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Volume 53

The Skeptics UFO Newsletter

Philip J. Klass

September 1, 1998

This volume is available as a PDF file. Download »

Best UFO Cases Fail To Provide Credible Evidence Of ET Visitors, According To Scientific Review Panel Convened By Pro-UFO Physicist

After a four-day briefing last fall by eight leading pro-UFO investigators on the cases which they believed offered the best physical evidence that UFOs are a phenomenon that defies prosaic explanation, a panel of nine leading physical scientists concluded that they were “not convinced that any of the evidence involved currently unknown physical processes or pointed to the involvement of an extraterrestrial intelligence.” The Scientific Review Panel also concluded that “It appears that most current UFO investigations are carried out at a level of rigor which is not consistent with prevailing standards of scientific research.” (Emphasis added.) SUN subsequently interviewed three of the panel scientists and two UFO investigators who briefed them.

The reactions of the Scientific Review Panel (SRP) reportedly surprised Dr. Peter Sturrock, president of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE), which arranged the workshop, and Laurance S. Rockefeller, who funded the effort. Sturrock, a professor of applied physics at Stanford University, and Rockefeller both have had a long-standing interest in UFOs. For example, on May 27, 1977, Sturrock was the guest lecturer at NASA’s Goddard Space

Flight Center (near Washington D.C.) speaking on “Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life.” The first three-quarters of his lecture were devoted to traditional issues. The last quarter was devoted to UFOs and Sturrock’s earlier survey of members of the American Astronomical Society to assess their interest in UFOs and to obtain their UFO-sighting reports. Sturrock concluded his lecture by saying that UFOs “probably deserve some degree of scientific study.” Rockefeller has funded efforts to promote UFOs, including trying to interest President Clinton.


In 1981, Sturrock created his Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE), whose stated objective was to encourage the “scientific community” to study “anomalous phenomena” such as UFOs and “psychic phenomena.” The first issue of SSE’s Journal of Scientific Exploration, published in 1987, included an article by Sturrock criticizing Dr. Edward Condon for his comments on the University of Colorado UFO study, conducted 1966-68. Sturrock challenged Condon’s view that “further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.” (The same issue of the SSE journal carried an article criticizing those who question the existence of “Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster.”)

SSE’s annual conferences typically feature several pro-UFO speakers, but no UFO-skeptics. For example, at SSE’s 1996 conference—held at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which SUN’s editor attended—there were four pro-UFO speakers, but no skeptics: Dr. David Jacobs, who spoke on UFO abductions; Stanton Friedman, whose remarks covered crashed saucers and the MJ-12 papers; Dr. Bruce Maccabee, who showed videos of UFOs, including one by Ed Walters (famous Gulf Breeze, Fla., UFO photographer) which seemingly showed a UFO’s ability to stop and reverse direction in a fraction of a second; and a talk by Mark Rodeghier, director of the Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS).

However, when Sturrock and his advisors selected those who would brief the panel on UFO cases which offered the strongest physical evidence, JACOBS, FRIEDMAN AND MACCABEE WERE NOT INCLUDED. Dr. David E. Pritchard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist who has analyzed a number of (alleged) “alien implants,” served as one of two moderators for the panel briefings, but did not cite any “implants” as ET evidence.


If Sturrock had followed the tradition of scientific controversy, he would have invited roughly equal numbers of skeptics and pro-UFOlogists to brief the panel. But in fact the eight persons invited to brief the panel did not include a single experienced UFO skeptic, depriving panel members of the opportunity to hear and evaluate possible prosaic explanations. For example, one of the “impressive” UFO cases presented by Dr. Michael Swords, which occurred near Mansfield, Ohio, on the night of Oct. 18, 1973 involved an Army helicopter’s seemingly close encounter with a UFO. According to Swords’ account, the UFO seemingly turned on a mysterious suction force to prevent the helicopter from crashing into the ground. The panel concluded that such reports “if true, are difficult to understand in terms of our familiar concepts of gravity and inertia.” (A summary of the panel briefings and its consensus conclusions were published in the summer 1998 edition of the Journal of Scientific Exploration.)

Swords withheld from the panel the fact that SUN’s editor had spent many weeks investigating that case and had come up with prosaic explanations for the many seemingly mysterious effects reported by the crew. (My findings were detailed in my book UFOs Explained, published in 1975.) The panel’s report says: “According to Swords, there was one item of physical evidence that could have been investigated but apparently was not. The commander [Capt. Coyne] reported that the magnetic compass began to spin during the event. The compass continued to spin after the event and it was subsequently removed...” During my several telephone interviews with Coyne shortly after the incident, he had never even mentioned any compass anomaly. Nor did he mention the compass in his official incident report to his Army superior, written only a month later—on Nov. 23, 1973. Several years later, when another investigator interviewed copilot Jezzi, he said that the compass had performed erratically prior to the UFO incident.

