(C) 1991 by the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies.
ssExcerpted from the IUR, May/June, 1991; Volume 16, Number 3.
THE BELGIAN SIGHTINGS
by Auguste Meessen
- - Auguste Meessen is professor of physics at the Catholic
University of Louvain. This article, which first appeared in the
November 1990 issue of Inforespace, is reprinted by permission.
It was translated by Andrea Donderi, Mark Rodeghier, and W. D.
The sightings that occurred in Belgium between November 1989
and June 1990 have given us an impressive body of new data. We
have even been able to study in detail material from both
military and civilian ground radar screens. Moreover, an in-depth
examination of on-board radar data from one of the F-16s sent up
by the Belgian Air Force during the night of March 30-31, 1990,
is currently under way. As far as I know, this is the first such
opportunity in the world, but much remains to be done. I shall
therefore only give an overview of this research. I shall outline
what we are doing and briefly describe our methods.
I shall also include some remarks on the unwarranted
generalizations that are still too frequently encountered (from
skeptics) and on the reactions of eyewitnesses in the current
socio-psychological climate in European ufology. Finally, I shall
present a few reports of sightings made in Belgium and abroad.
One case in particular, the enormous lozenge-shaped object that
flew over the outskirts of the town of Eupen on December 1, 1989,
is representative of the quality and importance of the new
information. In assessing reports it is important to be aware of
what has been happening in other countries, so I shall include a
few foreign cases that suggest the wave of sightings may not be
At the beginning of December 1989 I joined the SOBEPS
(Societe Belge d'Etude des Phenomenes Spatiaux) investigation. It
was vital to familiarize myself personally with the number and
quality of the eyewitness reports. I concentrated almost
exclusively on the Eupen region, of which I am a native. I hoped
that my fluency in German and my profession as a physicist would
help loosen people's tongues. I have noted that many
eyewitnesses, and particularly the most reliable ones with
important social responsibilities, are reluctant to discuss what
they have seen because of irrational socio-psychological
The evening of November 29, 1989, was decisive, because two
Eupen police officers had the courage to describe on television
the UFO they had painstakingly observed. There were several other
sightings that same day. I shall be compiling a list of them in
the book that SOBEPS is planning to publish. I have discovered a
series of eyewitness accounts that form a coherent sequence in
time and space that day. The sightings made by Mr. J (more on
which later) provide one example of what can be learned from
these witnesses. In my opinion, data of these kinds, when taken
together with the whole body of sightings worldwide, pose a
challenge to the scientific community and to every thoughtful
Journalists have had an especially important role. Some of
them have performed their work conscientiously, but others were
simply seeking sensational stories. Yet more felt obliged to lead
a personal crusade against the gathering of eyewitness reports. I
will cite just one example whose immediate effects I observed.
A few days after December 18, 1989, a gendarme in the Eupen
area refused to tell me what he had seen, probably because on
that date a local daily paper had published an article which
asserted that the "most plausible explanation" for UFO sightings
was that the U. S. Air Force was secretly testing F-117A planes
over Belgium. This article was preceded by the impressive
headline "Explanation from Washington," and the subheading
referred to a "hysteria" of UFO sightings. I was sent a copy of
this paper the same day and immediately inquired into the matter,
since these stories also form an aspect of the UFO phenomenon.
It turned out that the "explanation" was only speculation,
put forward by the Flemish paper Het Laatste Nieuws. I phoned the
journalist who wrote the article that triggered off a rumor which
is still causing much ink to be spilt. He explained that he had
just read an article on the F-117A and wished to pass on such
information to his readers. To make his article more interesting,
he had suggested (gratuitously, with no reference to the actual
sightings) that there might be a possible connection with recent
sightings in Belgium. In the meantime, I had learned from Lt.
Col. De Brouwer, Chief of Operations of the Belgian Air Force,
that the Air Force had sought information from the American
Embassy to help them explain the reports. This should not have
been necessary if the sightings were caused by secret exercises,
as De Brouwer routinely would have been informed of any such
overflights. Instead, he took the trouble to secure accurate
information about what the many Belgian eyewitnesses had really
Learning that an official American disclaimer was to be
published, I telephoned the Eupen journalist to tell him the news
and to ask him to publish a correction as soon as possible. When
I asked him why he had spoken of "an explanation from Washington"
and characterized the eyewitness accounts of local people as
"hysterical " he responded, "I am against all that." I appreciate
his candor, but that does not square with the regard for
objectivity one expects of journalists. Such attitudes constitute
disinformation and serve to dissuade eyewitnesses; they make the
search for truth more difficult.
The search for more objective information
Having convinced myself of the reality and importance of the
wave of UFO sightings in our country, I concluded that it would
have been scientifically irresponsible to ignore this wave
without trying to find out what had turned up on our country's
radar screens. I did not know how to gain access to the data, but
I felt that reason would eventually prevail. Since early December
1989 I had been in contact with Lt. Col. De Brouwer at the
Headquarters of the Belgian Air Force, requesting that any radar
documentation be preserved for a thorough scientific study.
