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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2008 > May > May 17

How To Crack A Case From The UFO Files

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Sat, 17 May 2008 10:45:00 -0400
Archived: Sat, 17 May 2008 10:45:00 -0400
Subject: How To Crack A Case From The UFO Files

Source: Microsoft Corp - Redmond, Washington, USA


May 15, 2008

Sketch, map and video at site]

How To Crack A Case From The UFO Files

1984 Minsk Sighting Serves As Case Study For Flying-Saucer

By James Oberg
NBC News space analyst
Special to MSNBC

The highly publicized releases of "UFO files" from France and
Britain provide more puzzling tales about anomalous aerial
objects over the years. But the stories behind some of the most
spectacular sightings in UFO history will come to light only
when the Russian Ministry of Defense opens up its files.

Consider one of the most sensational UFO stories in Soviet
history - a story that has been enshrined in world "ufology" as
a classic that cannot be explained in any prosaic terms.

The tale of the Minsk UFO sighting can teach a lesson about the
vigor of unidentified flying objects as a cultural phenomenon.

A passenger jet is flying north on Sept. 7, 1984, near Minsk, in
present-day Belarus. Suddenly, at 4:10 a.m., the flight crew
notices a glowing object out their forward right window. In the
10 minutes that follow, the object changes shape, zooms in on
the aircraft, plays searchlights on the ground beneath it, and
envelops the airliner in a mysterious ray of light that fatally
injures one of the pilots. Other aircraft in the area, alerted
by air traffic control operators who are watching the UFO on
radar, also see it.

The incident figures prominently in "UFO Chronicles of the
Soviet Union," a 1992 book by Jacques Vallee, who was the real-
life inspiration for the fictional ufologist in the movie "Close
Encounters of the Third Kind."

“No natural explanation [is] possible, given the evidence,”
Vallee wrote.

A leading Russian UFO expert, Vladimir Azhazha, reported that as
a result of the encounter the co-pilot “had a serious mental
derangement - the encephalogram of his brain was not of an
‘earthly’ character, as he lost memory for long periods of

This combination of perceptions from multiple witnesses and
sensors, together with the serious physiological effects, makes
for a dramatic event that on the face of it defies any earthly
explanation. It was just as amazing that the official Soviet
news media, long averse to discussing UFO subjects, disclosed
the story in the first place. So it was no mystery that over the
years that followed, the story was never actually checked out.
It was only retold again and again.

Weighing the pilots' evidence

However much we are comfortable in entrusting our lives to
airline pilots, a blind trust in their abilities as trained
observers of aerial phenomena is sometimes a stretch. For a
number of excellent and honorable reasons, pilots have often
been known to overinterpret unusual visual phenomena,
particularly when it comes to underestimating the distance from
what look like other aircraft.

Think of it this way: You want the person at the front of the
plane to be hair-trigger alert for visual cues to potential
collisions, so avoidance maneuvers can be performed in time. The
worst-case interpretation of perceptions is actually a plus.

So it’s no surprise that pilots have sent their planes into a
dive to duck under a fireball meteor that was really 50 miles
away, or have dodged a flaming falling satellite passing 60
miles overhead. Even celestial objects are misperceived by
pilots more frequently than by any other category of witness,
UFO investigator J. Allen Hynek concluded 30 years ago. Since
the outcome of a false-negative assessment (that is, being
closer than assumed) could be death, and the cost of a false
positive (being much farther away) is mere embarrassment, the
bias of these reactions makes perfect sense.

What could have caused it?

Was there anything else in the sky that morning that the Soviet
pilots might have seen? This wasn’t an easy question, since the
Moscow press reports neglected to give the exact date of the
event, but I could figure it out by checking Aeroflot airline

It turned out that early risers in Sweden and Finland had also
seen an astonishing apparition in the sky that morning.
According to reports collected by Claus Svahn of UFO-Sweden,
people called in accounts of seeing "a very strong globe of
light," sometimes "with a skirt under it." The light's glow was
reflected off the ground and lasted for several minutes. In
Finland, a UFO research club's annual report later cataloged 15
similar sightings from that country.

The immediate disconnect that I found was that the Scandinavian
witnesses were not looking southeast, toward Minsk and the
nearby airliner with its terrified crew. Nor were they looking
eastward, toward the top-secret Russian space base at Plesetsk,
where launchings sparked UFO reports starting in the mid-1960s.
They were looking to the northeast, across Karelia and perhaps

The direction of the apparition being seen simultaneously near
Minsk provided another "look angle." If the vectors of the
eyewitnesses are plotted on a map, they tend to converge out
over the Barents Sea, far from land. This made the triggering
mechanism for the sightings - assuming they were all of the same
phenomenon - even more extraordinary.