The Sturrock panel report states: “The Mansfield helicopter case is a particularly puzzling event since it involved not only the testimony of the helicopter crew but that of independent ground witnesses.” The panel was not informed that these alleged witnesses did not come forward with their story until three years later, after a feature story in the Mansfield newspaper said local UFO investigators were looking for eyewitnesses to the 1973 incident. My investigation into these eyewitness claims showed that their tale was spurious. The helicopter was several miles away from where they claimed they had seen it, and their account sharply conflicted with that of the crew, as reported in my book, “UFOs: The Public Deceived,” published in 1983.


Coyne claimed that the UFO had caused the helicopter’s radio to become inoperative for several minutes, making it impossible to contact airports at Cleveland, Columbus and Akron. My investigation indicated a more prosaic explanation: that at the helicopter’s then-low-altitude it was beyond line-of-sight range to these airports. I suggested that Coyne conduct an experiment during his next flight to Columbus—that near Mansfield he descend to the same low altitude and try to make radio contact with these same airports. Coyne ran such a test and later informed me that he was unable to reach any of the three airports, as I had predicted.

My investigation suggested that the UFO was a meteor-fireball from the annual Orionids meteor shower which was near its peak activity on Oct. 18. When I suggested this to Coyne during an early telephone interview he responded: “Well, that would sound like a logical explanation.” And that after the "UFO” had departed, Coyne himself had instinctively acted to prevent the helicopter from crashing into the ground, but in the excitement of the moment he forgot having done so. Coyne’s views changed when the incident was selected as the best UFO case of 1973 by the National Enquirer, which awarded Coyne and his crew a $5,000 prize. Coyne soon became a “UFO celebrity” and a featured speaker at UFO conferences.

I sent a copy of my analysis to the Army Agency for Aviation Safety whose deputy commander, Col. Samuel P. Kalagian replied: “I thought your analysis was accomplished in a sound, logical manner.” Subsequently, Kalagian requested permission to reprint highlights of my analysis in the agency’s safety publication, The Army Flier.

However, Swords denied the Sturrock’s panel of scientists access to the results of my lengthy investigation. Thus, it is not surprising that the panel commented: “The panel finds reports of this type quite interesting.” But the panel wisely added: “Without the existence of any solid physical evidence (such as analysis of the magnetic compass might have provided), it is difficult for a panel composed of physical scientists to draw any conclusions."


MUFON official John Schuessler presented a detailed report on an incident that (allegedly) occurred on the night of Dec. 29, 1980, not far from Houston, Tex., involving Betty Cash, Vicki Landrum and her seven-year-old grandson, Colby. According to Schuessler, the three were driving home around 9 p.m. when they saw a giant diamond-shaped object which descended and hovered over the highway only roughly 150 ft. ahead of their car, belching flames and illuminating the area as if it were daylight. Betty reportedly stopped the car, but instead of remaining inside or turning around and driving away, the three of them got out for a closer look. Betty Cash, who reportedly spent up to 8-10 minutes outside viewing the UFO, even walked toward the fiery object—despite the intense heat the UFO was radiating. When Vicki and Colby decided to get back in the car, Vicki claimed the car’s roof was so hot that it burned her hand. And when Betty finally decided to get back in the car, she said she burned her hand touching the door handle. (But when Schuessler later inspected the car, he was unable to find any damage to the car’s paint finish, external plastic parts or its tires.)

According to the principals, the diamond-shaped UFO was accompanied by many large twin-rotor helicopters. Despite their fright, they reportedly took time to count the number of helicopters several times: Betty reported the total was 23 while Vicki said the total was 20 to 25. According to Betty, the UFO emitted a shrill beeping sound, but Colby said he did not hear any such beeping. (UFO-lawyer Peter Gersten subsequently sued the U.S. government for $20 million, on the grounds that the government knew that UFOs were dangerous and the Army helicopters should have protected Betty, Vicki and Colby. The Federal court was not impressed by Gersten’s claims and dismissed the case—prompting Schuessler’s harsh criticism.)

As reported in SSE’s journal, “Schuessler listed the following medical problems developed by the three witnesses: Eyes swollen, painful and watery; permanent damage to the eyes; stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea; sores and scarring of skin, with loss of pigmentation; excessive hair loss over a several-week period, the new hair having a different texture from the old; loss of appetite, energy and weight; damage to fingernails and shedding of fingernails; increased susceptibility to disease; and cancer.” (Apparently Schuessler forgot to mention another UFO-aftermath medical problem experienced by young Colby: an increase in dental cavities.)