Shortly afterwards I sent a similar written request to Guy Coeme,
Minister of National Defense.
I also met the head of the air traffic control at Zaventem,
the Brussels airport. I learned that he and his associates
preserve recordings of radar data for several weeks on magnetic
tape in the event of any inquiries relating to air safety. I
therefore addressed a written request to Mr. Vandenbroucke, the
General Manager of the Airlines Administration, for permission to
videotape certain excerpts. These would be restricted to
sequences selected on the basis of the number of fairly close-
range and reliable UFO sightings. The goal was to verify whether
there had been any suspicious radar traces before or after the
sighting times, given that the UFOs were doubtless below the
radar coverage at the time of very low-altitude sightings.
Although the response was delayed, a call to Vanenbroucke
brought immediate cooperation. I convey my warm thanks to him and
to the Chief Engineer and the technical radar personnel of our
national airport for their effective support, which proved
useful. In consequence I have been able to film and analyze more
than 180 hours of data from the Bertem radar installation, which
serves Zaventem airport. In brief, two surprising and significant
discoveries emerged from this material. I shall describe them
later. One of these discoveries concerned the fact that echoes of
unidentified origin often moved along linear trajectories of
limited length. This perplexed me. I continued to collect as many
data as possible, refusing to adopt any particular hypothesis.
Furthermore, it was vital to analyze these data quickly so that I
could assimilate their essential characteristics and determine
what was worth studying more closely. In fact, I was involved in
a race against time, since the magnetic tapes were retained only
for a few weeks. Any potentially important material that I failed
to save would be lost forever.
I also hoped to gain access to the military radar
documentation, although I knew this would be more difficult. An
increasingly close and productive collaboration had developed
with Lt. Col. De Brouwer and with Lt. Col. Billen, Chief of the
Glons radar installation. They shared my profound conviction that
an in-depth study was required, both to understand better the UFO
phenomenon and to elucidate the mysterious phenomenon that I had
discovered, probably of atmospheric origin.
During this stage of the investigation an important event
occurred. I knew that the Belgian Air Force planned to scramble
F-16 fighters in cases where UFO sightings were reported by
reliable eyewitnesses with additional confirmation by other
evidence. These conditions seemed to have been met during the
night of March 30-31, 1990. Although I was notified at an early
stage, I had to wait for the Air Force's preliminary evaluation
of the data before learning anything more.
For my part, I kept Lt. Col. De Brouwer informed about my
research on the data from the Bertem radar. He saw the benefit of
checking these data against those from the military radar at
Semmerzake. I was accordingly authorized to go there and obtain
extracts from these tapes. The information regarding the events
of the night of March 30-31 remained inaccessible since an Air
Force investigation was underway, but we were making progress all
the same. The Semmerzake data were more accurate and detailed
than those I already had.
Consequently, I was able to compare the data from the
Semmerzake military radar with those from the Bertem civil radar,
whose echoes are instantaneously transmitted to Semmerzake. They
are subject to even less filtering than on the air
controllers' screens at Zaventem airport. I could thus establish
the coordinates and other characteristics of each individual
echo. The analysis was laborious but made it possible to
decisively confirm the preliminary conclusions drawn from the
video films taken at Zaventem.
After the release of the Air Force report in the summer of
1990, there were irrational reactions on the part of some French
media. Lt. Col. De Brouwer responded by supplying more
information, hoping to demonstrate that the situation was more
complex and better documented than many supposed, and that it
merited further analysis. He resolutely followed an open-minded
policy. Some journalists had labeled the military "The Great
Mute"; by contrast, Lt. Col. De Brouwer maintained that "we have
nothing to hide in this matter." I can attest to his deep honesty
After talking with a reporter from Paris Match (July 5,
1990, issue), De Brouwer also allowed some members of SOBEPS to
see an extract from the video film of the on-board radar from one
of the F-16s. The series of photos we were authorized to take
enabled me to make a preliminary assessment, and I realized then
the extremely strange nature of these data. Having made
considerable headway in interpreting some of the initial radar
data, 1 could see that the same explanation would not work for
these astonishing observations.
In order to go further, I needed the express permission of
the Minister of National Defense. Since my written request had
met with no response, probably because of bureaucratic inertia, I
decided to telephone the Minister, Guy Coeme. His response was
almost immediate: "I believe in openness." This was, I think, a
historic attitude. In any event, it was an exemplary action, from
which other countries will soon, I hope, draw inspiration.
After this everything went like clockwork, albeit one whose
hands moved slowly. For instance, I received the data from the
Glons radar for the main events of March 30-31, 1990, on November
2, fully seven months later. The appropriate permissions had all
been granted, but other military missions (in particular, the
Gulf crisis and the intervention in Rwanda) took precedence
compared to UFO investigations. Still, there can be a real
advantage to letting ideas settle for a while. At present
thorough studies are being undertaken in complete collaboration
with an officer-engineer of the Belgian Air Force. I do not wish
to name him so as to prevent him from being besieged with
inquiries. The conclusions of our study will be published but
only when this can be done in a responsible manner.
