Thursday, December 14, 2017

Socorro Again: Did Zamora Simply Make the Whole Thing Up?

In the previous posting, we talked about all of the new controversies swirling around the "classic" 1964 sighting of an alleged landed UFO by Patrolman Lonnie Zamora in Socorro, New Mexico. Was it a student hoax from the adjacent New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology? Was it the landing of a propane hot air balloon? A piece of space hardware being tested? Extraterrestrials?

The issue is that there are serious problems with all proposed explanations for what Zamora reportedly saw, prosaic or otherwise. The big problem is that Officer Chavez reportedly arrived at the site just three minutes after the sighting, and both of them were soon walking in the area where the object reportedly set down, leaving marks. Whatever craft reportedly landed there sure disappeared quickly.

Lonnie Zamora

Problems with Student Hoax Theory: How exactly did they pull it off, presumably using a balloon? How did they get rid of the balloon so quickly? For that matter, how did they disappear themselves from Zamora's sight so quickly? It would have to be like a magician's disappearing act. Also, serious attempts to investigate the student hoax theory have turned up plausible rumors and implications, but so far no solid and demonstrable facts.

Problems with a Propane Hot Air Balloon: Again, the main problems is having the balloon disappear so quickly. Some investigators claim that a balloon would have to move against the wind to move as Zamora recounted.

Problems with a Test of Space Hardware (Lunar Surveyor, or Lunar Excursion Module): Could not arrive and depart so quickly. The tests of the Lunar Surveyor were carried out towing the vehicle below a helicopter, which would surely have been visible and obvious. The LEM was reportedly tested near Socorro, but not until at least a year after the Zamora incident.

Problems with an Extraterrestrial Craft. Again, we have the problem of simply too little time for a device of any construction to blast itself away completely out of sight in a short time, while leaving behind very little disturbance or evidence of its departure - IF it is following the laws of physics.

To examine that question, we need to refer back to a "classic" 1967 peer-reviewed UFO article in Science [157, 1274] by astronomer Dr. William Markowitz, "Physics and Metaphysics of Unidentified Flying Objects." I wrote about it in some length in 2012  when discussing "Is Interstellar Travel "Preposterous"? Markowitz' article was obviously intended as a reply from the astronomical community to Hynek's letter published in Science the previous year, arguing that UFOs were worthy of scientific study [154, 329, 1966]. Markowitz cites some obvious inconsistencies in Hynek's statements about UFOs.

What Zamora reportedly saw.
Markowitz writes,
First I consider the physics of UFO’s when the laws of physics are obeyed. After that I consider the case where the laws of physics are not obeyed. The specific question to be studied is whether UFO’s are under extraterrestrial control... If an extraterrestrial spacecraft is to land nondestructively and then lift off, it must be able to develop a thrust slightly less than its weight on landing… if nuclear energy is used to generate thrust, then searing of the ground at 85,000 deg C should result, and nuclear decay production equivalent in quantity to those produced by an atomic bomb should be detected. This has not happened. Hence, the published reports of landing and lift-offs of UFO’s are not reports of spacecraft controlled by extraterrestrial beings, if the laws of physics are valid.

We can reconcile UFO reports with extraterrestrial control by assigning various magic properties to extraterrestrial beings. These include ‘teleportation’ (the instantaneous movement of material bodies between planets and stars), the creation of ‘force-fields’ to drive space ships, and propulsion without reaction. The last of these would permit a man to lift himself by his bootstraps. Anyone who wishes is free to accept such magic properties, but I cannot.