In reality, it was only Betty Cash who encountered serious medical problems in the wake of the (alleged) UFO incident which she did not even mention to physicians trying to diagnose her illness—until Colby mentioned the incident. Shortly after Schuessler became involved in the Cash-Landrum case in early 1981, he began to suspect that the reported medical problems might be the result of gamma rays emitted by the UFO, and this has emerged as his current theory. (Seemingly, a U.S. atomic weapon being transported by air or a nuclear-powered ET craft accidentally exploded in the vicinity of Houston.) But when Schuessler inspected Betty’s car in early 1981 and used a geiger counter to check for radioactivity, he found none. Presum-ably he also checked for radioactivity when he visited the site of the (alleged) incident, and found no abnormal radiation.

Schuessler’s recent book, “The Cash-Landrum UFO Incident” (1998), devotes many pages to doctors’ reports on their efforts to determine the cause and possible prosaic diagnoses of Betty Cash’s medical problems. But he provides NO medical data on Betty’s health PRIOR to the UFO incident. Nor does he provide any medical data on the prior health of Vicki or Colby. (In 1981, shortly after Schuessler’s first article on the Cash-Landrum case was published in the MUFON UFO Journal, SUN’s editor wrote Schuessler seeking medical data on the pre-UFO health of the three principals. Schuessler declined to provide same, saying that such information would be an “invasion of privacy.”) Schuessler’s book claims that “Betty Cash, Vicki Landrum and Colby Landrum were in reasonably good health before the incident.” (Emphasis added.) Elsewhere in the book Schuessler briefly mentions that four years before the UFO incident, at the age of 47, Betty underwent heart bypass surgery. And that in early 1983, when lumps were found in her right breast, it was removed on March 29. Two months later Betty suffered a heart attack, and on June 23 she underwent removal of her left breast. Despite these serious (pre-UFO) health problems, Betty is still alive 17 years after being “irradiated” by the UFO. And the medical problems initially reported by Vicki and Colby have disappeared.

The panel commented: “The Cash-Landrum case seems to be unique in that there is detailed documentation of the injuries (photographs, etc.), and of the subsequent medical treatment.” The panel report offers no indication that Schuessler provided any medical documentation as to the state of their health prior to the UFO incident. Conceivably, the panel accepted Schuessler’s claim that the principals’ health had been “reasonably good” prior to the incident.


Sturrock’s panel was very impressed by what it was told about the French government funded UFO investigatory office GEPAN and its “scientific approach” to investigating ground traces (allegedly) created by UFOs—especially the Trans-en-Provence incident. GEPAN was created in 1977 and assigned to the highly respected French space agency, CNES. France’s Gendarmerie are responsible for reporting UFO incidents to GEPAN. In 1988, GEPAN’s name was changed to SEPRA and its mission was broadened to include collection and analysis of reentering satellites, rocket boosters and meteors. During the more than two decades of

GEPAN/SEPRA’s operation, it has received about 3,000 UFO reports from the Gendarmerie. Of this number, GEPAN/SEPRA has investigated about 100 incidents of which only a few cases remain unexplained, according to Jean-Jacques Velasco, who heads SEPRA.

The most famous of these few unexplained UFO incidents is the one that occurred in Trans-en-Provence on Jan. 8, 1981, when a man named Renato Niccolai claimed he had seen a small disc-shaped craft land about 150 ft. away on his patio. After a few seconds, Niccolai said the UFO flew away. When he walked over to inspect the landing site, he reported finding skid marks. The next day his neighbor heard about the incident and reported it to the Gendarmerie who visited the site and took samples of the nearby soil and vegetation. It was not until 40 days later that a team from GEPAN visited the site and took additional soil and vegetation samples. These and earlier soil and vegetation samples were submitted to laboratories for analysis. According to Velasco, analysis of the vegetation samples by Prof. Michael E.L. Bounias of Avignon University’s Biochemistry Laboratory seemed to show biochemical change proportional to the vegetation’s distance from the UFO landing site.


Not surprisingly, considering that the Trans-en-Provence is one of GEPAN/SEPRA’s most impressive cases, Velasco did not inform Sturrock’s panel that Bounias’ findings have been sharply challenged by French UFO-researcher Eric Maillot and a Belgian plant pathologist who is a member of SOBEPS—a large Belgian UFO group. (The July 1997 issue of SUN (#47) cited highlights of Maillot’s critique which was contained in the book “UFOs: 1947-1997,” published in Britain early last year.)

