March 9, 1957
The NICAP document lists the sighting in the chronology as:
March 9, 1957--Nr. San Juan, Puerto Rico. Pan American Airways pilot took evasive action as fiery round, greenish-white object passed plane. [V]1Reading Section V, we find the following description:
Round greenish-white object came toward airliner; outer ring appeared to reflect light from center; pilot took violent evasive action.2
That is pretty much it but there is a lot more about this case in the news reports of the day as well as the Blue Book file.
According to NICAP the event occurred at 3:33 AM but the Blue Book documents stated there were two different events. One occurred at 0140 EST, while the main event was after 3:00 AM. While they lump them together, I consider them two separate incidents and will only address the 3:30 AM EST event, which is what the pilot reported.
What transpired that morning was best stated by the pilot, Captain Matthew Van Winkle. His story appeared in many newspapers on March 11, 1957. According to his account, the plane was on autopilot when he saw a bright object that appeared like a “big spotlight” approaching the plane. Van Winkle first thought it was an interceptor jet but then realized they travel in pairs. He took prompt action to avoid the approaching object and, as a result, several passengers were injured. According to Van Winkle, the ob- ject passed under the wing of his airplane. He also noted that it could not be a meteor because he had seen hundreds of them and they always come from above and head downward (a common misconception - meteors can go in any direction of the sky). In the same article, he noted that Captain Perry, who was the captain of a flight 175 miles behind him also saw the UFO at the same time he did. Perry described it as a “magnesium flash” that lasted about five seconds. Another pilot stated it had broken in two.
A general summary of the event is that a bright object had appeared out of the sky and flashed by the airplane in a brief period of time that was measured in seconds. It was visible over a wide area, which could be measured in hundreds of miles, and was very bright to all who saw it.
NICAP vs Blue Book
The Blue Book file is quite extensive with collections of various news paper clippings and UFO articles on the case. There was also many requests to various commands, including the Navy, wondering if it may have been a wayward missile or rocket of some kind. All responses were negative to these requests. Contrary to what NICAP proclaimed, there seemed to be an honest effort to look into all the possibilities. The file also includes copies of the report made by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB).
The CAB had statements from all the other air crews. It is interesting to note that Captain Wyland, who was about 113 miles to the ESE, also thought about taking evasive action indicating that he thought the object was close to him as well. Most of the observa- tions of the UFO were inside a radius of about 200 miles from Van Winkle’s plane. All described the duration as about five seconds or less. The CAB report also made mention of negative reports regarding any military activities. Probably the strangest comment was the following:
A CAB check of U.S. Weather Bureau and astronomical agencies in the area involved indicated no meteor activity at the time of the inci- dent3
This is an odd statement considering the planes were over the open ocean over 300 miles from land. It is unlikely that any astrono- mers were in the area unless they were on a plane or ship. They probably asked some observatories if any meteor showers were active on the night in question and received the answer of no. However, bright meteors can happen at any time and many famous fireball meteors are not even associated with a meteor shower. Meteor showers are usually associated with fine dust left behind by comets. While this can produce bright fireballs, they usually do not produce the kind that break up into small pieces or produce meteorites.
Blue Book concluded that this was a bright fireball despite this statement by the CAB. The evidence seems to be very good for this conclusion. It was seen over a large area, it lasted only a few seconds, and was very bright to all observers. Had it been a craft of some kind, the object would not have been visible to observers si- multaneously over a large area and its brightness would change with distance from the source. A fireball matches the description given by the air crews.
As is common in these cases, the pilots often proclaim what they saw could not be a meteor because they see them all the time. However, fireballs are unique in that they are very brilliant, appear to be closer than normal meteors, and can be quite startling. Observers frequently feel the meteor disappeared just beyond the treeline and was only a few hundred feet off the ground. This misperception is well documented.
On page 16 of the July 1957 UFO investigator (see image to right), NICAP argued about the meteor fireball explanation offered by Blue book.4 They used the state- ments by the Civil Aeronautics Board that they have yet to agree with this conclu- sion as evidence that this explanation was unacceptable. NICAP also stated that they did not rule out the possibility that it could have been a meteor but then spent a great deal of time trying to rationalize why this could not be a meteor. In one in- stance, they describe the event from two hours previously and state that the odds of two bright meteors being visible in the same area was too high. Another argu- ment was Van Winkle’s statement that the UFO was below the horizon. Of course, this ignores the possibility that Van Winkle was too busy trying to gain control of his aircraft after performing an evasive maneuver to make such an accurate observa- tion or that he might have been mistaken.
Another one bites the dust?
This case’s inclusion in “The UFO evidence” was more of a case of blindly disputing Blue Book’s conclusion regarding the sight- ing than a careful evaluation of the evidence. Looking at the sighting objectively, it appears that this was nothing more than a bright fireball. While one can not conclusively prove this was a fireball since it happened out to sea and can not be confirmed by ground observers, it is the most likely solution to the case. It should never have been considered to be evidence of UFOs that are “manifestations of extraterrestrial life”.Quelle: SUNlite 1/2013