Longtime UFO author and Roswell investigator Kevin Randle wrote a very surprising Blog entry on December 9 titled "Lonnie Zamora as the Hoaxster" (sic). What makes this surprising is that Randle had just published a book a few weeks earlier titled  Encounter in the Desert: The Case for Alien Contact at Socorro. Randle appears to have gone from "Zamora saw aliens" to "Zamora probably just made it all up" in about sixty seconds. He wrote,
According to what we know, no one else saw the landed craft. No one else saw it lift off and disappear in seconds. No one else saw the little beings near the craft. All of this came from Zamora and if he wasn’t telling the truth about it, well, then, the hoax becomes easier to accept. Just assume that he hadn’t really seen all these things, and some of the arguments about the alien nature of the craft and its capabilities are no longer relevant. The whole thing becomes much simpler to explain in terrestrial terms...
Although many rejected the idea that Zamora had created the hoax on his own for some unknown reason, the Zamora hoax explanation is by far the simplest. It eliminates the need for a balloon either hot air or helium filled, it eliminates the need for other participants to create the illusion of something landing there, and it explains the lack of physical evidence that the hoax scenario should have left behind. If Zamora had done it, he just needed his shovel and a tape measure. Then he called the station to make his report and request that Chavez come out to meet with him. This also explains why none of those other people who said they had seen something ever came forward. All the rest of it, from the alien creatures, the banging of the hatch, the red symbol… all of it was so much window dressing created by Zamora.
And while that theory is applauded for its simplicity, it fails when other facts are figured into it. We can begin with the three telephone calls into the police station...I like this idea, that Zamora hoaxed it by himself because of the simplicity of it. However, when we add in other factors, all the factors, it seems that the theory is flawed. Hector Quintanilla suggested the solution for the case would probably be found in Zamora’s head, and had he hoaxed the thing, then Quintanilla had it right. But Zamora never suggested to anyone that he had made up the story, his friends and his actions that night seem to argue against hoax, and there is no real motivation for him to have created the hoax that included the landing site.
So while Randle goes a long way towards the theory that Zamora just made it all up, he doesn't quite go all the way down that path.
Hynek and Klass at the 1984 CSICOP Conference, at Stanford. They were not always buddy-buddies!
(Photo by Gary Posner).

One important point not previously noted is a comment about Socorro made by Blue Book scientific Consultant Dr. J. Allen Hynek. In a letter to arch-skeptic Philip J. Klass dated 23 January 1967, Hynek writes:
No matter what we say about the Zamora case, it is still, because of its one-witness character, a low-order case. It is a [Sigma]5 C4 case in my classification system: taken at face value the report has a high strangeness index, but a low credibility rating primarily because I do not go above 5 in my scale of 1 to 9 if there is only one witness. (p. 102 of the Socorro case documents scanned by Paul Dean,  emphasis added)
Note that Hynek judged the credibility of the Zamora case to be just 4 on a scale from 1 to 9. So to those who cite Zamora's reported 1964 sighting at Socorro as among the 'best ever,' we remind them that Hynek, who investigated the incident in depth, in person and on site, called it "a low-order case."


  1. I suspect Randle started getting flack about Socorro, so he decided it best to make a U-turn or try to outflank his critics by sort of abandoning his initial claims.

    The Zamora case just doesn't have legs. The business about Zamora's thick prescription lenses and whether his glasses were on or off during the sighting has a major impact on his witness credibility, since his vision would have been impaired without them. There are no verifiable corroborating witnesses, just rumors that there were. Zamora's initial report was of seeing a balloon. And there's that insignia and its similarity to the International Paper Company logo, which was a common sight in every business office at the time (those were the days when life depended on a steady supply of paper not electronic impulses).

    Then there's the business about whether the mayor did or didn't own the land where the sighting allegedly took place, and his purported hope the event would do for Socorro tourism what the alleged "flying disk crash" did for Roswell.

    No matter what one's feeling about UFOs, the Socorro sighting hardly seems to belong among the Ufology's best cases. It just feels staged to me is how I can best put it.

  2. Anthony sent me this for posting:


    Your mention that the student hoax of the Socorro sighting seems like a ‘magician’s disappearing act.’ Well, you would do well to acquaint yourself with the Magician’s Code:

    “The secret of an illusion should never be revealed unless to a student who also takes the oath.”