The most significant scientific appraisal of GEPAN’s investigation of the Trans-en-Provence case came from the highly respected French space agency, CNES. If the Trans-en-Provence case offered the slightest credible evidence of ET visitors, top CNES officials and scientists would have presented papers on GEPAN’s findings at international space conferences. But they have not. And CNES would surely have increased GEPAN’s budget and staff. Instead, within several years, although GEPAN’s responsibilities were broadened its budget was drastically cut forcing a reduction in its UFO activities. THAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE.


One member of the panel told SUN that he believes Sturrock was surprised at the panel’s reactions to the “best UFO evidence” offered by the presenters. “I think Peter expected the presentations would impress panel members more than they did. I think he was disappointed. But I think he was happy with the panel’s willingness to say that UFOs are not something that should be totally ignored by mainstream science.” SUN was told that when the panel met in San Francisco over the Thanksgiving weekend to draft a consensus report, there was some spread of opinion among panel members—but no serious disagreements. The panel’s consensus conclusions were:

In view of the one-sided data which were presented to the panel, its basic skepticism is commendable and its slight naivte is understandable, except perhaps for its last (fifth) conclusion. If GEPAN’s 11 years of UFO research had yielded any significant new scientific knowledge, CNES would have increased its then very modest budget instead of slashing it. During the last decade the Fund for UFO Research (FUFOR) has spent more than $700,000 for “UFO research” without contributing one iota to our scientific knowledge.

Three decades ago, when SUN’s editor first entered the field, UFO researchers focused their efforts on “nuts-and-bolts” reports whose investigation might shed some light on radar propagation, mirages, or ball lightning. Today most UFO investigators are primarily interested in “UFO-abductions” and “crashed-saucer coverup.” But Sturrock avoided presenting any reports of UFO abductions or crashed saucers to his panel or showing them any of Ed Walters UFO videos or still photos, which have been so strongly endorsed by physicist Maccabee.

Because Sturrock has been one of Dr. Condon’s toughest critics, it is ironic that the conclusion of Sturrock’s panel about UFOs and ETs so closely matches Condon’s 1968 assessment: “No direct evidence whatever of a convincing nature now exists for the claim that any UFOs represent spacecraft visiting Earth from another civilization.” Condon predicted that “future extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.” The past 30 years of UFO research by scientists such as Sturrock, Maccabee, Schuessler and Friedman have have demonstrated the wisdom of Condon’s prediction.

Dr. Carl Sagan Learned While Dr. Peter Sturrock Has Not

It is not widely known that the late Dr. Carl Sagan, who in his later years was an outspoken critic of belief in UFOs, was open-minded in the mid-1960s to the possibility that some UFOs might be ET craft. For example, when Congressman Ed Rousch (D.-Ind.) held a “symposium” on UFOs on July 29, 1968, the six persons who were invited to testify were all pro-UFO, and Sagan was one of the six. During Sagan’s testimony he said: “I might mention that on this symposium there are no individuals who strongly disbelieve in the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs and therefore there is a certain view—not necessarily one I strongly agree with—but there is a certain view this committee is not hearing today along those lines.”

At that time Sagan—like Sturrock today—sought to interest more scientists in UFOs. To that end, Sagan and the late astronomer Dr. Thornton Page managed to convince officials of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to allow them to hold a session on UFOs at AAAS’s annual meeting in Boston in early 1970. (SUN’s editor was not invited to speak.) Within a few years, as Sagan learned more about UFOlogy, he became more and more skeptical. Clearly Sturrock has shown that he is a much slower learner than Sagan.

Philip Corso Dies Of Heart Attack

Former Lt. Col. Philip Corso, whose book “The Day After Roswell” claims that the transistor, the microchip, the laser and other modern technologies were “reverse engineered” from ET debris recovered near Roswell, died of a heart attack on July 18 at the age of 83. The “Grim Reaper” spared Corso from having to testify under oath in Federal Court as to the veracity of his claims in support of a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) litigation brought by Peter Gersten and Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) [SUN #52/July 1998].

According to Corso’s son, Philip Jr., a memorial plaque will be placed at the “true [UFO] crash site” near Roswell. In Corso’s book (p. 3) he wrote: “I've read military reports about different crashes in different locations in some proximity to the army air field at Roswell, like San Agustin and Corona, and even different sites close to the town. All of the reports were classified and I did not copy them for my own records after I left the Army.” Judging from the foregoing, either there were SEVERAL flying-saucer crashes in New Mexico in 1947, or even top Pentagon officials did not know the true “crash site.” (But now Philip Jr. claims he knows.) Because the International Roswell Museum is serving as a collection center for persons who want to contribute to the Corso memorial, SUN is betting that Philip Jr. will select the museum’s endorsed “crash site,” located 55 miles west of Roswell, based on the tale told by the late Jim Ragsdale. Kevin Randle and his former partner Don Schmitt insist the “crash site” is 35 miles north of Roswell, based on the claims of Frank Kaufmann.

