Tuesday, September 8, 2009

UFOs, One Year at a Time: 1951 Revisited

The Bethune Flight 124 air miss of 1951
Feb. 10, 1951; off Newfoundland, Canada

On the night of the UFO encounter, a four engine Navy R5D transport was flying west over the Atlantic. On this trip the 30-year-old pilot was bringing two flight crews home from special duty in Europe. Including his own crew there were over twenty-five pilots, navigators and flight engineers aboard the transport. The National Archives turned up a number of supporting documents on this case, including Air Intelligence Information Reports by five of the crew members. Although it isn't documented, reports indicate the object was tracked by ground radar.

On February 10, a US Navy flight, Atlantic/Continental Air Transport Squadron one, located at USN Air Station, Patuxent River, Maryland, was out of Keflavik, Iceland at 49-50 degrees north latitude and 50-03 degrees west longitude about 150 kilometers [90 miles] west of Gander, Newfoundland out over the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft was probably bound for Gander to refuel judging by its position and course of 230 degrees true, though the report does not mention this. US Naval Reserve Lieutenant Graham Bethune, copilot of Flight 125, was occupying the captains seat on the left side of the cockpit in the passenger plane when he first sighted a huge object [at least] 300 feet in diameter on a near collision course with their aircraft.

The copilot stated in his official report, ³...I observed a glow of light below the horizon about 1,000 to 1,500 feet [330-470 meters] above the water. We both [the pilot as well] observed its course and motion for about 4 or 5 minutes before calling it to the attention of the other crew members. . . .Suddenly its angle of attack changed. Its altitude and size increased as though its speed was in excess of 1,000 miles [1,670 kilometers] per hour. It closed in so fast that the first feeling was we would collide in mid air. At this time its angle changed and the color changed. It then [appeared] definitely circular and reddish orange on its perimeter. It reversed its course and tripled its speed until it was last seen disappearing over the horizon.²

The copilot¹s report goes on to say that the object came within five miles of their aircraft which was borne out by radar evidence of the encounter because the object had been tracked by DEW Line Ground Radar at the base in Goose Bay, Labrador.

Submitted by Don Ledger.

UFOs at Close Sight http://www.ufologie.net/htm/bethune51.htm:

On the night of the February 10, 1951, a four engine Navy R5D transport was flying West over the Atlantic. On this trip the 30-year-old pilot was bringing two flight crews home from special duty in Europe. Including his own crew there were over twenty-five pilots, navigators and flight engineers aboard the transport. The National Archives turned up a number of supporting documents on this case, including Air Intelligence Information Reports by five of the crew members. Although it isn't documented, reports indicate the object was tracked by ground radar. Publicly, the Air Force made several attempts to explain the sighting as the aurora borealis (northern lights) or a meteor or a fireball or the Moon, but behind the scenes the encounter was being taken very seriously. The number and quality of UFO sightings in the region in 1950 prompted the government of Iceland to request military aid from the United States. Apparently what we know today as UFOs were interpreted as experimental Soviet bombers. After 50 years of waiting, no craft with this description or performance has shown up in any Earthly inventory, Russian or American. This event, and others like it, prompted the development of the Air Defense Command.

The debriefing by the ATIC (the Air Technical Intelligence Center) resulted in report that went to Project Twinkle. But when Commander Graham Bethune, the co-pilot in the R5D finally saw the report in 1990, the UFO was explained away as aurora borealis, what is commonly known as the Northern lights. Anger seized Graham Bethune, an experienced pilot who had done the crossing of Northern Atlantic more than 200 times, when he discovered that he was and his crew were supposed to have seen northern lights and confuse them with an interplanetary spaceship.

Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe:
When the plane landed, the entire crew was interrogated by AF Intelligence officers. At their destination, Patuxent Naval Air Station in Maryland, the pilot and the rest were questioned again by Naval Intelligence and required to sign full reports. Later, a government scientist (supposedly from the CIA) confidentially showed the pilot secret UFO photos - one portraying a disc like the one over the Atlantic. In a final interview, the commander was interviewed by Air Technical Intelligence officers at Wright-Patterson AFB. But none of the Navy or Air Force men, or the government scientist, would answer any questions about the UFOs. Source: Aliens From Space, 96


One of the Best UFO story's of all time is the Bethune/Gander incident of February 10, 1951 and this case involved credible qualified observers that were U.S. Navy personel Flying in a C-54 Aircraft at 10,000 ft. that observed an unidentified object over the Atlantic Ocean, near Newfoundland Canada for about 8 minutes.

