THE UFO BRIEFING
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THE ROSWELL CASE
In the middle of the first major American wave of UFO sightings in 1947, while the country was intrigued by reports of strange disc-shaped craft flying erratically overhead, an unusual crash was reported on a sheep ranch northwest of Roswell, in central New Mexico.
The first government officials on the scene were Roswell Army Air Field intelligence officer, Major Jesse Marcel, and counter-intelligence corps Captain Sheridan Cavitt. According to Marcel, they surveyed a large area littered with unrecognizable debris. After careful examination, they brought two carloads back to Roswell.
Roswell AAF Public Information Officer, Lt. Walter Haut, distributed a press release describing the U.S. Army Air Forces' acquisition of "the remains of a flying disc". The story spread quickly across the country and around the world. A few hours after the news release, the commander of the 8th Air Force, Brig. Gen. Roger Ramey, announced to a small press conference that there had been a mistake: the debris consisted of nothing more than the remains of a common weather balloon.
Newspapers and radio stations carried the story of the exciting discovery, and then of its mundane explanation. The "crashed flying saucer" story vanished, not to be heard of again for more than 30 years. UFOs continued to fill the skies and the public imagination, but the thought that one of them might have crashed was barely considered.
In the late 1970's, private UFO researchers began to raise questions regarding the weather balloon explanation. First-hand witnesses, such as Major Marcel, described in detail the large quantity of completely unfamiliar materials which covered a vast area of 50 acres. As more was learned, the chances of the Air Force having correctly identified the debris seemed increasingly remote.
Major Marcel and other technically competent witnesses described metallic foil lighter than household aluminum, yet impossible to crease, puncture, cut or burn. They also found slender I-beams, similarly light and strong, which carried undecipherable symbols embossed on their sides.
The first book on the subject was published in 1980: The Roswell Incident, by Charles Berlitz and William Moore. It made a strong case for the "Roswell crash" having been a UFO rather than a balloon, due to the nature of the recovered materials, their wide dispersal, and the behavior of the security-conscious military.
Interest grew and more investigators went to work, locating and interviewing additional witnesses. By the late 1980's, it had become the most thoroughly investigated and best authenticated of all reported UFO crashes. There would soon be four books and scores of papers and television programs devoted to this single episode.
In the early 1990's, the refusal of the Air Force to comment publicly on the growing dispute, led to a formal request for information from Rep. Steven Schiff (R-NM), in whose district the crash had occurred. His inability to get a satisfactory answer from the Pentagon led him then to request the General Accounting Office to conduct a search for official documents related to the event.
The first official statement by the Air Force in a quarter century came in September 1994. This report explained that the debris found at Roswell was from a crash of then secret constant-altitude balloons designed to carry scientific equipment to detect Soviet nuclear explosions. Test flights of clusters of these balloons launched from Alamogordo, NM, were part of a classified program called "Project Mogul", (which never became operational.)
In July 1995, the GAO reported to Rep. Schiff that it had been unable to find documents explaining what really happened in the desert in 1947. It concluded that many documents from the Roswell Army Air Force base had been improperly destroyed, and that "the debate over what crashed at Roswell continues."
In September 1995, the Air Force released a 1,000-page report reinforcing its position that a Project Mogul balloon cluster was responsible for all the furor. It never quite said that a Mogul balloon rig had crashed on the sheep ranch, only that this was a possibility.
In fact, there is no evidence in any official report that such a balloon came anywhere near the sheep ranch, only that two such clusters were never found, and thus might have landed there. At the same time, the Air Force discounted the possibility that the debris could have been the result of the crash of a military airplane, the impact of a test rocket or missile, or any sort of nuclear accident.
With the GAO stating it had found no evidence for a Mogul balloon, and the Air Force eliminating most other possible explanations, the crash remains that of an unidentified flying object.
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