No word from CAUS director Gersten as to whether he is continuing to seek funds to send a rocket to the moon to verify that there are ET-created structures there as claimed by Richard Hoagland, who promoted the “Face on Mars.” Hoagland’s Mars claims have been demolished by recent high-resolution photos taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, which show that the “Face On Mars” is simply a natural rock formation [SUN #51/May 1998].

Gersten’s Changing Views On Crashed Saucers

Barely a decade before Gersten embraced Corso’s wild crashed-saucer claims, he released the following statement on Nov. 10, 1987, debunking the then-recently released MJ-12 papers which claimed a crashed saucer had been recovered in New Mexico in 1947 and another in 1950 near the Texas-Mexican border: “While some UFO researchers and so called investigators follow a path strewn with fraudulent documents and disinformation by both military personnel and private individuals, Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) continues to pursue the truth and obtain legitimate documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

“Pursuant to this endeavor, CAUS is pleased to share with you a recent FOIA release entitled ‘German Flying Wings Designed By Horton Brothers'....I personally believe this document is the first step in explaining the nature and origin of the strange and unusual objects seen in the skies from 1948 through 1952....The UFO field has been divided over the MJ-12/Project Aquarius documents and whether William Moore is merely an innocent dupe or actively involved in this fiasco. It is my opinion that the MJ-12/Project Aquarius documents are obviously and undoubtedly fakes; that no extraterrestrial craft crashed in New Mexico in 1947, but rather an aerial device from a Top Secret project located in Sandia; that William Moore, rather than being an innocent dupe, was and still is actively and intentionally engaged in a continuing program of disinformation involving fraudulent documents.” (Emphasis added.) Those were Gersten’s views BC (Before Corso).

British Expose UFOlogist Dean’s Phony Tales And Documents

The spurious nature of claims made by UFOlogist Robert O. Dean, first revealed by SUN [Nov. 1997], has been confirmed by two pro-UFO British researchers—Timothy Good and Lord/Admiral Hill-Norton, former Chief of Defence Staff, according to an article in the summer 1998 issue of The Unopened Files, authored by Mark Ian Birdsall. Their investigation of a photograph provided to them by Dean, which seemingly showed the cover sheet of a NATO “Cosmic Top Secret” document dealing with UFOs, revealed it to be bogus. Another document provided by Dean, which seemingly confirmed Dean’s claim that he had been assigned to NATO’s intelligence section, also turned out to be phony. (SUN #48 reported that

examination of Dean’s military record showed that he never received any training in military intelligence nor had he ever served as an intelligence analyst during his 20-plus years in the Army.)

Birdsall’s article reports that Good began his investigation in 1991 shortly after Dean went public with his claim that NATO had conducted a three-year UFO investigation in 1961, and published its findings in a 1964 report entitled “AN ASSESSMENT (An Evaluation of a Possibile Military Threat to Allied Forces in Europe),” which was classified “Cosmic Top Secret.” (Good, who authored the book “Above Top Secret,” published in mid-1987, was researching its sequel, “Alien Liaison: The Ultimate Secret,” published in 1995.) Initially, the investigation focused on former NATO officials—many of them friends of Hill-Norton—who should have been familiar with the “Assessment” document. But none of them had ever heard of such a UFO investigation or report.

On July 31, 1993, after Dean was informed of the negative results of the investigation, he provided Good with a fuzzy color photo which seemingly showed the cover page of the English language version of the NATO UFO report. (Dean claimed he had been given the photo by a friend at NATO.) When Dean’s photo was submitted to NATO for analysis, numerous technical errors were discovered. For example, the document was marked “NATO COSMIC TOP SECRET,” a format never used by NATO. In early 1994, Good wrote Dean to report that NATO’s analysis of Dean’s photo indicated that it was bogus. Dean replied: “I never said that I knew they were accurate and legitimate.” (Dean and Peter Gersten were two of the featured speakers at this year’s Roswell crashed-saucer anniversary celebration.)

Short Shrift:

NOTE: Opinions expressed in SUN are those of its editor—unless otherwise noted—and do NOT necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he is affiliated—or his spouse. We thank DR. GARY POSNER for help in proofreading.

Philip J. Klass

Phil Klass was a UFO researcher with a background in electrical engineering. He was author of seven books on UFOs, including UFOs Explained and UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game. He was also editor of the SUN newsletter, a UFO-related publication.