By Frank Warren
The UFO Chronicles
By Frank Warren
The UFO Chronicles
One way to raise the hackles of the UFO faithful . . . to stir the proverbial pot, is to take a well-documented case and decree it false in some form or fashion; for example, stating that Kenneth Arnold witnessed “pelicans” on that fateful day in June of ’47; or the never-ending weather balloon argument for Roswell by well known debunkers; or the infamous “swamp gas” statement uttered by Allen Hynek while investigating the notable Michigan sightings of 1966, which precipitated then Congressman Gerald Ford to formally request a congressional investigation into the mysterious UFOs. When such instances occur it sends mild shockwaves throughout the UFO community, and evokes immediate and sometimes harsh responses.
Generally when these actions take place, the names of the perpetrators are very familiar to Ufologists; their ideologies are cemented in anti-Ufology rhetoric and the behavior is a component of what I call “cognitive bias” in the best examples, and just plain ignorance in the worst-case scenarios.
In that vein, it was quite a surprise to most when an article was published—not by the usual debunkers, but from a noted Ufologist, pronouncing a very prestigious case in UFO history a hoax! The case was The Socorro Incident, and the Ufologist is Tony Bragalia, whom I not only consider a friend, but also have the highest regard for, and am grateful for his efforts in Ufology.
Bragalia has been getting much deserved attention lately for his research into Roswell; our regular readers aren’t strangers to his work as he has been kind enough to allow us to publish his articles, here at TUC. Accordingly, we’ve published the article in question entitled, “THE SOCORRO UFO HOAX EXPOSED!”
Admittedly, I was intrigued by the piece and read it immediately, as did many of my colleagues and other Ufologists; the ripples in the Ufological pond have been felt long and far by his pronouncement. In contrast to my view on the bulk of his work with Roswell, and the reputation he is building as sober, salient UFO researcher, in this instance—I believe he has erred!
To be clear: I feel Tony has culled some significant data surrounding the idea that “Socorro was a hoax” and as a researcher, I feel this must be pursued; however, to pass judgment at this stage, with what little he has put on the table isn’t prudent in my view.
For those not familiar with the case here is the actual report submitted to the Air Force (Project Blue BookFiles) by eyewitness, Officer Lonnie Zamora:
_____, Socorro NM, _____, Officer Socorro PD about 5 years, office phone 835-0941, now on 2:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. shift.It’s important to remember that the Air Force, Army Intelligence and the FBI investigated the Socorro case; additionally, civilian UFO organizations wasted no time getting involved. To this day “the official” explanation for the case or specifically the object that Lonnie witnessed is “unresolved.” Henceforth, it remains a UFO in the verbatim.
About 5:45 P.M. 4/24/64 while in Socorro 2 Police Car (64 Pontiac white) started to chase a car due south from west side of Court House. Car was apparently speeding, and was about 3 blocks in front. At point on Old Rodeo Street (extension of Park St. south) near George Morillo residence (about 1/8 mile south of Spring Street, the _____ chased car was going straight ahead toward rodeo grounds. Car chased was a new black Chevrolet (it might have been _____ boy about seventeen). Chased car still about three blocks ahead. _____ alone.`
At this time heard a roar and saw a flame in the sky to southwest some distance away--possibly a 1/2 mile or a mile. Came to mind that a dynamite shack in that area had blown up, decided to leave chased car go.
Flame was bluish and sort of orange too. Could not tell size of flame. Sort of motionless flame, slowly descending. Was still driving car and could not pay too much attention to the flame. It was a narrow type of flame. It was like a "stream down"--a funnel type--narrower at top than at bottom. Flame possibly 3 degrees or so in width--not wide.
Flame about twice as wide at bottom as top, and about four times as high as top was wide. Did not notice any object at top, did not note if top of flame was level. Sun was to west and did not help vision. Had green sunglasses over prescription glasses. Could not see bottom of flame because it was behind the hill. No smoke noted. Noted some "commotion" at bottom--dust? Possibly from windy day--wind was blowing hard. Clear sunny sky otherwise--just a few clouds scattered over area.
Noise was a roar, not a blast. Not like a jet. Changed from high frequency to low frequency and then stopped. Roar lasted possibly 10 seconds--was going toward it at that time on the rough gravel road. Saw flame about as long as heard the sound. Flame same color as best as recall. Sound distinctly from high to low until it disappeared. Windows both were down. No other spectators noted--no traffic except the car in front--and car in front might have heard it but possibly did not see it because car in front was too close to hill in front, to see the flame.