    Anthony J. Bragalia

  3. >> As he approached an arroyo, he saw what he first thought was an overturned car standing on end--taller than wide. He stopped his patrol car and saw, near the object, “two people in white coveralls…”<<

    .... There is a lot to this story that sounds like an "airship" tale from decades before. More than just wandering lights at night, many people told stories daylight landings of strange aircraft, meeting their very human wizard inventor-operators from faraway places, even other planets, and they spoke English too!

    Yes, Lonnie could have made the whole thing up. But is he really claiming so much?

    People regularly see things above and around military bases and test ranges they don't understand, usually just strange lights. Zamora said he saw two men in white coveralls and some sort of rocket or jet-powered flying machine. It had been flying, landed and then flew away, presumably with the two men seen near it aboard, if we choose to believe Lonnie's story is true and fairly accurate. And why not? He's not making any truly extraordinary claim.

    "NASA issued Bell a $50,000 study contract in December 1961. Bell had independently conceived a similar, free-flying simulator, and out of this study came the NASA Headquarters' endorsement of the LLRV concept, resulting in a $3.6 million production contract awarded to Bell on February 1, 1963, for delivery of the first of two vehicles for flight studies at the FRC within 14 months."

    Several times already I've posted pictures of that simulator or one like it from 1963. And even though I realize every example cost about a million, I find it hard to believe that Bell did not make others in R&D before finally delivering a fully operational product in 1964. A contractor simply could not sign a contract and not deliver. It was all about Bell making money, they did that by delivering product.

    Someone might say the LLRV was that R&D product, designed by Bell to NASA specifications and tested under NASA supervision. But then what was Bell doing for 14 months from early 1963 to April 1964?

  4. Call it an hypothesis for which there is plenty of circumstantial evidence. I've heard all the obvious objections to the idea for several years now: it didn't exist; it couldn't fly; the engine didn't work; it couldn't carry enough fuel; and it couldn't be off the test range.

    Yet we have Lonnie's story, somewhat confused as it is--he was in a frightened and confused state by the time it was over. And we have the anecdote from that day of the tourist commenting on the "funny looking helicopter" trailing black smoke.

    Maybe it was another project, a Hughes project has been suggested, much being made of the logo. And for the same reason, and Lonnie's description of the object going away, some have suggested it was a Weyerhaeuser balloon. And on seeing Lonnie, the two men in white coveralls got into its gondola and flew away. But there's too much of his description that's unlike a balloon.

    I also agree with the point that a lander of any kind suspended by cable from a helicopter seems unlikely. Certainly Lonnie would know a helicopter. And we'd have to dismiss the jet flame and roaring portion of the story. If we can't accept that being accurate then why accept any of the rest?

    The jet-powered lander prototype hypothesis doesn't require anything not found on Earth at the time: “two people in white coveralls," a hotshot pilot and a technician, and a jet-powered piece of machinery that was being developed for the space program.

    Maybe Lonnie appeared so shaken up because he was lying. I don't believe that. If you're going to lie, why not tell a whopper? Was it the best "flying saucer" story Lonnie could make up? No, as I've said, the man saw some very earthly machine that he simply didn't understand. He could not comprehend what he saw, then it made a lot of noise that frightened him greatly. And his experience was transformed into a "UFO" report.

    And finally, maybe the people responsible for this jet-powered flying machine operating out of White Sands that day--if they were ever asked--simply refused to acknowledge its existence. We were in a space race! And the military's "UFO" public relations program and its need to know didn't even begin to approach breaching space program secrecy.

  5. There is one other hypothesis: astronomer Steuart Campbell believes that Zamora, whose glasses had fallen off, saw a mirage of the star Canopus (which is visible at that latitude), and that the bangs Zamora thought were doors slamming, were actually static 'pops' from his police radio.

    1. Oh, not Steuart Campbell... he thought almost everything was a mirage and I don't think anyone ever agreed. Certainly not in this case.

    2. I read his UFO book many years ago, and certainly thought his explanations were 'tortured'. I can't even remember how he rationalised Zamora describing the object as flying.