Preludes and precedents

Whatever the stimulus behind the 1984 Minsk airliner story
turned out to be, I already knew that many famous Soviet UFO
reports were connected with secret military aerospace activities
that were misperceived by ordinary citizens. I’ve posted several
decades of such research results on my Web site.

In 1967, waves of UFO reports from southern Russia and a
temporary period of official permission for public discussion
created a "perfect storm" of Soviet UFO enthusiasm. But it was
short-lived - the topic was soon forbidden again, possibly
because the government realized that what was being seen and
publicized was actually a series of top-secret space-to-ground
nuclear warhead tests, a weapon Moscow had just signed an
international space treaty to outlaw.

Once the Plesetsk Cosmodrome (south of Arkhangelsk) began
launching satellites in 1966, skywatchers throughout the
northwestern Soviet Union began seeing vast glowing clouds and
lights moving through the skies. These were officially non-
existent rocket launchings. "Not ours!” the officials seemed to
be saying. "Must be Martians."

Other space events that sparked UFO reports included orbital
rocket firings timed to occur while in direct radio contact with
the main Soviet tracking site in the Crimea. Such firings and
the subsequent expanding clouds of jettisoned surplus fuel
weren't confined to Soviet airspace. One particular category of
Soviet communications satellites performed the maneuver over the
Andes Mountains, subjecting the southern tip of South America to
UFO panics every year or two for decades.

As the Soviet Union lurched toward collapse in the 1980s, its
rigid control over the press decayed. This allowed local
newspapers, especially in the area of the Plesetsk space base,
to begin publishing eyewitness accounts of correctly identified
rocket launchings. The newspapers sometimes printed detailed
drawings of the shifting shapes of the light show caused by the
sequence of rocket stage firings and equipment ejections.

The evidence comes together

Still, I wasn't willing to wave off the elaborate extra
dimensions of the Minsk UFO case as mere misperception and
exaggerated coincidences. Even though none of the most exciting
stories, such as one pilot's death half a year later from
cancer, could ever be traced to any original firsthand sources,
they made for a compelling narrative.

Fortunately, the Soviet collapse provided the opening for the
collapse of the UFO story. The May-June 1991 issue of the
magazine Science in the USSR contained an article that reprised
the story with one stunning addendum from the co-pilot’s flight
log. He had sketched the apparition, minute by minute, as it
changed shape out his side of the cockpit window, and 14 of the
drawings were published for the first (and as far as I can tell,
only) time.

The graphic sequence of bright light, rays, expanding halos,
misty cloudiness, tadpole tail and sudden linear streamers may
have looked bizarre to the magazine’s readers. But they looked
very familiar to me.

I dug out the clippings from Arkhangelsk newspapers that had
been mailed to me by an associate there. I looked up the other
articles from recent Moscow science magazines that showed how
beautiful these rocket launches looked. I also found the set of
sketches made by a witness in Sweden of what was immediately
recognized as a rocket launch. I laid the separate sketches out
on a table.

They all clearly showed the same sequence of shape-shifting
visions, as viewed from different angles to the rear of the
object’s flight. The more recent accounts were of nighttime
missile launches - and the impression was overwhelming that the
Minsk UFO, as drawn in real time by one of the primary
witnesses, looked and changed just like them.

Case closed?

Without the detailed minute-by-minute drawings, any claim for
solving the case would have been tentative, and circumstantial
at best. Even now, the case isn't quite closed. Until the
Russians release the records for the test launch of a submarine-
based missile - as we now know often happened from that region
of the ocean, but without official acknowledgement - the answer
to the mystery will remain technically unproven.

But the answer is strong enough to remind us of wider principles
of investigating - and evaluating - similar stories from around
the world: There are more potential prosaic stimuli out there
than we usually expect. Precise times and locations and viewing
directions are critical to an investigation. The temptation to
fall into excitable overinterpretation is almost irresistible.
Myriads of weird but meaningless coincidences can be combined to
embellish a good story.

The most important factors for cutting through the
misperceptions would be having the good fortune to come across
enough original evidence, and having enough time to make sense
of that evidence. That’s one of the biggest lessons to be
learned from the Minsk UFO case: As long as those factors are in
short supply, it’s no mystery why there are so many amazing UFO
stories - and so many enthusiasts willing to endorse them.


James Oberg, space analyst for NBC News, spent 22 years at the
Johnson Space Center as a Mission Control operator and an
orbital designer. He is the author of several books about the
U.S. and Soviet space efforts, including Red Star In Orbit and
Uncovering Soviet Disasters.

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