After the roar and flame, did not note anything, while going up the somewhat steep rough hill--had to back up and try again, two more times. Got up about halfway first time, wheels started skidding, roar still going on, had to back down and try twice and rock. While beginning third time, noise and flame not noted.
After got to top, traveled slowly on the gravel road westwardly. Noted nothing for awhile . . . for possibly 10 or 15 seconds, went slow, looking around for the shack--did not recall exactly where the dynamite shack was.
Suddenly noted a shiny type object to south about 150 to 200 yards. It was off the road. At first glance, stopped. It looked, at first, like a car turned upside down. Thought some kids might have turned over. Saw two people in white coveralls very close to the object. One of these persons seemed to turn and look straight at my car and seemed startled--seemed to jump quickly somewhat.
At this time I started moving my car towards them quickly, with idea to help. Had stopped about only a couple seconds. Object was like aluminum--it was whitish against the mesa background, but not chrome. Seemed like O in shape and I at first glance took it to be overturned white car. Car appeared to be up on radiator or on trunk, this first glance.
The only time I saw these two persons was when I had stopped, for possibly two seconds or so, to glance at the object. I don't recall noting any particular shape or possibly any hats, or headgear. These persons appeared normal in shape--but possibly they were small adults or large kids.
Then paid attention to road while drove towards scene. Radioed to sheriff's office "Socorro 2 to Socorro, possible 10-44 (accident), I'll be 10-6 (busy) out of the car, checking the car down in the arroyo."
Stopped car, was still talking on radio, started to get out, mike fell down, reached back to put up mike, then replaced radio mike in slot, got out of car and started to go down to where I knew the object (car) was.
Hardly turned around from car, when heard roar (was not exactly a blast), very loud roar--at that close was real loud. Not like a jet--knows what jets sound like. Started low frequency quickly, then roar rose in frequency (higher tone) and in loudness--from loud to very loud. At same time as roar saw flame. Flame was under the object. Object was starting to go straight up--slowly up. Object slowly rose straight up. Flame was light blue and at bottom was sort of orange color From this angle, saw the side of object (not end, as first noted). Difficult to describe flame. Thought, from roar, it might blow up. Flame might have come from underside of object, at middle, possibly a four feet area--very rough guess. Cannot describe flame further except blue and orange. No smoke, except dust in immediate area.
As soon as saw flame and heard roar, turned away, ran away from object but did turn head toward object. Bumped leg on car--back Fender area. Car facing southwest. Glasses fell to ground, left them there. Ran to north--car between him and object.
Object was oval, in shape. It was smooth--no windows or doors. As roar started, it was still on or near ground. Noted red lettering of some type (see illustration). Insignia was about 2 1/2' high and about 2' wide I guess. Was in middle of object . . . Object still like aluminum-white.
After fell by car and glasses fell off, kept running to north, with car between me and object. Glanced back couple of times. Noted object to rise to about level of car, about 20 to 25 feet guess--took I guess about six seconds when object started to rise and I glanced back. I ran I guess about halfway to where I ducked down--about fifty feet from the car is where I ducked down, just over edge of hill. I guess I had run about 25 feet when I glanced back and saw the object level with the car and it appeared about directly over the place where it rose from.
I was still running and I jumped just over the hill--I stopped because I did not hear the roar. I was scared of the roar, and I had planned to continue running down the hill. I turned around toward the object and at same time put my head toward ground, covering my face with my arms. Being that there was no roar, I looked up, and I saw the object going away from me. It did not come any closer to me. It appeared to go in straight line and at same height--possibly 10 to 15 feet from ground, and it cleared the dynamite shack by about three feet. Shack about eight feet high.
Object was traveling very fast. It seemed to rise up, and take off immediately across country. I ran back to my car and as I ran back, I kept an eye on the object. I picked up my glasses (I left the sun glasses on ground), got into the car, and radioed to Nep Lopez, radio operator, to "look out of the window, to see if you could see an object." He asked what is it? I answered "It looks like a balloon." I don't know if he saw it. If Nep looked out of his window, which faces north, he couldn't have seen it. I did not tell him at the moment which window to look out of.