The fundamental results
Almost continually, radar screens show sporadic echoes not
correlated with aircraft. Radar operators call these echoes
"angels"as if they were pure spirits. For them the echoes
constitute annoying "noise" and are ignored as much as possible.
A priori they could just as easily be UFOs as natural phenomena.
They appear only occasionally, all over the screen. An air
traffic controller cannot afford to waste time and attention on
them. When I systematically recorded the positions in which these
"angels" appeared, however, I noted that they often moved in
practically straight lines. I have labeled this the "flying
The average speed of this movement is low relative to that of
aircraft (about 50 km//h). There are random fluctuations, but the
mean speed is well-defined. The lines of motion are of limited
length, and their direction of motion is not correlated with the
wind. Furthermore they can appear (perhaps even more often) when
the sky is clear. The Semmerzake radar could locate the physical
position of the radar returns. As the data accumulated, it became
evident that this phenomenon could not involve UFOs. It had to be
an atmospheric problem, albeit a fairly special one, since the
radar operators whom I consulted had not noticed this effect. A
comprehensive survey of the literature indicated that this
phenomenon had not been described either. I have finally
discovered an explanation based on known physical principles and
on some independent data. It will be described elsewhere when I
have had time to verify it further. The "flying angels effect" is
undoubtedly of atmospheric origin.
My second main finding was that I found no reliable traces
associated with eyewitness accounts of UFO sightings, even when I
examined the traces over a wide range of times and places. I
knew, however, that there had been previous cases of radar
detection of UFOs. The evidence in these cases seems to be
acceptable (and cannot be explained by the "flying angels"
phenomenon). Given the lack of radar confirmation in Belgium, it
would be easy to put forward one or the other of these two
simplistic hypotheses: either the witnesses saw nothing of a
material nature, or F-117 Stealth aircraft were involved. But
neither one nor the other hypothesis takes into account the whole
range of what was observed. The UFOs sighted in Belgium were
usually described as platforms, either stationary or moving
horizontally. This is sufficient to explain the low probability
of detection by ground radars. The radar beams would be reflected
back as if by a horizontal mirror. The same technique is used for
the F-117A Stealth plane.
On several occasions the UFOs had been described as having a
vertical edge and a dome on top. Seen laterally or from above, as
from an aircraft, radar detection might therefore be easier. So
an F-16 might possibly detect a UFO of this kind, if the surfaces
were not made of radar-absorbent material. This presents new
questions, since if UFOs are extraterrestrial, why are their
shapes now different from previously reported objects? Could they
have adapted their craft's shape in order to evade our detection
systems, or is it just a coincidence, resulting from the fact
that this batch of visitors come from somewhere else?
As for the data from the F-16 on-board radar, which operates
differently from ground radars and can record different kinds of
data, I can only say, for the time being, that they are
astonishing. In particular, there are abrupt changes in speed as
well as other strange features. This calls for a technical, far-
reaching, and careful study. We have made a start. I don't know
what conclusion we will reach, nor when we shall reach it.
The views of Science & Vie
With a few rare exceptions, the French media's coverage of
the Belgian UFO sightings has not been distinguished by its
objectivity. Some writers did not hesitate to quite openly make
fun of the "little Belgians" and their "tales " but we shall see
who laughs last. What surprised me most was the fact that the
magazine Science & Vie (Science & Life) had launched a sort of
anti-UFO crusade. I have often admired this magazine's articles
of scientific popularization. It has, in the past, taken a clear
responsibility for public's scientific education. It is all the
more deplorable, then, that in this area it traffics in
irrational, unscientific polemics. The only advantage may be to
document the fact for future generations that at the end of the
20th Century people reacted in this fashion, in spite of the
lessons that they could have drawn from the history of science.
When there is a conflict between a new kind of fact and the
established conceptual framework, people tend to hang on to
preconceived ideas. What does not fit in with the theories that
are regarded as unshakable is filtered out or repressed. People
refuse to face reality. So far as UFOs are concerned, the method
consists of selecting some facts that can be explained, it is
thought, in a conventional manner. Then it is believed that this
result can be extrapolated, without any effort's being made to
examine the rest of the data. This leads to what can be termed
In its January 1990 issue (No. 868), Science & Vie showed no
hesitation in discrediting all the Belgian eyewitnesses on the
basis of just one photograph. This photo, taken near Eupen,
showed a big luminous dot. The photographers submitted the photo
to SOBEPS, along with several others from the same event. Even
though the photo had little to do with the many eyewitness
sightings, it could have been given an detailed analysis.
Instead, the editorial team of Science & Vie preferred an
unsupported interpretation, strongly suggesting that all
eyewitness reports smacked of "poetry" or optical illusions.