  6. Again, I have to ask if any of this matters? I get the impression that most of the people here aren't really concerned with the truth, just with scoring points against the other side, like lawyers resorting to legal technicalities to win their case irrespective of whether or not the defendant is actually guilty.

    Which leaves you as open to mockery and whatever the opposite of debunking is (redebunking?) as ufologists who can never admit they're wrong about things that have to be true because their faith depends on it. Inventing idiotically flawed "explanations" like some of the foolishness proposed here about this ultimately very trivial incident makes it seem as though skeptics are a desperately insecure bunch who need to make up stupid theories that don't work because they fear that if something remains unexplained they'll have to admit it's aliens.

    As Sherlock Holmes once said, it's a bad mistake to theorise when you don't have all the facts, and this is something that happened over 50 years ago and mostly depends on the testimony of one man who, assuming he was telling the truth as best he could, briefly observed an unknown object under conditions that make his testimony likely to be flawed for multiple reasons, and who has since died of old age.

    We'll never know all the facts, so an honestly skeptical response is to admit that we don't know for sure exactly what happened, and theoretically Lonnie Zamora might indeed have seen an extraterrestrial spaceship. But he might also have seen a great many other things, nearly all of which are vastly more plausible than space aliens.

    Leaving aside the absurdities of the not entirely sane Steuart Campbell, the kind of skeptic who would be a huge embarrassment to you all if he wasn't too boring to be well-known outside an ultra-skeptical clique, the Iron Skeptic's ongoing quest to be a big fish in a small and increasingly stagnant pond (there are more similarities between MUFON and CSIentology than either of you like to admit) means he has to be the genius who solved this case once and for all, even if the jigsaw won't fit together the way he wants it to without the use of a hammer.

    Visiting the Wikipedia page he selectively quote-mines above, I read that the "flying bedstead" could fly for a maximum of 10 minutes at a top speed of 40 mph. If we're talking about a return-trip from its base to the desert just outside Socorro and back again, at very most with no margin for error, that's 5 minutes' flying-time each way. I'm sure you can all work out for yourselves how close to Socorro this top secret astronaut training facility must have been, if it existed. Oh, and by the way, the LLRV only carried one pilot.

    Ah, but wait! This was an extra-specially-top-secret two-man long-range prototype, and the fact that this particular version of an obsolete gadget ever existed has been concealed by a massive government conspiracy for over half a century Because Reasons. With that kind of logic, you could prove that a flying saucer crashed at Roswell in 1947. Oh, hang about, I think just about everybody you disagree with already has...

  7. Count Otto:

    The Bell 1963 free-flying LLRV prototype seated TWO in a standard helicopter cockpit under a Lexan canopy. A ground support team could have placed this prototype all over White Sands.

    The general opinion of interested local New Mexicans and some Blue Book investigators in 1964 was that Zamora had seen some space-related project operating out of the test range. Some even suggested the LLRV specifically. It's simply a matter of what, most plausibly, that project was.

    Finding a picture of the 1963 prototype that combines Zamora's conflicting descriptions didn't require genius, just good sense and open eyes while searching for a better answer.

    Any other objections? I've repeatedly stated my reservations about this typical even classic "UFO" report, but conclude that Zamora is not claiming so much, and with enough detail, that it's probably fairly accurate. The man simply saw something he failed to understand.

    Scientific skeptics doubt that any extraordinary explanations are required to explode the "UFO" myth and delusion in all of its many expressions. In practice, as with scientific hypotheses, we regularly determine a best, most plausible explanation for a "UFO" report.

    Your "scepticism" seems to dictate that you can never make a determination, you're "agnostic," and so "UFO" reports remain undecided and forever under consideration--and so does the entire "UFO" myth. Such "scepticism" is pseudoscientific.

    Your other observation, that skeptics and believer are somehow equal, is simply a false comparison: certainly true beliefs are not equivalent to certainly false beliefs.

    The LLRV prototype images that support my argument are of a hard reality; the images of balloon debris on General Ramey's office floor do not support a fantasy, the false belief in the ETH.

