Monday, April 09, 2007

Half of French UFOs Remain Unexplained

Flying Saucer Over The Eifel Tower 1945
By Allison Hanes
National Post

1,600 cases; France puts three decades of archives online
     For three decades, an arms length branch of France's national space agency quietly gathered reports of strange apparitions in the skies over the republic, from bright lights zig-zagging in the dark night to calls about flying saucers.

A small team of investigators dutifully probed each sighting, and either reached a logical conclusion, or consigned it to enigma.

Now, after decades under lock and key in dusty filing cabinets, France went public with its "X-Files" late last month. The Centre national d'etudes spatiales decided not only to declassify more than 1,600 cases, but to scan each official page and post it online for all to see.

"When the site went live, it was hit by so much traffic it went down almost immediately," said Chris Rutkowski, a co-ordinator for the Winnipeg-based Ufology Research Centre, noting the popularity of the project.

With more than 100,000 documents the archives of GEIPAN, the Groupement pour l'etude et l'information sur les phenomenes aerospatiaux non indentifier, contains official police reports, statements by witnesses to bizarre scenes -- even colourful hand-drawn diagrams resembling children's artwork.

Each incident has been slotted into one of four categories: definitely solved, likely solved, unsolved for lack of sufficient information or unsolved mystery. More than half -- 58% -- of the phenomena investigated by the experts remain unexplained while just 9% have been definitely figured out.

For example, when two farmers in Royan came across a 50-centimetre metal cylinder in a field in 1985, GEIPAN launched a thorough investigation that involved contacting NORAD about satellite orbits and missile tests. It was finally determined the two men had discovered a piece of Nazi-era war machinery left behind when the Third Reich retreated.

An explanation was more elusive when GEIPAN inherited a case that had taken place 11 years before the body's creation.

Two children out herding cows in Cussac in 1967 came upon a sphere hovering over a field with little black beings running around underneath. The strange creatures were sucked into the sphere headfirst, which then flew away moving in an upward spiral pattern.

The frightened children ran home crying to tell their parents, who summoned the gendarmerie. The adults who returned to the scene remarked a strong odour of sulphur that lasted for days as well as burn marks on the grass five metres in diameter.

France is not the first country to peel back the layers of bureaucratic secrecy often surrounding the official study of bizarre phenomenon -- though it is the first to make its data so universally accessible.

The vault of the national Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa contains information from five different departments on UFO sightings and investigations in Canada, although the bulk of it can only be consulted in person. Britain's Ministry of Defence released a chunk of information last year and Sweden, Italy and Chile have made some data public.

While many governments have kept their UFO research under wraps or simply denied its existence, France has released "absolutely all" of its collection to the masses for the sole purpose of furthering science.

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