In the June issue (No. 813) the magazine provided information
about the F-I 17A Stealth aircraft. This sort of information had
just been made public by the U.S. Air Force. The title of the
article-"The UFO: This Is It," showing an example of an F- 117A-
speaks volumes about the magazine's commercial rather than
scientific intentions. Again, it insinuated that all the
witnesses must have been mistaken, like the Belgian Air Force.
The author of this article and everyone involved clearly felt no
need to conduct on-the-spot inquiries in order to obtain more
information and acquire an objective view of the facts.
The October issue (No. 877) of Science & Vie announced on its
first page that it was "on the track of the Belgian UFOs." In
fact, the author was concerned only with the events of March 30-
31, 1990, and the involvement of the Belgian Air Force.
Apparently he felt that this constituted the core of the matter,
and that by debunking it he could dispose of the whole story. He
considered only the initial reports, which contained raw,
unanalyzed information. The author of the article is intelligent
and able, but his method resembled more that of a lawyer
defending a specific brief than that of a scientist representing
the quest for truth. After the press conference given by Lt. Col.
De Brouwer, the F-I 17A hypothesis had been discredited, but that
need be no obstacle; plenty of other hypotheses can be
Why not suggest the existence of another secret plane, with
all the capabilities necessary to explain the apparent paradoxes?
Perhaps the U.S. Air Force was testing this secret plane over
Belgium without notifying the Belgian Air Force -a friendly
nation which uses American F- 16s. Does this seem practical or
likely? Consider that testing new planes inevitably involves the
risk of an accident or crash, in which case the Belgian
authorities would have to be notiFied to help protect essential
Why not suggest that the Belgian police were so unaccustomed
to seeing stars that they got all confused at the sight of some?
Or, above all, that there is no supporting evidence to back up
any of the Belgian sightings, even though there were more than a
thousand reports and they went on for more than six months?
Following this line of reasoning, everything is for the best
in the "best of all possible worlds" in which profounder
questions must not be asked.
On the contrary, it seems to me that it's always a good idea
to be guided by the Facts, especially when they are unexpected.
What thousands of witnesses have seen for many years throughout
the world deserves serious study. I am not advocating a specific
hypothesis, only asking people to open their eyes.
The witnesses' reactions
Witnesses' reactions are diverse, as might be expected. In
most cases people simply relate what has happened in a factual
manner, being explicit about what they have been able to observe
and confessing their perplexity. What now seems to me to be new
and significant is that many witnesses are annoyed at not being
As regards the socio-psychological hypothesis, which explains
UFO sightings by the desire to make contact with extraterrestrial
beings, I do not believe that this is compatible with my
experiences interviewing a fairly sizable number of witnesses.
Naturally there are pathological and even psychiatric cases, but
let us again refrain from unwarranted extrapolations. I have
noted, like other investigators, that at the outset of their
strange sightings, witnesses practically always try to find a
conventional explanation; as they take in more details, though,
the conventional explanation no longer suffices. This reaction
violates a basic assumption of some "socio-psychologists."
It is true that witnesses are quicker to think of a UFO after
the media have told them other people have seen them, and they
report sightings more readily once they know that organizations
are studying UFO reports seriously. Some people have
intentionally scanned the skies, but they have not necessarily
It is absolutely normal for someone to filter and analyze
sensory data on the basis of pre-existing conceptual models. What
happens when there is a discrepancy? Some witnesses describe
extraordinary events, repeating that they do not believe in UFOs.
Perhaps they're trying to reassure themselves, perhaps they're
afraid of seeming insane to the interviewers. On several
occasions I have met witnesses who, although accepting the ET
hypothesis, are visibly upset about these "intruders." Humanity
could be defenseless and dependent on the goodwill of an unknown,
technologically very superior, external power. I have met only
one witness who told me in a confiding manner: "I should very
much like to meet them." He said this spontaneously when I asked
him what he thought of his sighting.
Reality is far less clear-cut than the supporters of the
socio-psychological hypothesis imagine. The collective
unconscious does not, for the most part, desire contact with
extraterrestrials. We cannot assume we are dealing with religious
beliefs, either. On the contrary, it is clear that a fairly
sizable number of witnesses have no wish at all to communicate
what they have observed. We know this because of the cases
discovered entirely by chance and long after the fact. The 1989-
90 Belgian wave encouraged a number of people to tell
investigators about much earlier sightings. One man wrote to me
describing a sighting made during the mobilization before World
War II, when he was all alone on a road. He was so excited and
frightened by the experience that he told no one except his wife.
A member of an embassy told me of a sighting made aboard an
aircraft with many other people. Afterwards, he asked me not to
say anything about it to the other embassy personnel, saying,
"They'll think me crazy."
The fact that the UFOs reported here are generally of a
different type from the traditional "saucer" is also significant.
If the witnesses had invented their accounts, they would probably
have tried to make them seem more believable by corresponding to
the standard model. This is not what happened. One new feature is
that the Belgian UFOs travel over cities at very low altitudes.
