Files declassified: UFO investigations in Utah

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HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Once upon a time, the United States Air Force spent time and money chasing flying saucers, extraterrestrial beings and other unexplained phenomena reported to be occupying our skies.

Although those days have long since vanished, recently released documents — which many in the UFO community consider to be Holy Grail — now allow anyone with Internet access to relive the days when UFOs were considered enough of a national security threat for the Defense Department to conduct thousands of investigations on reported sightings.

In January, the Air Force’s fabled “Project Blue Book” was released in a searchable online archive by UFO aficionado and government open-records crusader John Greenewald. Project Blue Book contains nearly 130,000 pages of official Air Force UFO records documenting almost 13,000 UFO sightings (701 of which remain unidentified) across the country between 1947 and 1969.

Greenewald pursued the records for nearly two decades. After filing countless Freedom of Information Act requests, he released them on his website, theblackvault.com, on Jan. 12.

Greenewald, who is now 33, says he filed his first FOIA request when he was just 15 years old. He says his site features more than 1.3 million declassified government documents that he’s compiled since 1996. The subject matter is dense and covers a variety of different topics ranging from celebrity FBI files to the Cold War and biological and chemical weapons.

Though he’s passionate about UFO material, Greenewald told the Washington Post his real aim is to inform. He says he will pursue any government secret he can.

The Project Blue Book has been available for research in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., but even for those who had the means to travel to it, the file has been extremely hard to navigate. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, the Blue Book file includes “approximately two cubic feet of unarranged project or administrative files, 37 cubic feet of case files where individual sightings are arranged chronologically, and three cubic feet of records relating to the Office of Special Investigations.” A cubic foot of records translates to about 2,000 pages.

But now, with just a few strokes on a computer keypad and a couple of mouse clicks, the information is more accessible than it’s ever been.

Although searching through the site’s more than 10,000 PDF files can be a daunting task, there are many Northern Utah UFO accounts that might interest eager Top of Utah citizens.

One of the earliest accounts in the files comes from two Airmen stationed at Hill in the late 1940s. 

According to the file, on May 25, 1949, an assistant air inspector named Oakley Gordon and a lieutenant named Wilfred Gable said they witnessed two blue- and silver disc-shaped objects flying at approximately 300 mph, southeast of Hill’s salvage yard. 

After the pair reported the sighting, an investigation was requested by P.R. Burnett, who was listed as the district commander of the 16th District Office of Special Investigations at Hill. 

The investigation found that a P-51 airplane took off around the same time of Gordon and Gable’s sighting, but the pilot of the plane was interviewed and said he didn’t see any flying objects resembling what the pair saw. The investigation also found that a weather balloon was released at Hill during the time of the sighting, but doesn’t conclude that it was what the Airmen likely saw.

“I heard a plane overhead, which sounded to me to be quite high,” Gordon said in a written account he submitted as part of the investigation. “I looked into the sky in the direction from which the sound seemed to be coming, and could not discern the plane. However, in scanning the sky, I observed a globular object traveling slightly east of south, at what I estimated to be approximately the same speed that a C-47 travels.”

Gordon indicated that the height and speed of the object indicated something other than a weather balloon.

Most of the names in the Blue Book records are redacted, but for some reason Gordon and Gable’s names were kept visible. 

Another Northern Utah account involving defense officials took place Feb. 20, 1964, at the Ogden Defense Depot when a police guard, identified only by the last name of Harrop, reported a fiery, pulsating object fell at an extreme speed behind the north ridge of Ogden Canyon.

The man reported that the object had a tail about 10 times bigger than the object itself and did not resemble a “shooting or falling star.”

A Hill Air Force Base investigation on the man’s claim, which also determined Harrop to be a “mature individual,” found no explanation for the sighting.

“There are no known experimental aircraft or missile firings … in the area at the time of the sighting,” said an intelligence report from the investigation. “All logical leads have been developed and reported in regard to this sighting.” 

During that same year, on July 20, a group of maintenance employees at Thiokol near Brigham City reported seeing two V-shaped objects flying at a high rate of speed in the night sky for about three seconds before fading into darkness.

The Air Force investigation that followed the sighting determined the three men who reported the incident all “appear(ed) to be emotionally stable, but found that the ‘Sighting’ (was) descriptive of an observation of two low-flying birds observed at night. Moon just setting.”

About five years after those 1960s sightings, the Air Force stopped investigating them altogether. According the NARA, Project Blue Book officially ended in 1969, and the Air Force hasn’t conducted any investigations since then.

The Air Force put out an official statement on Project Blue Book, which can be found on the NARA website, way back in 1985. 

The Air Force said then that the decision to discontinue UFO investigations was based on an evaluation of a report prepared by the University of Colorado that determined that “no UFO reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security … (and) there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ’unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.”

Hill spokesman Micah Garbarino said the 75th Operations Support Squadron, the unit which runs the airfield at the base, has not received any recent reports, calls or emails of sighting UFOs. 

According to official UFO guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration, citizens “wanting to report UFO or unexplained phenomena activity should contact a UFO/unexplained phenomena reporting data collection center, such as the National UFO Reporting Center.”

The guideline also states that if “concern is expressed that life or property might be endangered, report the activity to the local law enforcement department.”

If any reports are received, Garbarino said, Hill’s Air Traffic Control or Airfield Management Operations would provide the FAA procedures to the reporting agency or person.

But Hill also leaves the tiniest sliver of hope that they could, theoretically, get back in the UFO game.

“Hill Air Force Base does not investigate any claims to UFO (or) unexplained phenomena,” Garbarino said in a statement. “Unless requested by Headquarters Air Force.”