The Belgian Society for the Study of Spatial Phenomena (SOBEPS) has invested much energy in trying to convince us that from 1989 to 1994, Belgium experienced an extraterrestrial invasion worthy of “Independence Day”. There is much to be written about the Belgian Wave, but today I would like to talk to you about its beginning on the 29th of November, 1989.
One of the difficulties the skeptic is confronted with in the explanation of the Belgian Wave is that, to do that, he must absolutely criticise the work, because this non profit-making organization based in Brussels has, on the one hand, maintained the wave – they promoted it in the Belgian French-speaking media – and on the other hand, they put an enormous amount of work into informing the public
about it, but not in an impartial way. At the same time, if, in order to explain the Belgian Wave, it is absolutely necessary to criticise the work of the SOBEPS, it is essential to do it in a constructive manner, and not sink into personal attacks, as certain skeptics like Marc Hallet1 have an unfortunate tendency to do. In science, it is important to criticise the ideas and not the individuals who exhibit them. This is the perilous exercise that we are going to attempt on this page.
Skeptics defend the idea that UFO waves are generally psychosocial contagion phenomena. Philip J. Klass describes this phenomenon in the following way:
When the information transmitted by the media lead the public to believe that there were UFOs in the area, there are numerous natural and artificial objects that, especially
when seen at night, display unusual characteristics in witnesses who are filled with hope. Their witness statements add to the mass excitement, which encourages even more people to look up into the sky so that they can see a UFO. This situation feeds itself until the media lose interest in the subject, then the phenomenon loses steam. 2
The counter-argument advanced by the SOBEPS is that it began so suddenly for the night of the 29th of November, 1989, the organization received no fewer than out of a 500-page work, which really is very little considering that this is the dominating model in the scientific community.
The policemen’s sighting
On the night of the 29th of November, 1989, there was a central sighting, that of two policemen in Eupen, Von Montigny and Nichols. This was the origin of the Belgian Wave. For a certain amount of time, these policemen followed a UFO in their vehicle. They describe the UFO as being like a kind of platform with three cones of white light; they then watched it as it remained stationary over the Gileppe dam where it appeared to be more like a white dot with red filaments emanating from it. In fact, the appearance
of the object changed throughout the observation. Ufologists argue that since the witnesses are policemen, this proves that what they saw is a “fact”, to be taken as such, not to be subjected to critical analysis. Even so, why should we think that, because these are policemen, they cease to be subject to labelling errors and compound mistakes? Actually, when someone becomes a policeman, he doesn’t suddenly cease to be a human being. The most we can say is that it’s extremely unlikely that they lied or had drunk alcohol that night. There we are in agreement. However, there is nothing to suggest that, because a person is a policeman, this disqualifies him from having a fantasy-prone personality (see my article on this subject : “Fantasy-prone personality and its implication in ufology”7) or even from being schizotypical. Now, the SOBEPS never submitted them, or any other witness to the Belgian Wave, to any kind of psychological testing. After all, it’s not worth looking into the psychology of witnesses when the only thing you’re after is proof in favour of the extraterrestrial hypothesis! Of course, there are two of them, but how much of their later witness statements were influenced by the conversation that took place between them in the car at the time of the observation, thus artificially bringing them into tune with one another ? This kind of phenomenon has often been observed in ufological casuistry. Not considering that, during their interviews with Auguste Meessen, he asked them many short, precise questions, the perfect way to influence a witness by using 143 sightings! Therefore, the substance of the argument is this: as the mass media had not yet aired the information, the people reporting the sightings did so independently; so, such a great number of independent witnesses refutes without doubt the hypothesis of psychosocial contagion. We will come back to this later, but let’s take a detour via a presentation by Auguste Meessen.