Moreover, there were no marked electromagnetic disturbances, as
has often been reported in the past. These differences are worth
considering with a view to understanding the technology rather
than simply assuming that the witnesses can't relate accurately
what they've seen.
An enormous lozenge at Eupen
Mr. J observed the same type of object twice. I heard of his
sightings indirectly, and when I telephoned him, he firmly
insisted on anonymity: "I don't want anyone to tell my children
that their father was out of his mind." He told me that the
machine he had seen was "incredibly large." This assessment was
based on his first sighting, which was on December 1, 1989. I
visited him on January 15, five days after his second sighting.
He is an amateur photographer and described the UFO with the
precision of a careful observer.
On the evening of December 1, he was going to take his wife to
a private exhibition organized by his club. At around 5 p.m. two
of his five children, aged 14 and 15, had already told him about
"strange planes in the sky." After school they had been playing
on the street with a Moroccan boy who lived in one of the
neighboring houses. It was already growing dark and one of the
children said, "They're UFOs," using the German word for UFO. Mr.
J had replied, "Of course not, they must be planes."
At 6:50 Mr. J was ready to leave. He was sitting in the
living room in his usual chair near a window that looks out on a
terrace at the rear. At that moment one of his children came
rushing up all excited, saying, "Look, they're here again!"
Struck by his child's insistence, Mr. J rose and went out onto
the terrace. This forms, together with the garden, a large L-
shaped open space behind a cluster of houses. Mr. J saw the young
Moroccan, who was at the back garden of his house, in the other
branch of L, pointing at the sky and stating, "See, one's just
coming." Mr. J told me, "I don't understand how this boy could
say that so calmly, as if it was a commonplace remark, because I
almost fell over backwards when I looked up. I tell you that if
you have not seen one, you cannot believe it. It was enormous."
Mr. J then spontaneously set about drawing the object, which
was lozenge-shaped, with two white lights at each corner and, in
the center, a kind of illuminated bell projecting from the
platform (figure 1). The surface of the object was dark but
clearly visible against the brighter sky. It had been a sunny
day, and the sky was perfectly clear. Stars were visible around
the object. It glided slowly from southwest to northeast, without
the slightest sound. It could be followed at a comfortable
walking pace. The large diagonal of the lozenge was perpendicular
to the direction of movement and was at least 35 meters long.
During my visit Mr. J went onto the terrace to show me his
reference marks. The nearest end of the large diagonal had been
directly above his house and the other end had passed above a
large building 350 meters away. He was unable to determine the
altitude of the object, but he noticed that he could see the sky
between the object and the building opposite. As a result he felt
that the object could have been even larger than the distance
between his house and the building.
A little later on, Mr. J reported that the white lights
flashed off and on regularly. I asked him whether they did this
at the same time. He replied, "I don't know. I couldn't see the
four corners simultaneously. I had to crane my neck." These
lights were circular and large. "The most extraordinary thing
about them was their power," he said. They illuminated the ground
with a white light. In the center of the lozenge was an "inverted
bell" which was wholly illuminated by an orange light. At the
bell's apex was a green light, darker than green traffic lights.
The skirt of the bell was surrounded by a row of red lights,
changing brightness sequentially. This gave a false impression of
revolving lights. "These lights never completely went out, but
they grew distinctly brighter at certain moments."
The lights did not illuminate the underside of the object,
which remained dark. The red lights "chased each other" with a
slow, comfortable movement. "It wasn't an alarming flash, like
that from an ambulance or police car. It was even pleasant to
watch." Mr. J also remembered that "the luminous bell was
strange, because you couldn't tell whether the light came from
its interior or the surface." Since the witness was an amateur
photographer, he considered going to find his camera but realized
it was too big to capture adequately. Knowing that he had 100 ASA
film loaded, he gauged that the mass of the object, which was
almost black, would not be made out on film since the white
lights were too dazzling.
He did what he could. "I tried to remember as much as
possible. I also called my wife and daughter so that someone from
my family could see it." Mrs. J did not see the object. She heard
her husband but was in the bath. His daughter arrived after the
object was already some way off, having passed over the roofs of
the houses. Mr. J went with her to the front, where they stayed
long enough to see the object leave, still at a fairly slow
speed, passing over the Eupen cemetery.
Mr. J bitterly regrets not having taken photos. Since then
he has been to Aix-la-Chapelle to buy infrared film, which he
keeps in the refrigerator. The young Moroccan came over while Mr.
J was drawing his picture for me. He said, unasked, "Yes, it's
like that." The vertical edge (on figure 1) was not visible on
December 1. Mr. J drew it based on his second sighting.
This second sighting took place on Wednesday, January 10,
1990, at about 1:35 p.m. It was dark. The witness, on his way to
a photo club, had taken the E5 highway after reaching the
Herbesthal road and was proceeding inland. He had gone only a few
kilometers when he saw a stationary object in the sky. It was
exactly "the same model." Mr. J stopped his car on the side of
the road. Other drivers seemed not to notice anything. Mr. J
leaned on the hood of his car, watching the object with arms
crossed. Everything was identical to the first sighting, but on
this occasion the lozenge was oriented sideways, and he could see
it had a constant and considerable height. It was about 500
meters away. Its lights seemed less bright this time, perhaps
because of the highway illumination.