Flight crew members said an orange rimmed with dark center UFO was approximately 300 ft. in diameter and was first spotted hovering over the water. As their plane approached and got closer to the object the UFO must have been startled by the unexpected visitors and began to change colors and grow in size and made an advancement towards their position.

The giant UFO shot up towards them and the startled crew members banged their heads during an effort to try and duck for cover. the object then paced the Airplane and positioned itself about a hundred feet below and about 2 hundred feet ahead. after a short period the UFO reversed direction at a very sharp angle and disappeared over the horizon.
Although there is no picture of the object, there was enough witness testimony along with the object being tracked on DEW line ground radar at the base in Goose Bay, Labrador to validate the sighting. crew members upon landing were interrogated by Air Force intelligence officers and later interrogated by Naval intelligence. the entire crew was instructed to fill out reports about the incident. this event was registered in the project blue book records and the project card lists this sighting as an Aurora display !


The Gander case was drawn to the attention of debunker Philip J. Klass, who examined the Project Blue Book records, made an independent analysis, and reported his findings in one of his books "UFOs Explained (1974)." By establishing the exact position of the moon below the horizon, the presence of stratus clouds with ice crystals on the horizon, and the degree of below - the - horizon coverage due to refraction in the atmosphere, he concluded that what the pilots had seen and described was a lunar reflection, a "Sub Moon."

In my numerous years as a UFO investigator I have encountered many cases that prove to be misidentifications of unfamiliar objects, and occasionally of familiar objects seen under unusual conditions. But until my analysis of the Gander case, I would have had difficulty believing that so many experienced pilots and others in a flight crew could mistake the moon for a giant UFO that seemed to be zooming toward them on a collision course.

One contributing factor in the Gander case, may have been the fact that there had been a considerable number of UFO reports in the press during the several months preceding this incident, and in 1951 the possibility of alien spaceships was still a conceivable hypothesis.

Philip Klass actually re-issued the exploit of a non credible public explanation of the Navy at the time. He does not explain, though, why the sigthings were so carefully examined by the military investigators, if it was only a reflection of the moon as he claims or an aurora borealis as the Air Force's ATIC claimed. Not one of the witnesses agreed with such explanations.

Philip Klass has also failed to explain how a reflection of the moon can be detected by ground radar, and how it can be detected at the coordinates where the visual sighting occurs. Also unexplained, the process in which a reflection takes a collision course, then makes a U turn to avoid the collision.

He also forgot the other luminous spot that did not raise up to the plane on a collision course but stayed at the lower altitude. Had he not forgotten it, he would certainly have concluded that these other lights were reflection of Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn.


Lieutenant Graham Bethune, a main witness in this case, is now a retired US Navy commander pilot with a top-secret clearance. In 1951, Bethune was assigned to fly high-ranking US military officers and civilians from Keflavik, Iceland, to Ardentia, Newfoundland.

He added that he had felt lucky that his plane's control functions were mainly hydraulic rather than electrical. He said it was not until much later that he realized his sighting corresponded to the other unusual reports in Iceland, but he knew immediately that the object he saw could not have been a human aircraft. Bethune noted that his onboard magnetic compasses were spinning wildly while the mystery craft was nearby.

Graham E. Bethune said he had been told by military personnel in Iceland that there had been many other sightings of unusual aircraft in that area, which were assumed to be some new Soviet weapon.

Years later Bethune was able to retrieve the reports from the National Archives and confirmed that the UFO they encountered that night had traveled 10,000 feet straight up in a fraction of a second and was tracked on radar at 1,800 miles per hour, well exceeding the 500 miles-per-hour capacity of the most advanced man-made craft at that time.

Former naval commander Graham Bethune was typical of many giving evidence at the Project Disclosure press launch in Washington on May 9, 2001. He reminded the audience of how he was piloting between Iceland and Newfoundland on 10 February, 1951 and encountered the UFO:

We had 31 people on board and a psychiatrist ­ we all witnessed it," he said, before adding to raucous applause: "I will testify under oath before Congress that everything I have said is true.

February 19, 1951, Mount Kilimandjaro, Africa:

The regular East African Airways morning flight to Mombasa took off from the Nairobi West Airport in Kenya, Africa, on February 19, 1951 at 07:00 am. The Lockheed 18 "Lodestar" two engines airplane had 9 passengers, 7 men and 2 woman, and a crew of 2. The weather condition was that of a bright clear sky.

At 07:20 a.m., the plane's radio officer, Dennis W. Merrifield, called the pilot, Captain Bicknell, to draw his attention to a bright object like a white star or light, suspended in the sky about 10,000 ft, near Mount Kilimandjaro. The two observed the UFO for 3 minutes before calling it to the attention of the passengers. One of the passengers then proceeded to scrutinize it with a pair of powerful navy binoculars. Meanwhile the radio operator hurried off a description of the object and a resume of the encounter to Eastleigh, the nearest reception station.

