Lonnie Zamora

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Lonnie Zamora (New Mexico)
Lonnie Zamora
Location of Socorro, New Mexico

Lonnie Zamora (born 1933[1]) is a retired New Mexico police officer who reported a UFO close encounter of the first, second and third kinds on Friday, April 24, 1964, near Socorro, New Mexico.

Zamora’s account received considerable coverage in the mass media, and is sometimes regarded as one of the best documented, yet most perplexing UFO reports. It was one of the accounts that helped persuade astronomer J. Allen Hynek that some UFO reports represented an intriguing, unsolved mystery. According to Ann Druffel, the Soccoro case is unique in the files of the U.S. Air Force's official UFO investigation arm, Project Blue Book: it is the only UFO case in Blue Book's files which was officially ruled "unexplained", yet which involved both physical traces left at the scene, and a sighting of the craft's occupants. (Druffel, 214)

Skeptics speculate that Zamora's imagination exaggerated some more normal encounter, or that the entire affair was a hoax, though rebuttals have suggested that most of these attempted debunkings were far from persuasive.


[edit] The Encounter

Before becoming a police officer, Zamora had worked for about seven years as an aircraft mechanic for the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. (Druffel, 214) This fact would figure in the UFO sighting, as Zamora had a thorough knowledge of the appearances and capabilities of conventional aircraft.

Zamora had been a police officer in Socorro for several years. He was generally regarded as a competent, honest man, though perhaps humorless and overly strict. He was especially known for being tough on speeding motorists.

On April 24, 1964 at about 5:45 p.m., Zamora was in pursuit of a speeder. Not long after that pursuit began he heard a loud sound, which he first thought was an explosion, perhaps from a nearby dynamite storage shack. He abandoned the speeder to investigate.

Southwest of the dynamite shack Zamora saw what he described as a bright, blue-white “cone of flame”[2], accompanied by a continual loud roaring sound. He drove towards the light over the rough dirt road. By the time he crested a tall hill, the flame and sound had both stopped. Zamora said the roar was unlike that of a jet and lasted about ten seconds from when he first heard it. It went from a high frequency to a low frequency before it stopped.

About 150-200 meters away, he spotted a white, shiny oval object on the ground at the bottom of an arroyo. His first thought was that it was an overturned car. Zamora then noticed two human-like figures near the object. Zamora later wrote that the two figures wore "white coveralls" and were "pretty close to the object on its northwest side, as if inspecting it."

The figure nearest Zamora "must have seen me, 'cause [sic] when I turned and it looked straight at my car it seemed startled — almost seemed to jump somewhat." He also described the beings as “about the size of boys” but essentially "normal in shape." They were shorter than the small bush they were standing next to, later measured at being about five feet high.

Zamora went on to write that he drove closer to the object, intending to offer aid. He radioed police dispatch to inform them he was on the scene of a "possible 10-40" (an auto accident). He would later report that as he got closer to the object, he realized it was not an automobile, nor any kind of conventional craft. He thought the object was perhaps some kind of experimental military craft from White Sands Proving Ground, not far away.

He drove closer to the object and parked at the edge of the arroyo, less than 30 meters (100 ft) from the craft. He then got out of the car for a closer look. Zamora heard two or perhaps three loud thumping sounds, "like someone hammering or shutting a door or doors."

Zamora started to descend on foot down the slope of the arroyo. He noted a red logo or insignia in the middle of the oval object. "It looked like a crescent with a vertical arrow pointed upward inside the crescent and a horizontal bar beneath that," he said, and then said the insignia was about 2.5 feet (0.76 m) wide by 2 feet (0.61 m) tall (0.8m by 0.6m). He also saw what he described as two "legs" supporting the craft. The bottom of the object was about 1 meter (3 ft) above the ground.

When he was less than 15 meters (50 ft) away, the object began making a loud noise and a blue-white flame shot from its underside. Zamora later noted that the flame was different from an ordinary flame, lacked smoke, and seemed to penetrate into the soil instead of being reflected off. The flame was tinged orange at the bottom.

The roar started out at a low frequency and was loud, then rapidly increased in pitch and became much louder. He wrote, "Thought, from roar, it might blow up." He dived to the ground and covered his head with his arms. The roar continued, but there was no explosion.