In the first SOBEPS report, “UFO wave over Belgium” (VOBI)3, Auguste Meessen writes the chapter dedicated to the beginning of the Wave, a chapter entitled “The decisive observations of the 29th of November, 1989”.4 Auguste Meessen is a professor emeritus of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain. He was born near the border between Belgium and Germany, a fact which is important when we consider the conversations he had with the two policemen in Eupen, themselves German-speaking. He began to be interested in the UFO phenomenon when his son asked him if it was possible to explain it. He plunged into the subject and concluded that the socio-psychological model was refuted : the extraterrestrial hypothesis was the best way to explain the phenomenon, and the only scientifically correct one, an idea that he defends in his article, “The UFO phenomenon and the problem with methodology”5. In another article, published in 2000 and entitled “How far on are we in ufology?”6 , he explains, among other things, that he thinks that the Roswell crash was in fact a flying saucer followed by an attempt by the US government to hide the truth and that kidnappings by extraterrestrials are authentic. He goes as far as to suggest an explanatory theory for the little extraterrestrials’ telepathy, based on the fact that they have big black eyes. Auguste Meessen
is therefore someone who has great faith in the extraterrestrial hypothesis, and has had for a long time. When the Belgian Wave began, he took it, a priori, as a unique opportunity to have, at last, conclusive proof that the origin of the phenomenon is well and truly extraterrestrial! In VOBI, he rejects the idea that the socio-psychological model could explain the Wave, on more or less one page what, in social sciences, we call “leading questions”8. Let’s take the following example:
Hubert Von Montigny, one of the policemen, says, “there were rays of reddish light that went … very far, on both sides, horizontally. When they were far away, they came back but didn’t go back inside the object. They went round about it and went away again.” Auguste Meessen then asks him, “Was it sudden?” Hubert Von Montigny replies, “All of a sudden. They came out and then came back again very quickly.” This is only one example among others, but we can see that the term suggested by the physicist (“Was it sudden?”) is taken up directly by the policemen in his description (“All of a sudden”). This is a perfect example of the devastating effect of leading questions on the content of witness statements. We should also highlight the fact that Auguste Meessen was also in a perfect position of authority.
He was a university professor, he introduced himself as an expert on the UFO phenomenon and, to cap it all, he spoke to them in German, their mother tongue. Now, when people are in a situation where they are subject to authority, suggestion very quickly comes into play, to use an expression coined by Stanley Milgram. If we want to keep things precise, we should also highlight the fact that, before talking to Auguste Meeseen, the witness statements of the two policemen had probably been influenced by the interview that took place between them and Heinz Godessart, a journalist from the German language tabloid newspaper, Grenz Echo, specialist in all things mysterious and also a believer in the extraterrestrial hypothesis. Seen from this point of view, Auguste Meessen just put the final touch to the deformation of the witness statements given by Von Montigny and Nichols… The Flemish ufologist, Patrick Vantuyne, reports moreover that, during a press conference he was at, as far as the sighting of the rays and the red balls goes, the statements of the two policemen were far less precise than the ones we find later on in VOBI. According to him, they said then that they both had the indistinct impression that rays of light sometimes emanated from all sides of the phenomenon. This description is compatible with the simple sparkling of Venus, probably enhanced by atmospheric turbulence. Today, in fact, the main skeptical explanation for the sightings of the policemen of Eupen is that they saw a It becomes rapidly obvious, in this version
of events, how things can fall into place and become entirely compatible with the model of psychosocial contagion.
It is also plausible that the fact that the media suggest there was something visible on the 29th of November 1989 affected certain persons who were liable to easily create their own false memories. There again, this type of explanation was not considered by the SOBEPS, they were too busy searching for proof in favour of the extraterrestrial hypothesis… In his article entitled “The decisive sightings of the 29th of November 1989” 9, Auguste Meessen never mentions the dates that the witness statements were recorded, which is a great methodological weakness.
Marc Hallet writes : Auguste Meessen who, let us remember, in the SOBEPS report, signed the chapter dedicated to the events of the 29th of November 1989, relates a great number of other observations with the obvious aim of convincing people at any cost. In fact, he only manages to prove the incoherence of a series of witness statements gathered after the events, without ever stating when these observations were first publicly aired by the witnesses. Everyone should be able to understand the importance
of such an omission.10
Here, there are two possibilities: either Auguste Meessen simply never realized the importance of such information in explaining the beginning of the Belgian Wave and, in this case, committed a gross methodological error, or he knowingly omitted the information and therefore attempts to manipulate the reader by failing to even acknowledge the alternative explanations to the one he defends. Impossible to tell which is the case, but both are extremely worrying.
In conclusion, we can quite simply say that, contrary to what the SOBEPS affirms, the beginning of the Belgian Wave is entirely compatible with the idea of sociopsychological
contagion. Contrary to what we are invited to believe, it is possible to explain the wave without calling on an army of extraterrestrial spaceships flying over Belgian territory.
Notes and references Hallet. M. (1992). La vague OVNI Belge ou le 1. helicopter in the first part of their vision and then they saw Venus, which was very bright, up above the Gileppe dam, then, finally, that their statements were greatly distorted by their discussions with Auguste Meessen. We could also emit the hypothesis that one of the policemen had a fantasy-prone personality or was schizotypical, which would have greatly enhanced the strangeness of his sighting and that the second man only corroborated the first one’s statement (the first one having explained what he was seeing to the second one while he was actually seeing it), even if it’s impossible to prove this hypothesis without subjecting them to a whole battery of psychological tests. Retroactive witness statements Let’s come back to the incredible number of 143 witness statements gathered
for the 29th of November alone. The question we should ask ourselves is “When were these witness statements given to the SOBEPS?” Not on the same day, but later. They are then retroactive. The true order of events is the following:
1.The sightings of the policemen in Eupen is made known to the press.