As I was calling Nep, I could still see the object. The object seemed to lift up slowly, and to "get small" in the distance very fast. It seemed to just clear the Box Canyon or Six Mile Canyon Mountain. It disappeared as it went over the mountain. It had no flame whatsoever as it was traveling over the ground, and no smoke or noise.
Feeling in good health. Last drink--two or three beers--was over a month ago. Noted no odors. Noted no sounds other than described. Gave directions to Nep Lopez at radio and to Sergeant M.S. Chavez to get there. Went down to where the object had been and I noted the brush was burning in several places. At that time I heard Sgt. Chavez (N.M. State Police at Socorro) calling me on radio for my location, and I returned to my car, told him he was looking at me. Then Sgt. Chavez came up, asked me what the trouble was, because I was sweating and he told me I was white, very pale. I asked the Sgt. to see what I saw, and that was the burning brush. Then Sgt. Chavez and I went to the spot, and Sgt. Chavez pointed out the tracks.
When I first saw the object (when I thought it might be a car) I saw what appeared to be two legs of some type from the object to the ground. At the time, I didn't pay much attention to what it was--I thought it was an accident--I saw the two persons. I didn't pay any attention to the two "legs?" The two "legs" were at the bottom of the object, slanted outwards to the ground. The object might have been about three and a half feet from the ground at that time. I just glanced at it.
Can't tell how long [I] saw object second time (the "close" time), possibly 20 seconds--just a guess--from time got out of car, glanced at object, ran from object, jumped over edge of hill, then got back to car and radio as object disappeared.
As my mike fell as I got out of car, at scene area, I heard about two or three loud "thumps," like someone possibly hammering or shutting a door or doors hard. These "thumps" were possibly a second or less apart. This was just before the roar. The persons were not seen when I drove to the scene area.
Just before Sgt. Chavez got to scene, I got my pen and drew a picture of the insignia on the object.
Major Hector Quantanilla, then director of Project Blue Book, told CIA journal readers:
"There is no doubt that Lonnie Zamora saw an object which left quite an impression on him. There is also no question about Zamora's reliability. He is a serious police officer, a pillar of his church, and a man well versed in recognizing airborne vehicles in his area. He is puzzled by what he saw and frankly, so are we. This is the best-documented case on record, and still we have been unable, in spite of thorough investigation, to find the vehicle or other stimulus that scared Zamora to the point of panic."
Tony begins his piece by writing:
This is not posed as a question or theorem—it’s a "resolute statement," and this is the main issue I have with his article and posture.
“After 45 years the truth is now revealed- one of the most famous UFO sightings in history was a” hoax.
He continues (in the first paragraph):
The recent confession of an elderly College President -and a newly discovered document- indicate that the 1964 sighting of a landed UFO by Socorro, NM policeman Lonnie Zamora was the result of an elaborate school prank. This incredible story is publicly recounted for the first time ever by individuals who have held the secret of Socorro for decades.Now, for me, at this point I was enthralled by this mention of “the document”; this “smoking gun” if you will, that would persuade Tony to be so adamant in his conviction that leaves no doubt of a hoax being perpetrated, not only on Lonnie Zamora, but by default, the FBI, Air Force and Army Intelligence. In all honesty, I couldn’t fathom what it could be . . . what in this chronicle, that by merit along with what Tony called a "confession" from an senior college president could be so persuasive to compel him (Tony) to state with authority, that The Socorro Incident, only surpassed in regard, research and familiarity by Roswell—was just a mere school prank?
Of course as Tony has done in the past, he didn’t disappoint, the document in question accompanied the article (seen below), which I quickly devoured seeking this monumental proof!
As you can see the document in question is a letter addressed to then college President Stirling Colgate, from Linus Pauling; in the postscript Pauling asks about the Socorro Incident and Zamora and Chavez. Stirling, wrote one sentence and according to Tony, returned it to Pauling as his reply, he stated:
"I have a good indication of the student who engineered the hoax. Student has left. Cheers, Stirling."
As one might imagine, I was taken aback; not by damning evidence or irritable proof, but quite frankly, just the opposite! As stated above, I really didn’t know what to expect . . . perhaps blueprints of an experimental craft, or maybe a patent, possibly an affidavit?
To see a “single sentence,” that wasn’t even confirmative, only speculative, well; it left me puzzled to put it mildly!