Mr. J was exasperated that he hadn't brought his camera.
There would probably be no point in returning home. After 10-15
minutes the object started to move off toward Fagnes. It left
slowly and silently. Just as it was departing the luminosity
increased. "It was as though the voltage of the lights had been
intensified as it moved gently away."
It may seem strange that Mr. J saw the same object twice. It
should, however, not be forgotten that the events of December 1
had been deeply etched in his memory; as a consequence, his
mental "filters" would have been adjusted in such a way that he
would more easily notice a similar object in the sky at night. I
have no reason to doubt this eyewitness report. His sincerity and
spontaneity were evident. The witness had spoken with only a few
people and had learned to be cautious. "I have seen many things
in my life," he said, "but when I talk about this, people look at
A UFO flies over Aix-la-Chapelle
On December 5 or 12, 1989, Mr. and Mrs. O were driving
northward on the Triererstrasse in the town of Aix-la-Chapelle.
It was about 9:50 p.m. when they suddenly saw a flying object cut
across the road right in front of them. It moved steadily to the
right. It had two headlights in front, emitting beams that
slanted downwards. The light was white and intense without being
blinding. In addition, there was an orange light on the
underside, Dashing at the same rate as an ambulance's lights. Mr.
O was driving and had to pay attention to traffic, but Mrs. O
continued to observe what they still thought was an aircraft
flying exceptionally low. She kept it constantly in sight. When
it had crossed the road, it extinguished its headlights, but the
flashing orange light remained illuminated. This made it possible
to see that the object was describing a half-turn on a tight
curve, heading back in the opposite direction.
Mrs. O first saw it through the front right-hand window. Then
she turned around to look at it through the back rear window. The
object approached again, passed over the car, and reappeared in
the front left-hand window. It had cut across the road
diagonally. At a certain distance from the car, its headlights
came on again. Since the headlights were at the front of the
object, they could no longer be seen directly, but the beams that
they emitted were visible. Unlike an aircraft, there were no rear
lights or flashing red and green side-lights. All that could be
seen was the flashing orange light, which became fainter and
fainter as the craft went away.
Mr. and Mrs. O returned to their home, near Aix-la-Chapelle.
That same evening, at 11:15 p.m., Mr. O stepped outside to let
the dog out and noticed exactly the same object. It was flying
above their street, in the direction of Stollberg. Mr. O
immediately called his wife. The headlight beams were less angled
than they had been before, but the machine was flying lower. Its
motion was linear and uniform, with a speed about that of a
helicopter, but to the great astonishment of the witnesses it
made no sound. Mrs. O was insistent about the absence of noise,
for conditions were such that she and her husband ought to have
heard it had the craft been equipped with a motor.
I asked them later about the apparent size of the object,
suggesting that a thumb held at arm's length might cover it. The
immediate response was, "No, it would have required a whole
hand." The sighting occurred fairly late, so the sky was dark.
The object stood out clearly against it, because it was somewhat
brighter. The witnesses saw an elongated shape, less high than
long, with curved edges. The outlines were different from those
of an aircraft or helicopter. The hypothesis of night gliders or
ultralights is not very credible, particularly in the case of the
first sighting. The next day a police car passed down the street,
its loud-speaker requesting those who had seen "anything
abnormal" to report it to them. Mr. and Mrs. O did not do so.
Were there other witnesses? They do not know, because they don't
read the local paper. Mr. O, who is Japanese, subscribes to a
Cologne daily paper and the Financial Times.
I was alerted to this case by Mrs. O's sister, who lives in
Eupen. The German police habitually ridicule UFO witnesses, so it
is not surprising that Mr. and Mrs. O didn't want to report their
sighting. I also conducted an inquiry into a close encounter
involving two German families living in Lontzen, in Belgium on
November 29. The children involved were frightened, so one of the
mothers called various places, including the Aix-la-Chapelle
police. She told me that they laughed at her and that their
derisive response had shocked her.
A triangular UFO at Coblenz
The following case was described in the July-August 1990
issue of the Journal fur UFO-Forschung (Journal for UFO Research)
of the GEP group (Society for the Investigation of the UFO
phenomenon), based in Ludencheid, Germany. The investigation was
carried out by W. Kelch. This case is interesting in itself,
since it involves the sighting of a triangle in another country,
but it also has interesting psychological aspects. The principal
witness, a 33-year-old woman, works at a military base and seems
to have a solid character.
The sighting took place on the evening of February 21, 1990,
at 9:07 p.m., in Karthause, near Coblenz. The lady was returning
home by car, accompanied by her mother (aged 69) and her son
(aged 14), who had been to a judo lesson. They were driving
through an attractive residential district on a fairly wide road.