2.They publish the information.
3.Local people hear about it.
4.In the greater mass of the population, some people saw something strange in the sky that night, although that’s not fundamentally surprising. In fact, at night, there are lots of strange objects that are visible that we can’t always identify. The people wouldn’t normally have mentioned it, but in this case, they think, “It might be something to do with what the policemen saw”. On the one hand, it gives them the idea that what they saw might be something from another world, and, furthermore, it encourages them to report their sightings, to testify, since, after all, if even policemen saw them, why not ?” And each one testifies in turn, but what they’ve read in the press about the policemen’s sightings obviously influences what they say and also enhances the global coherence of witness statements.
By Jean-Michel Abrassart
The November 29, 1989 UFO over Eupen explained?
On November 29, 1989 two Eupen gendarmerie were driving on patrol towards the town of Kettenis (NE of Eupen).
At 5:20 PM, 35 minutes after sunset, they reported seeing a bright light to the right of their vehicle. The policemen sped up and were able to get a closer look. Their description was that of a dark shape barely visible against the fading light with three bright lights and a red flashing light. It headed back towards Eupen at a speed of roughly 50-60 km/hr and they gave pursuit. After checking in with their headquarters, where they learned there were no military activities in progress, the police officers saw the UFO south of town. Once again, they followed it and ended up at Lake Gileppe, where they observed a bright stationary light that shot off beams of light. For 45 minutes, the police officers observed this display until around 7:23 PM, when the UFO disappeared in the direction of the town of Spa (to the SW).
Wim van Utrecht wrote an informative article in UFOs: 1947-1997 (Stacey and Evans) concerning this case. He suggested that the object over Lake Gileppe was not a UFO but simply Venus. A quick check on a planetarium program indicates Venus was in the direction of the sighting and it set in the southwest about the time the officers reported seeing it disappear in that direction. It seems perfectly plausible to explain that part of the event but what about the first sighting around 5:20 PM?
Renaud Leclet suggested the officers saw a helicopter:
The gendarmes initially thought they were seeing a helicopter, but as they did not hear any noise, they changed their mind for a UFO… It is at least what SOBEPS tells in VOB 1, p.17, where it is said: “It is the silence of the craft that astonishes most the two gendarmes,
they do not hear anything that exceeds the noise of the car and of the road traffic”. Let us notice that several vehicles overtook the gendarmes and
that the noise they made would already have been enough to mask that of a helicopter....But in reading the daily newspaper Le Soir of December 1, 1989, one discovers another version of the facts: during the sighting, the two gendarmes were struck by the weak noise of the craft, that was only a light humming,
comparable to an electric motor noise. This contradiction is of the utmost importance! Why such a change in the testimony reported well afterwards by SOBEPS? Mere error or embarrassing detail for the UFO hypothesis? The existence of a noise was also confirmed by Werner Walter, a German skeptical ufologist. During an interview given by gendarme Nicoll to the CENAP ufologist, the witness confirmed to have heard a noise “like that of a shaver or a mower”...
An investigation by Mr Vantuyne on December 9, 1989 confirms that one of the two witnesses did hear a light buzz and that the structure behind the lights was dark green (22). This colour is typical of military helicopters.
And last but not least, on page 4 of SOBEPS Flash N°1 of February 1990, describing the sightings of November 29, 1989, it is said that gendarme Peter Nicholl (not to be confused with Heinrich Nicoll) “clearly distinguished at the back of the craft something that revolved like a turbine and he heard a fan noise”. The media did not speak about this turbine, nor about the fan noise heard by Peter Nicholl. SOBEPS, after having published these statements, will not make any mention of the turbine in its two books, but it will nevertheless speak about a “shaft support for an airship propeller”… The strange variations or disappearances of important details in SOBEPS publications are really astonishing!
The two witnesses seem to have focused on the overall structure of the craft but reported, according to VOB 1, that the adjacent corners at the triangle base were cut. The first report by the two gendarmes was published in the German-language Belgian daily newspaper Grenz Echo of December 1, 1989. However there was no mention of a triangular body behind the lights as SOBEPS asserts in VOB 1, p.17, where the two gendarmes speak about a platform equipped with three huge headlights.
While it can not be positively proven that a helicopter was the cause of this part of the sighting, it seems entirely plausible. A clue, in my opinion, is the red flashing light, which is what one would expect from a helicopter. It is no surprise that General De Brouwer never mentioned this potential explanation in the section of Leslie Kean’s book that addressed the Belgium UFO wave.
Quelle: SUNlite 6/2010