    Still waiting for you to reveal "the big picture."

    See you soon!

    1. What's the evidence that these things ever operated outside the test range? I thought the whole point of a test range was that it was where things could be... tested.

    2. Sometimes things do not go exactly as planned.

      The northwest corner of the test range is adjacent to Socorro and the landscape of the entire area is fairly homogeneous: eroded, weathered, relatively featureless earth and rocks in shades of gray and beige. An environment in which a test pilot might easily find himself outside of an imaginary line.

      But yours is a reasonable objection; and the same objection would apply to the Lunar Surveyor test that occurred on that day--an explanation for Zamora's report that is equally plausible. The difference is that the 1963 Bell LLRV prototype might be a better physical match for Lonnie's report since it's a composite of his conflicting descriptions.

  8. From what I’ve seen, the LLRVs were difficult to fly and dangerously close to instability, particularly when affected by winds — not the kind of thing to go gallivanting around the countryside in, either by accident or design, where they would be out of sight of the engineers monitoring them. And they didn’t have flames underneath. Have a look at some of the test flight footage on YouTube. As far as I can find, all the flight testing was done at Edwards AFB.
    So, an LLRV does not seem to fit what Zamora claimed to have seen.
    Seems we are inching back towards Uncle Phil’s old hoax theory.

  9. I hear you, Ian. One of the two legs of the "UFO" myth is wishful faith in air technology; and I may be guilty of that here. But I've never been afraid to speculate. The LLRV prototype solution to Zamora's report is wildly speculative, as I've always conceded, but that's the nature of the case: a wild story told by one man. It's much the opposite of your brilliant debunking of the RendleSham, an event loaded with people, verifiable facts and physical evidence. And I won't argue the case again but will address your points.

    First we must allow that Lonnie really did see something and he reported it fairly accurately, then we have a basis for an informed speculation and maybe even a real solution.

    Yes, it would have taken a real hot shot with the right stuff to pilot the "taller than wide" 1963 LLRV prototype. We know at least one example existed and it was free flying. Yes, it would have required a ground support team--all operating out of Bell White Sands. I think it's reasonable that R&D would have continued at White Sands even as the first proper LLRV was being delivered to Edwards. Yes, the aircraft was powered by an existing jet engine but it also had four rockets that could account for the roaring and flame.

    It would be easy to fall back to Dave Thomas' Lunar Surveyor solution and leave it there, and that Lonnie grossly misinterpreted what he saw. But that's not what he described. What he described--unlike popular depictions--was a machine that at a distance was "taller than wide" and that only appeared to be a sphere on four legs as it blasted off and back into his sight, up close, above his head and going away.

    Believe me, Ian, as a dedicated PSHer, I know that most CE stories are pure fairy tales, stories created for whatever reasons inside of the "UFO" delusion. I don't think this is one. The technology existed and the event occurred adjacent to where such technology would have been tested.

    We may never know, but this solution appeals to me. But then I also believe that Ken Arnold was a hoaxer abetted by Ray Palmer to promote the debut of his FATE magazine.

    Best always.

  10. Okay, folks, here are three things about Socorro you all should know.

    1. The tax records prove that the mayor did not own the property where Zamora said the UFO landed. It was held by an estate. I don't know where Phil Klass got the idea that the mayor owned, but he was mistaken.

    2. Zamora's eyeglasses prescription is irrelevant to the discussion given that all of the reports that mention them in the Blue Book files (and elsewhere) indicate he lost them at the very end of the sighting, after he had approached close to the object, after he had seen the symbol painted on it, and as he retreated as the object began to lift off.

    3. I tried to make it clear in my post that the simplest explanation was that Zamora hoaxed the sighting. It accounted for most of the evidence but that was the problem. It only accounted for most of the evidence. I didn't suggest that I accepted this as a conclusion but thought it, in the interest of being unbiased, to mention the idea.

    And, I just thought I would mention all that here. Thanks fo tuning in.


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