Panicked, Zamora got up, turned around, and ran back to his car, shooting glances over his shoulder to keep an eye on the object as it rose higher. Still quite startled and "afraid of the roar," Zamora ran into his car, stumbled and fell, temporarily losing his glasses. He got up and ran about another 15 meters (50 ft) across the dirt road and dived down behind the rise. As he was running, at about 25 feet (7.6 m) from the car, Zamora glanced back and saw that the object had risen approximately to the level of the car, some 6-7.5 meters (20-25 feet) above the arroyo bottom.

The object continued its ascent as Zamora watched, crouched down. He wrote, "The object seemed to lift up slowly" and then flew away. Once it was airborne and began its departure, the roar stopped; it didn't emit any flame, smoke or sound.

After the craft went silent and started to leave, Zamora quickly ran back to his car, keeping the object in sight. He retrieved his glasses, got into the driver's seat and called in on his two-way radio, all the time watching the object. It initially departed horizontally about 3 to 4.5 meters (10-15 feet) above the ground, rapidly picked up speed, then went into a steep climb as it approached the mountains, fading from view about 9.6 kilometers (6 miles) distant to the southwest.

The entire encounter — from his first noting the "explosion" as it landed to the object's flying away over the horizon — had lasted about two minutes. The entire departure — from the time the object cleared the arroyo, went silent, and finally disappeared in the distance — lasted about 10-20 seconds. The latter time can be used to compute an approximate departure speed and has important implications about the nature of the craft.

Not long after the object disappeared, one of Zamora's colleagues, Sgt. Chavez, arrived at the scene. He thought that Zamora was quite disturbed; his face was "white, very pale." Chavez said, "You look like you've seen the devil." Zamora replied "Maybe I have."

Zamora related his account of what had happened, and then he and Chavez examined the scene. There were four rectangular impressions in the sand where the object's landing pads had been, plus smaller impressions that Zamora presumed were footprints of the occupants. Some of the nearby shrubs were scorched and smoldering. One of the shrubs near where the center of the craft had been was sliced cleanly in half. The ground there was blackened in a circle and some of the sand and rocks had been vitrified or changed into a glass-like state.

Though Chavez had known Zamora for years, and judged him a sober, reliable police officer, the story seemed too much to believe. Chavez briefly entertained the possibility that the affair was a hoax, and secretly examined Zamora's car for tools or equipment he might have used to create the physical evidence at the scene; he found nothing of the sort.

A few minutes after Chavez had arrived, several other officials came to the scene after hearing Zamora's call on the radio: Police officers Ted V. Jordan, James Luckie and Cattle Inspector Robert White.

Jordan had a camera and took extensive photos of the scene starting about 10 minutes after the craft left. Jordan would later comment, "The flame from that damn thing just sliced that greasewood bush in half, just burned it off clean like a blade of fire had cut right through it."

The men discussed the encounter and determined that the likeliest explanation was that the craft was from White Sands Proving Ground, though Zamora insisted the craft's occupants were far smaller than adult men. They all left the scene by 7:00 p.m.

[edit] Witnesses, investigation and publicity

Within hours, word of Zamora's encounter had reached the news: many people had heard the radio traffic, including a few reporters. Within days, reporters from the Associated Press and United Press International were in Socorro. Members of civilian UFO study group APRO were on the scene within two days, as were officers representing the U.S. Air Force's Project Blue Book. NICAP investigators appeared the following Tuesday. The first NICAP investigator was Ray Stanford, who would later write a detailed book account of his investigation (see references).

[edit] Other witnesses

Several independent witnesses reported either an "egg" shaped craft, or a bluish flame in roughly the same time and area that Zamora reported his encounter — some of them within minutes of their encounter, before word of Zamora's had spread. Unfortunately, other witness reports are of limited value, as they were not reported until years after the fact.

Stanford wrote about a number of corroborating witnesses in his book, including two tourists named Paul Kies and Larry Kratzer, who were approaching Socorro in their car from the southwest, less than a mile from the landing site. They apparently witnessed the landing and reported seeing the flame and brownish dust being kicked up. Their story was reported in the Dubuque, Iowa Telegraph-Herald a few days later after their return.