In referring to the letter, Tony wrote:
“A former New Mexico Tech President affirmed in the 1960s in a letter to renowned scientist Dr. Linus Pauling that the Socorro UFO was a hoax.”Calling a “good indication” an “affirmation” is a stretch in my book. Again, to be courteous, Colgate’s response is ambiguous at best. Later in the piece, Tony describes Colgate’s one liner as a “blunt reply”; another erroneous description (although it was short and sweet).
Since the reader (me) was informed early on of the so-called evidence, i.e., a document (physical evidence), and then what Tony described as a “confession” (anecdotal evidence), I knew at that point there would be no satisfaction for me in terms of a smoking gun or “solid proof” of a hoax.
Nevertheless, what Tony paints as a “confession" is as follows:
This author emailed Colgate to see what his thoughts are today on the Socorro UFO and to see if he would shed additional light on the event. In my email to Colgate I attached the Pauling letter from 1968 with Colgate's handwritten notes on the Socorro UFO.
Colgate took several days to reply to me. In his email, Colgate answered very cryptically and sparingly:
- To the question, "Do you still know this to be a hoax? His reply was simple: "Yes."
- When asked, "Today, decades later, can you expand on what you wrote to Pauling about the event?" He wrote: "I will ask a friend, but he and other students did not want their cover blown."
- He offered that the hoax, "was a no-brainer."
- When asked "Specifically how did they do it?" He just answered, "Will ask."
- When queried, "Have you ever publicly commented on this?" he replied "Of course not."
It has been some time now, and I have never heard back from Stirling Colgate . . ..
Again, calling this dialogue with Colgate a "confession" is erroneous—it certainly is not that! At best it’s an assertion of Colgate’s mindset, and seemingly based on hearsay.
Tony’s article was initially published on the 23rd, at the Iconoclast(s) web site, subsequently, we published it on the 28th; since that time I think it’s safe to say his article and its content have created an uproar. Most of the rejoinders of course have been civil; some have been combative and vitriolic; initially, I wasn’t going to put my two cents in; however, I found myself debating the matter privately with several researchers, so I thought it best to put the proverbial pen to paper. In that vein, although this rejoinder is critical of Tony’s article, and by default his declarations; hopefully it is perceived in the manner it was written, i.e., as a civil, analysis of the work of a respected colleague.
In the remainder of Tony’s article he cited declarations from New Mexico Tech alumni and former professors as corroboration, and speculation between he (Tony) and one of the latter of how the hoax proclamation could have happened. Key point: none of these declarations were made by anyone claiming to be “directly” involved, or even knowing anyone, “claiming to be directly involved.” In other words it’s an example “he said, she said ” or more specifically “hearsay.”
Beyond that, Tony shares further speculation as to “why” “Techies” would choose Zamora as the target for a school prank, and includes minutiae about college pranks in general and the motives for such folly.
Initially, when I began my rejoinder I had intended to spend a good deal of time arguing the key points against the “speculative” ideas of the elements of the hoax; for example, Tony and one of the providers of the hoax rumor discussed the concept of the object being a balloon; a balloon of the size reported by Zamora would not have been able to get off the ground with two people in it, much less equipment of any substantial weight. Moreover, a balloon obviously could not travel at the speed reported by Zamora and later deduced by official investigation. Also, it was very windy that day, and the object took off against the wind, etc., etc.
Another “dart board” hoax theory (since the publication of Tony’s article) that’s bubbled up is that “genius NM-Tech students” built “a craft” that duped Zamora; wouldn’t the folks next door at White Sands Missile Base, or for that matter, NASA liked to have known that kids in performance of a prank could out due anything that the latter had on the books to date?!
In any event “those arguments” are redundant since what Tony is offering as evidence wouldn’t pass small claims court, much less the rules of scientific methodology! Should Tony have brought these issues to light in regards to an “alleged hoax? Most certainly, but as noted above—there isn’t enough qualitative data to postulate a "conclusion" for The Socorro Incident. These tidbits of information should have and still should be a prelude to further investigation.
Said investigation, should also include the “other” reports in the New Mexico area of an “egg-shaped” craft as report by Zamora (which further negates a school prank).
Until that time, like the culmination of the combined official reports from the Air Force and Army Intelligence, the object that Lonnie Zamora witnessed—remains “unidentified!”