The sighting was reported in the newspaper The Nairobi Sunday Post, in their February 25, 1951, issue, including statements by Captain Jack Bicknell:

"The Lodestar plane left Nairobi West at 7:00 a.m. At 7:20 a.m., the radio officer drew my attention to a bright object like a white star hanging motionless about 10,000 feet above Kilimandjaro. My first reaction was to say nothing. We watched it for three minutes. Then we told the passengers about it. One of them had a very powerful pair of binoculars with him and he began to study it. In the meantime, we put a radio message through to Eastleigh describing it. Eastleigh asked us to check whether it was a meteorological balloon. I then examined it for several minutes through the binoculars."
"Through the glasses, I saw a metallic, bullet shaped object which must have been over 200 feet long. At one end was a square-cut vertical fin. Its color was a dull silver, and at regular intervals along the fuselage were vertical dark bands. Its whole outline was clear and sharp and there was no haziness about it at all."

The passenger who had binoculars was an American, Captain H. B. Fussell, ret., a Newport, Monmouthshire, sports dealer. He reported:

"Through the glasses the object appeared bullet-shaped. The color was whitish-silver with three vertical black bands down the side. For 10 minutes it remained stationary, then it suddenly rose vertically by 5,000 ft. Again it became stationary, then a minute later, it rose again and moved laterally away at great speed, probably 400 mph."

When confronted with the theory that it might have been a balloon, Captain Fussell rejected that explanation:

"How could a balloon hover motionless and move at 400 mph in the same weather conditions? The object was definitely metallic."

Another passenger was a radio officer from the American freighter Robin Mowbray. He said:

"I couldn't swear to it but through the binoculars I thought I could identify a row of circular windows."

This passenger was accompanied by Charles J. Vernon, purser of the Robin Mowbray and also an American who said:

"The object must have been immense, two or three times the size of the largest passenger plane."

The suggestion that it was a balloon was thus eliminated. The Lodestar occupants continued to examine the clearly defined, bullet-shaped unknown. Three attempts were made to take photographs of the object. Charles J. Vernon photographed it, Captain Fussell took a picture with his miniature camera, and radio officer Overstreet shot 30 feet of color film with a telescopic lens on his cine camera.

After landing at Mombasa, Captain Fussell developed his film in the presence of a newspaper reporter and a commercial photographer, who could certify that the film was not faked or retouched. Three of his shots showed nothing and the fourth showed a small dark object. The shots by Charles Vernon showed nothing. Overstreet's film could not be developed immediately, color movie demanding a development facility that wasn't available. According to the newspaper Natal Mercury, "a passenger" took a film, that, when it was developed, did show a clear and sizeable image of the object.

Bicknell said that as the plane was some 50 miles from Mount Kilimandjaro:

"It was absolutely stationary, and remained that way for 17 minutes."


"I timed the object for 17 minutes while the Lodestar held its course. Twice it rose vertically to a final height of 40,000 ft. (12,500 metres), then it moved east towards the coast at a terrific speed."


"Then it began to move eastwards, rising as it did so. It disappeared at about 40,000 feet. The machine left no vapor trail, and it had no visible means of propulsion."
"My impression was that it was definitely a flying machine of some kind."

At some later date, both Bicknell and Merrifield stated that they felt the object was a craft of some sort, and Merrifield said that it must have been a machine ...

"... 500 years ahead of its time."

Bicknell made the following drawing of the object in the affidavit he immediately prepared after landing at Mombasa, which Merrifield and all the nine passengers signed:

The balloon or cloud possibility was definitely eliminated when after 17 minutes, the UFO began to rose, reaching a speed that was evaluated as about 1.000 miles per hour, and it disappeared from sight into the upper, cloudless sky.

Reporter Richard Heiden detailed the story and indicated that all nine passengers and the crew signed an affidavit giving a very clear report.

The was some mystery on the whereabouts of the film shot by Overstreet: Captain Bicknell said that he later learned that Overstreet was on his way to the United States to show the film to the authorities there. He said the name of the ship on which he was traveling was mentioned to him at the time, as well as the date of his expected arrival. But in spite of repeated requests from him for further news, he never managed to get any news as to the whereabouts of Overstreet and his color film.

The Natal Mercury newspaper in Durban, South Africa, had published both a story about the sighting and, it is believed, a photograph of the UFO, which was said to come from Ray Overstreet film of the object. Debunker James Moseley said there was no mystery to the film's fate: "The film exists; it was examined by the US Air Force. It was found to be little more than a bouncing bit of light and was returned."

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