NICAP). He also appeared to have the same opinion about Blue Book that NICAP had.
When completing the UFO report form by the USAF, he made numerous comments about Blue Book. He also added another letter that mentioned another organization (possibly NICAP since he sent them a copy of his sighting) that was aware of his sighting.
Two days ago I received a letter from an organization which heroically pretends to be an independent agency saying in part, “…, a prominent
scientist, checked on some facts for us and discovered that there was a rocket fired from Bikini Atoll within minutes of your sighting. Could you tell us whether you were anywhere near this island at the time or whether this is what you may have seen. I realize that some of your descriptions may not fit in with the rocket launching, but we would still like to know if it is possible that this is what you saw….” As your own organization may have been the source of this weatherbalooning technique, I quote to you my answer that “At the time of the 27 June sighting, Bikini Atoll was roughly 110 degrees removed from the point at which the UFO first appeared on the horizon.” This fact could have been established by means of a two minute expenditure of energy over a chart plot – yet my opinion of the fact was solicited by mail.3
While he was correct about the Bikini atoll being in the wrong direction, the originators of this letter may have sent the wrong information
because there was a rocket launch that morning that probably was the source of this UFO.
The source of the UFO report
When I first looked into this, I only had the date, time and location. I had not yet read the Blue Book case file. Recognizing the location was near the path a Vandenberg missile test would take to Kwajalein, I immediately went to the Astronautix chronology to see if anything matched. One has to remember that Mr. Sorensen was at 172 degrees East or on the other side of the international date line. The time for his observation (0400 on June 27th) would equate to 1600 GMT/UTC/Z on the 26th.
The Astronautix database gives the following entry:
1966 June 26 - . 15:34 GMT - . Launch Site: Vandenberg. Launch Complex: Vandenberg 576B2. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas D. LV Configuration: Atlas D 147D.
NTMP KX-20 re-entry vehicle test flight - . Nation: USA. Agency: USAF AFSC. Apogee: 1,800 km (1,100 mi). 4
Assuming a transit time of 30 minutes, a rocket launched at 1534 GMT, would reach Kwajalein around 1604. This seems to match up with the same time as the sighting. With a maximum altitude of 1100 miles, it would have been visible to observers far away as long as the sky was dark enough.
By my computation, sunrise was about 6 AM for this position. Because of the rocket body’s high altitude, the sun’s light would probably have illuminated the booster tank and cloud of venting gas/debris that was surrounding it even though the crew of the Mount Vernon experienced dark conditions.
The flight path to the right is just an estimate but it shows how that the SS Mt. Vernon (Yellow peg to the left of the track in the Google Earth image to the right) was well placed to see the flight of the missile. The direction of observation, the description of the trajectory, and the coincidence of the launch time all indicate what Sorenson and Rominger saw was this missile test.
The SS Carl Schwedeman UFO sighting
One point raised by Sorensen was that he felt the UFO he saw was similar to that reported in NICAP’s UFO Investigator (January-February 1966) by the crew of the SS Carl Schwedeman. This occurred on December 16, 1965 off the coast of California. The ship was heading NNW when, at 0207 on that date, and saw a bright light about three times the brightness of Venus surrounded by a “light-radiating cloud”. A Minuteman missile had been launched around 1800 PST on the 15th (0200 GMT on the 16th) and was widely reported in the media. Assuming the Schwedeman (a British vessel) was using GMT and not PST, they probably saw the Minuteman launch. If this was the case, is it any surprise that Sorenson’s UFO looked and acted the same?
Why didn’t Blue book see the explanation?
I can think of several reasons why they did not explain this case. Sorensen’s attitude and apparent affiliation to NICAP may have played a role. The last thing Blue Book wanted was negative publicity from some disgruntled individual, who wanted his case to remain unexplained. It is also interesting that this case remained “unexplained” despite the fact that Hynek noted that it was possible
this was a rocket launch in his letter to Sorensen:
I presume that you have watched launching from Cape Kennedy, on television or live: have you ever noticed what happens to the exhaust from the rocket when the booster gets well out of the denser atmosphere? Instead of producing a long tail, the exhaust gases spread into a wider and wider cone, and when near-vacuum is reached, the cone flattens to a disc which then actually curls forward and forms a ball around the whole body of the rocket, moving, of course, with it. This ball is luminous, and expands with altitude. The rocket motor, still firing, is seen as a brilliant light at the center of the ball, when the point of view is behind the direction of acceleration.
The area of the Pacific where your sighting took place is known to be used for rocket experiments, both from this country and from others. There was, as you note, a rocket launched near the right time, only 110 degrees of longitude from your position, but I don’t know anything about its trajectory. You were well within range of launching facilities all over the Pacific, including Vandenburg (sic) AFB in California.5
It seems Hynek did not bother to follow this up or share this with the staff at Blue Book. Maybe he had better things to do or the Blue Book staff wasn’t really interested. We will never know for sure why the case remain unexplained but I suggest it was a mixture of fear of negative publicity, complacency, and limited staff/resources.
I can’t see any reason to reject this explanation for this UFO report. There are far too many coincidences to ignore. Unless somebody can present a valid counter-argument, I consider this one “Case Closed”.
Quelle: SUNlite 6/2012