A family of five tourists from Colorado headed north also saw the oval object as it approached Socorro at a very low altitude, going east to west just south of town. It passed directly over their car only a few feet above it. After the encounter, the tourists stopped for gas in Socorro. Their identity was never discovered, but the story was learned from the service station operator, Opal Grinder, who signed an affidavit in 1967. According to Grinder, the husband told him "Your aircraft sure fly low around here!" and that the object almost took the roof off their car. The man thought it was in trouble since it came down west of the highways instead of the nearby airport. He saw the police car headed up the hill towards it, he thought to render assistance. (Stanford, p. 16)

According to Stanford, another witness called an Albuquerque television station around 5:30 p.m. to report an oval object at low altitude traveling slowly south towards Socorro. (Stanford, p. 82)

Stanford also noted that there were a large number of hearing witnesses to the object's loud roar during takeoff and landing. One member of the Socorro sheriff's office told him that "hundreds of persons" on the south side of town had heard it. Stanford said he personally spoke to two women who heard the roar just before 6 p.m. They said that there were two distinct roars, maybe a minute or so apart. (Stanford, pp. 85-87)

In addition to the above witnesses, Stanford said there were three other persons who called the police dispatcher immediately following the incident, before it was ever publicized.

[edit] Air Force investigation

The evening of the encounter, Army Captain Richard T. Holder (then the senior officer at White Sands, as the higher-ranking officers had gone home for the weekend) and FBI agent Arthur Byrnes, Jr. together interviewed Zamora. However, for reasons that remain unclear, the FBI asked that their presence at the scene be kept quiet.(Druffel, 213) Zamora speculated that the object was some kind of newly-developed craft being tested at White Sands or at nearby Holloman Air Force Base. Holder shot down this idea, and was later quoted in a Socorro newspaper as saying, that there was in military custody "no object that would compare to the object described ... There was no known firing mission in progress at the time of the occurrence that would produce the conditions reported."

After interviewing Zamora, Holder and several military police officers went to the scene. Using flashlights, they cordoned off the site, took measurements and took samples of the sand and the scorched bushes. The claim of "fused sand" being recovered from the landing site was for some time unsubstantiated; even Hynek said he had not heard such rumors during his investigations. (Druffel, 218)

The next morning — a Sunday — Holder took a telephone call from a Colonel at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As a young Captain, Holder was surprised and nervous to be speaking to such an important high-ranking officer. At the Colonel's command, Holder gave a report of his investigation, over a secure scrambled line. Even years later, Holder would wonder[3] about such important U.S. military officials, "why in the world were they so interested?"

Astronomer J. Allen Hynek (Blue Book's consultant) arrived in Socorro on Tuesday, April 28. He met with Zamora and Chavez, and interviewed them about the encounter. Hynek and Air Force Major Hector Quintanilla initially thought the sighting might be explained as a test of a Lunar Excursion Module, though after some investigation, Hynek determined that this could be definitely ruled out as an explanation for what Zamora saw. (Druffel, 213) In a memorandum Hynek wrote[4] that "Zamora & Chavez were very anti-AF [Air Force]". The Air Force was suggesting that the affair was a hoax, but Zamora was "pretty sore at being regarded as a romancer" and it took over half an hour for Hynek to "thaw him out" and hear the account from the only eyewitness.

Hynek also wrote[5] that "The AF is in a spot over Socorro:" they were also suggesting that the encounter was due to Zamora's having seen an unidentified military craft, though, as noted above, no craft could be matched to Zamora's report. Hynek agreed with many others that this explanation "won't go down" as plausible.

Hynek further wrote[6] "I think this case may be the 'Rosetta Stone' ... There's never been a strong case with so unimpeachable a witness." Also noting his growing frustration with Blue Book, Hynek wrote, "The AF doesn't know what science is."

[edit] The Fused Sand

In 1968, physicist and UFO researcher James E. McDonald located Mary G. Mayes, who asserted that when she was a University of Arizona doctoral student in radiation biology, she had been asked "to analyze plant material from the Socorro site. Afterwards, she was to turn in all records and samples, and heard no more about it." (Druffel, 218)

When interviewed by McDonald, Mayes reported that she and two others had worked on studying physical evidence from the Socorro site, but she could not remember the names of the others. According to Mayes, she had examined the site the day after the event, and had gathered plant samples for analysis. Mayes later determined that the plants which had allegedly been burnt by the UFO's flames were, unusually, "completely dried out". (Druffel, 219) Mayes also found no evidence of radiation, but found "two organic substances" she was unable to identify. (Druffel, 219)

Mayes also reported to McDonald an area of apparently "fused sand", where the sand had taken on a glassy appearance, near where the object had allegedly landed and then departed. The area of glassy sand was roughly triangular, measuring about 25 to 30 inches (760 mm) at its widest, though it gradually tapered down to about 1 inch wide; it seemed about a quarter of an inch thick. Mayes thought the glassy areas looked as if a "hot jet hit it." (Druffel, 219)

