By STACY HASLEMThe story goes something like this:
The Great Falls Tribune
The Great Falls Tribune
The date was March 16, 1967. Missile maintenance crews from Malmstrom Air Force Base were camped out at a missile site about 30 miles north of Lewistown.
Suddenly an alarm horn sounded.
A Minuteman missile had gone off alert and become inoperable. Upset and believing that the maintenance personnel had failed to tell him they were doing work that would create this "off-alert" warning, a first lieutenant called the missile site.
He didn't get the response he was expecting.
An on-site security guard told him that no maintenance had been done on the missile that morning. A UFO hovering over the site was a more likely culprit, he said.
Soon other missiles started going off-line as well. Within seconds, the other nine missiles were down.
About 20 miles southeast at the Oscar flight, a topside airman reported to his below-ground crew commander that strange, nonaircraft lights were zigzagging around the sky.
The commander didn't take the report seriously and told the airman to call back if anything more significant happened.
After a few minutes, the airman called again, clearly frightened and shouting: "Sir, there's one hovering outside the front gate!"
"A UFO. It's just sitting there. We're all looking at it. What do you want us to do?"
Moments later, several other Oscar missiles were down as well.
This report and others like it have made northcentral Montana a UFO hot spot dating back to the 1950s.
"It's been a pretty active area, and there are a lot of world-documented sightings going way back," said Jeff Goodrich, state director of the Montana chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON).
A video recording of two bright, silvery objects zipping around the sky on Aug. 15, 1950, brought national attention to the Electric City.
Nick Mariana, general manager of the Great Falls Electrics baseball team, noticed the objects and quickly scrambled to record the incident on the 16-mm camera he kept in his glove box. The "Montana Movie," as it came to be known, is considered one of the best UFO films of all time.
More recently, a series of mysterious cow mutilations has locals baffled and questioning whether space aliens have perhaps paid us another visit.
UFOs are for real
It's a fact: UFOs are out there. Astronomers, scientists, government officials and ufologists all agree on that. The dispute is whether little green or gray or purple men are piloting these aircraft, if that's even what the objects are.
Ray Kelly, owner of Kelly Signs, always has been a believer and even has a few sightings to boot.
"I've always felt this universe is just too vast for us to be the only people or living creatures," he said.
Kelly's first sighting came in the 1990s. As he pulled into his alley after work one night, a bright star caught his attention. Then, suddenly, it shot straight up.
Some years later, Kelly took direction from the popular 1990s television series "Sightings" and propped his Zenith camcorder on a tripod in his backyard and focused it on the sun's corona, or surrounding halo of light. If you block out the main part of the sun you'll catch bustling UFO activity in the outer rim, the theory suggests.
"These objects are kind of invisible to the naked eye until they fly into the corona," Kelly said.
Sure enough, Kelly captured glowing objects of all shapes and sizes moving at different speeds and directions in and out of the corona. He also recorded what he believes to be two UFOs traveling across the sky. One moves on a straight west-to-east plane. The other flies the same direction but instantly changes directions at two different intervals.
The UFO era began in June 1947 when a Boise businessman and pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported nine mysterious objects flying around Mount Rainier in Washington. He described them as flying close together, saying their movement reminded him of a rock or saucer skipping across the top of water. He is credited for coining the term "flying saucers."
Following Arnold's sighting and the alleged crash at Roswell, N.M., where ufologists believe an extraterrestrial spacecraft and its alien occupants were recovered in July 1947, flying saucer mania began. The interest and curiosity in UFOs paired with the looming threat of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union had people nationwide and across Montana looking toward the heavens.
While the government opened an official investigation of UFOs, more reports trickled in from all over Big Sky Country. A couple weeks after Mariana's sighting, two Great Falls men reportedly saw a silvery mass over the eastern horizon near Geyser. They said the large, oblong object had a long tail and flew extremely high. It vanished over the western horizon in about eight seconds. The following week two Air Force veterans reported six amber-colored objects flying over Great Falls, passing each other at alternate intervals.
In November 1957, a Great Falls woman reported seeing an oblong, illuminated object that was twice as large as the moon and had a flashing light on one end. Later that month a Sidney resident reported a white ball of fire with towering red columns rising up and green lights projecting from the base moving slowly across the sky.
Several UFO reports have come from MAFB and its missile sites.
The investigation that followed the 1967 missile incidents turned up no reasonable cause for the missile shutdowns, though a number of airmen as well as the deputy launch controller from that day have come forward to credit UFOs. However, the Air Force reportedly maintains that no UFO incident ever has affected national security.
Public affairs officials at Malmstrom say the base doesn't have any records related to UFOs.
The hodgepodge of reports over the years indicate that UFOs come in all shapes, sizes and colors and travel at various speeds. Some are described as balls of light that explode in the sky. Others resemble flying cars.