To the right was a continuous line of trees 15-18 meters in
height, bordering a cemetery. The left-hand side of the road was
fringed with houses 20-25 meters high on a small hill. Through
traffic is virtually nil and, at this late stage of the evening,
there was no residential traffic. In fact, no car went by during
the episode. The weather was cool and it was dark. The sky was
The mother was the first to see two lights beaming straight
down at them at a 45-degree angle (figure 2a). The object bearing
these lights slowed down, but the driver, fearing it might crash,
pulled to the right side of the road. There she stopped, with the
car at an angle. The object stopped above the road, almost
directly overhead. The driver switched off the engine, lowered
the window and looked out. She saw a large triangular object,
absolutely stationary and noiseless, at rooftop height. From
other reference points it was possible to determine that the
sides of the triangle measured about 20 meters (figure 2b). The
witnesses watched the object closely, but no one dared get out of
Three milky, yellowish-white lights were at the corners of
the triangle. They were bright but not blinding. In the center of
the triangle was a much larger light. Its color was changing but
the prevailing hue was grey-blue. These changes seemed to imply
something revolving, reminding the witnesses of the mirror-globes
in discos. The witnesses said that "this light shone in a strange
way." They saw only the lower side of the triangular platform.
The object had a metallic appearance. It was dark-gray and
colorless, with solid and sharp outlines The base was slightly
illuminated by the lights on the object, allowing the witnesses
to observe structures which they described as riveted plates
The object stayed overhead for two or three minutes then
departed suddenly in the direction of the houses. The driver of
the car felt a breeze through her rolled-down window. The object
accelerated and disappeared from view in less than a second,
behind the roofs of the houses. It had arrived from the west, but
departed towards the southwest. Its departure was speedier than
that of a jet aircraft.
The witnesses then went home, and the woman immediately
informed her husband, who was on nightshift. At first he was
unwilling to believe her story but finally, at her insistence,
called the local police. Although the police had not received any
other calls, they agreed to send a police squad to the area. Her
husband also called the air-traffic sections at the Frankfurt and
Cologne-Wahn airports. They responded that radar detection was
not possible at so low an altitude. The three witnesses were
unable to sleep that night. The mother, feeling afraid, stayed in
her daughter's apartment.
Later on the wife tried to clear up the mystery on her own
initiative. She found the address and telephone numbers of the
GEP, who sent her a questionnaire which she completed and
returned by mail. She succeeded in locating two other witnesses.
Between 8:30 and 8:50 that same evening, a lady saw "something
bright heading quite rapidly towards my car," near the
intersection of the A61 and A48 highways. Frightened, she braked.
Through the sunroof she saw a bus-shaped metallic object with
fairly bright, bluish lights. The object went by noiselessly,
disappearing finally in the dark. A UFO was also seen by a 30-
year-old man, just before 9:07 p.m., near the same spot. When
questioned, however, he distanced himself from the incident,
saying, "Nobody's going to believe me anyway."
When the GEP investigator contacted the police, they asserted
that they could not recall having received any telephone calls
about UFOs and that they knew nothing of the matter. The lady and
her husband were annoyed by this denial. The investigator had the
impression that the wife was a down-to-earth sort of individual.
He found no discrepancy between her account and the questionnaire
she had completed. So far as the witness was concerned, she had
seen an unidentified flying object.
The GEP tried to find a conventional explanation. A balloon
was ruled out because there had been a light east wind and the
object was first seen moving west to east. And how could it have
turned around and left so fast? The police use BO-105 helicopters
to patrol the highways for trucks, but this too was ruled out.
Could it have been a military plane? There is in actual fact a
military exercise ground (Schmitenhohe) two kilometers away,
where German and NATO forces run nocturnal infrared
reconnaissance flights and other exercises. But that night there
had been no exercises.
In Germany a CH-47 Chinook helicopter is often suggested as
an explanation for UFO reports. Such aircraft are used between
Mendig and Mainz, but the flights take place almost exclusively
during the day at a height of 800-1000 meters. Taken as a whole,
the evidence in this case renders that explanation unlikely.
Nevertheless, the investigator thought it necessary to consider
the possibility that the three witnesses were in shock and had
perhaps not heard the noise, having been paralyzed by fear. The
investigator thus concluded noncommittally that "the available
data do not allow us to make an unambiguous identification as a
known flying object." You can make what you like about this
statement. Who is frightened? The witnesses by a somewhat
hypothetical helicopter, or the investigator by social and
A recent sighting in Switzerland
This event occurred on Sunday, October 14, 1990. The Swiss
sighting was relayed to me by the witness, Mrs. Wengere, who has
authorized me to cite her name. She telephoned me from
Switzerland and confirmed her account in writing. An editor by
profession, she was clearly looking for people who would listen
seriously to such reports. She wrote to a Zurich paper and
personally collected various recent eyewitness reports a copy of
which she sent me.