Mayes said she would investigate to determine the other people who investigated the site, but McDonald's files give no indication she ever contacted him about the subject. (Druffel, 219)

[edit] Object speed and acceleration

According to reconstructions of the event from Zamora's account, the time was probably no more than 20 seconds from when the object went to silent operation, rapidly accelerated, and then faded from view near Box Canyon, a distance of about 6 miles (9.7 km). Assuming constant acceleration, these numbers can be used to estimate the object's acceleration, average speed, and final speed. The acceleration would be given by 2d/t^2, where d is the distance of 6 miles (9.7 km) or about 9600 meters, and t is the time of 20 seconds. The final speed would be 2d/t and the average speed d/2. This works out to a final speed of 2160 miles/hour, an average speed of 1080 miles/hour, and an acceleration of 48 meters/sec^2, or almost 5 times Earth gravity of 9.8 meters/sec^2.

These high values rule out many conventional explanations, such as a helicopter or balloon. A high-performance jet aircraft or rocket propulsion could conceivably produce the accelerations and supersonic speeds, but neither forms of propulsion are silent. The Air Force report on the incident also said they did analysis of the soil and found no evidence of chemical propellants, as might be expected from a jet or most rocket engines. Further, no craft back then was capable of vertical take-off and such high speeds. The oval object described by Zamora also lacked any wings or other external structures that might have provided lift.

[edit] Aftermath

Zamora became so tired of the subject that he eventually avoided both ufologists and the Air Force, taking a job managing a gasoline station.

[edit] Hoax Claims and Rebuttals

Some debunkers suggested that the affair was a hoax. Harvard astronomer Donald Menzel first suggested that Zamora had been the victim of a complex prank engineered by high school students who "planned the whole business to 'get' Zamora." (Hynek suggested this to some Socorro citizens, who discounted the idea). Years later, Menzel argued that Zamora had misidentified a dust devil.

Journalist and prominent UFO skeptic Philip J. Klass first suggested that the Zamora sighting was due to misidentified ball lightning. When this debunking was itself debunked (notably by atmospheric physicist Dr. James E. McDonald), Klass switched gears and suggested the Zamora sighting was part of a scheme Zamora had invented with Socorro's then mayor, Holm Bursum, Jr, to attract tourism. (In 1964, Bursum owned the land where Zamora's encounter occurred). Klass claimed that Bursum hoped Zamora's "fabricated" UFO story would lure tourists to Socorro, and Bursum could then develop the UFO landing site into a tourist attraction. Both Bursum and Zamora consistently denied these accusations as ridiculous, and even after Zamora's sighting gained national publicity the landing site was never developed. As of 2006, the landing site reportedly remains much as it was in 1964.

[edit] Blue Book Conclusion

The Air Force issued their formal report on June 8, 1964. Jerome Clark suggested the report is "riddled with errors," including the claim that there were no other witnesses (several reported their sightings within minutes of Zamora's encounter), and the claim that there were no disturbances to the soil (manifestly false, based on Jordan's photos of the scene taken less than an hour after the encounter). Noting that they made no conclusion as to the object's origin (other than to rule out the extraterrestrial hypothesis), the "Air Force was continuing its investigation, and the case is still open."

However, in a secret report prepared for the CIA, Project Blue Book's director, Major Hector Quintanilla (sometimes criticized for a perceived debunk-on-sight approach) offered further details regarding the Zamora case, "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."[1]

[edit] Sources

  1. ^ Could 1964 UFO be lunar lander?
  2. ^ quotes from Zamora's official police report, partly reprinted in Clark, 1998
  3. ^ see Clark, 1998
  4. ^ quoted in Clark, 1998
  5. ^ see Clark, 1998
  6. ^ see Clark, 1998
  • Jerome Clark; The UFO Book: Encyclopedia of the Extraterrestrial; Visible Ink, 1998; ISBN 1-57859-029-9
  • Ann Druffel; Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald's Fight for UFO Science; 2003, Wild Flower Press; ISBN 0-926524-58-5
  • Ray Stanford, Socorro 'Saucer' in a Pentagon Pantry, 1976, Blueapple Books, ISBN 0-917092-00-7 (most complete investigation and account of Zamora case)
  • Brad Steiger, Project Blue Book, 1976, Ballantine Books, ISBN 0-345-26091-0 (contains Air Force's account with maps, Zamora's account, reports of J. Allen Hynek)

[edit] External links

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