Of course, there also are curious reports of what "visitors" leave behind.
The first Montana report of a mutilated cow came from the Sand Coulee area in August 1974. In the few years that followed, sheriff's deputies investigated more than 65 mutilation reports from Cascade, Judith Basin, Chouteau, Teton and Pondera counties.
The most recent reported mutilation occurred on Oct. 9 of this year on a ranch in Valier. There are similarities to the mutilations of three decades ago.
What's left behind has raised doubt that the killings were caused by humans or predators.
Often the tongue, an eye and all or part of the ear are removed along with a portion of the udder, the genitals and the anus. Facial skin is scraped off with great precision, and the exposed bones are squeaky-clean. Many of the animals are drained of blood. There is no mess, no footprints and no one hears a sound.
What's even more bizarre, hungry predators steer clear of the carcasses for weeks.
The early cases from around the nation prompted a federally funded investigation that resulted in a 300-page report concluding the cows were killed by natural predators. Even still, ideas swarm about the mysteries, some pointing fingers at satanic cults, government or military conspiracies and, of course, space aliens.
Local UFO group
Various groups have formed over the years to investigate UFO sightings, of which a majority are re-classified as IFOs, or identified flying objects.
"The vast majority of them are misidentified known objects, some probably classified aircraft," said Goodrich, who's retired from the military and works for a civilian contractor at MAFB. "I think a small number of them would very well be alien spacecraft."
Goodrich has been involved with MUFON, a national organization dedicated to finding scientific explanations for UFOs, for 25 years. As state director he assigns field investigators to Montana sightings. But with a dwindling statewide membership (currently eight members), Goodrich said it's impossible to investigate every report.
"The ones that are more worthy of investigation are daylight sightings of metallic objects," he said. "They are much fewer in number."
Goodrich said that when folks see a UFO they either should fill out the sighting report form online at www.mufon.org or call the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) telephone hotline, 206-722-3000, in Davenport, Wash.
Goodrich said local law enforcement officers and public relations officers at Malmstrom usually direct UFO-related calls to MUFON or NUFORC. The NUFORC hotline is staffed 24/7, so it may be the better route, he said.
And while Great Falls has a reputation for some of the more credible UFO reports, Goodrich said folks aren't going to get much attention without a photograph or other physical evidence.
"Anecdotal evidence doesn't really go very far as far as reaching a firm scientific conclusion," he said.
Arthur Alt, the author of the Tribune's daily Skywatch column who has a doctorate in science education and nine other degrees, doesn't believe aliens from outer space are visiting planet Earth, abducting its inhabitants and flying away with cow teat souvenirs.
"Everybody on this planet sees UFOs — unidentified flying objects," said Alt, a science professor at the University of Great Falls. "That does not translate into little green men flying spaceships. There is not one single solid thread of evidence that they exist."
Alt doesn't think the people who report UFOs are gullible or are telling tall tales. Rather they just have a hard time identifying what they see. Some of the explanations he offered for the misidentified objects in the sky include weather balloons, planets, meteors, iridescent goose wings, and lenticular clouds, which actually resemble flying saucers.
He added that hallucinations and optical illusions also play tricks on the brain.
"Our brain works in a linear fashion," he said, adding he teaches his UGF students to think in a nonlinear fashion and manages to change most of their minds regarding flying saucers by the end of the semester.
Though Alt doesn't believe space aliens are visiting the Earth, he believes they exist.
"I'm absolutely convinced there is intelligent life in the universe outside the Earth," he said.
However, Alt theorizes that the amount of energy, time and food it would take to visit the Earth would not be worth it to any species. He said the nearest star system is about 4 1/2 light years away, which would mean a 10-years roundtrip for a vehicle traveling at the speed of light.
And for what purpose? Ten years is a lot of time just to satisfy curiosity, he said.
Alt added there's no good reason why aliens would collect samples of unintelligent animals like cows, noting the missing cow pieces wouldn't provide much information about reproducing the animal. He believes people, perhaps cult members, are responsible.
Just another Montana Movie
Kelly doesn't have a theory on the cattle mutilations, but he does believe his video shows something of an extraterrestrial nature.
Relaxing in his lawn chair while barbecuing one afternoon, Kelly captured footage of an illuminated object moving across the sky. His video shows a UFO passing behind limbs of a tree and then eventually getting lost in the garble.
"I got pretty excited about it," Kelly said. "I showed my wife right away."
He reported the incident to MUFON and the "Coast to Coast" radio program, but it didn't amount to anything. He didn't pursue the effort further because he was satisfied enough.
"I finally saw one," he said. "I'm happy."
Kelly believes humans are being observed by other life forms from other planets or even dimensions.
"A lot of these could be government secret propulsion programs, too," he said.
And he doesn't believe UFOs pose any threat to himself, his family or mankind in general.
"I'm not afraid ... as long as I'm not a cow," he said.