On the evening of October 14 she and her husband were on
their way to a hospital to visit a friend. It was about 7 p.m.,
already dark, with stars easily visible. The sky was clear and
there was no wind. They were driving from Lostdorf, near Olten,
toward Zurich. Mrs. Wengere spotted two bright white lights.
They were motionless, a little to the left ahead of them, over a
range of mountains. The couple could not see light beams but only
two large, luminous, perfectly round disks, surrounded by a light
atmospheric halo. The left-hand light was higher than the right.
Mrs. Wengere at first thought the lights must be on
transmission towers on the mountaintops, although they would have
to have been erected recently since she had never seen them
before. There was still enough light in the sky for her to
observe that there was nothing between the lights and the range
of mountains. She thus deduced that the lights had to be
supported by one or two flying objects whose shape was not
discernible. She told her husband, "There's a UFO over there! "
She asked him to stop. He saw the lights and could not
explain them either, but he didn't stop because there was no
parking space along the road and it would have been dangerous to
stop in the dark. The bright lights must have been of excessive
dimensions since the stars appeared minuscule and pale in
comparison, as did the lights of an approaching aircraft. There
was one approaching the UFO (figure 3a) at that very moment. If
the lights were at the same distance as the plane, each of them
ought to have been almost as large as the plane itself. Mrs.
Wengere expected the object to react to the plane, but at that
moment she and her husband were passing a village and lost sight
of the object. They even had to wait for a red traffic light.
When they once more had a clear view, the lights had
disappeared. Mrs. Wengere was annoyed that her husband had not
stopped when she had asked him to. He exclaimed, "Look, there
they are again! " The lights were hanging a little higher in the
sky, above the mountains to the right of the road. The new
position and the previous location formed an angle of about 100
degrees. Since the witnesses had not observed the shift, this
could have been another object entirely. In fact, they now noted
a third light, identical to the first two, a little to the left
of the others. It was separated from them by a distance almost 10
times as large as the distance between the other two lights,
which were still stationary.
The third light was at first motionless, but after some time
it shifted slowly towards the others with a linear uniform speed.
It stopped after having covered two-thirds of the distance that
separated it from them (figure 3b). The other two lights began to
move together, as if they were joined, their diagonal alignment
becoming horizontal. The pair became smaller and less intense,
but at the same time two chains of red and green lights appeared
joining the two. The distance between them grew greater and
eventually the two lights disappeared, leaving only the red and
green crown of light visible.
The third light also changed during this time it became
fainter and acquired its own oval crown of small red and green
lights. The vertical axis of the ellipse thus formed grew
gradually longer, but the second crown was smaller than the first
(figure 3c). The two witnesses thought that the chains of light
were fixed to the sides of objects that were changing their tilt,
but neither of them could actually see the objects. Followed by
other vehicles, they continued to drive on. Mr. Wengere had
slowed down only slightly. The lights were lost once again behind
some houses, this time for good.
The Wengeres were already aware of the UFO phenomenon as a
result of a previous sighting. On July 20, 1989, at about 6:50
p.m., they had both been out in their garden. The sun was shining
and the sky was cloudless. Mrs. Wengere noticed an elongated,
silvery object. It moved like an aircraft, but she could see
neither wings nor tail. It was simply cigar-shaped and completely
silent. She pointed it out to her husband, who was equally
surprised. Mrs. Wengere thought it so strange that ten minutes
later she telephoned the air-traffic control at Zurich-Kloten
airport. She learned that there had been no "official flight" at
that time over her home and that nothing abnormal had been
recorded on the radar screens.
Mrs. Wengere was unable to stop thinking about what she had
seen on October 14. She remembered having read about a large
number of sightings of UFOs in Belgium. On October 20 she decided
to telephone the air traffic center at Zurich-Kloten. They had
seen nothing unusual on their radars during the evening of
October 14, and no one else had reported a similar phenomenon.
The man who answered the telephone said, "It must be an optical
illusion due to some sort of reflection." He said this haughtily,
adding that he received many telephone calls of this kind, but
that they were almost always optical illusions. This indicates
that there were other UFO reports, although the explanation he
offered was purely gratuitous.
I note that in the United States a photograph was taken on
May 26, 1988, near Southbury of a beautiful crown of alternating
red, yellow and green lights against a black background. This is
documented by a magnificent slide that I have received from
Philip Imbrogno, co-author of the book Night Siege. This shows
that one must not treat each case in isolation as if it were
unique, but search for correlations as has to be done for any
physical phenomenon. For this reason we must not focus our
attention solely on the events of March 30-31, 1990, whatever
their possible importance may eventually be.
As for the "flying angels effect," which has led to some
notable problems in atmospheric physics and useful knowledge for
radar operators, this discovery was simply a by-product of
rational study of the UFO problem. As such it underlines that it
is worthwhile to look carefully at mysterious phenomena. I expect
that the thoroughness and seriousness of our study of radar
"noise" will help our credibility as we examine other aspects of
the UFO phenomenon.