December 1996 Yukon UFO revisited
With the reincarnation of UFO Updates on Facebook, I noticed that one of the first comments had to do with the Yukon UFO case of 1996, which had been part of the first episode of a UFO series recently produced by Discovery channel Canada. Readers of SUNlite are aware that I announced that this case had been explained by Ted Molczan in SUNlite 4-4 (p. 36) as the re-entry of the rocket body that had launched Cosmos 2335. Robert Sheaffer had also presented the explanation on his blog in April of 2012. The principle investigator, Martin Jasek, and other Canadian UFOlogists were, as best as I could tell, very quiet about the news. Finally, in this facebook discussion, Chris Rutkowski decided to publicly comment on the case. Instead of congratulating Molczan and Harro Zimmer on their analysis, he rejected it because he accepted the subjective testimony of the witnesses over the evidence regarding the rocket body re-entry. Because Rutkowski finds this evidence so compelling, I felt it was important for me to review the case here.
Who is Ted Molczan?
In his commentary, Chris Rutkowski referred to Ted Molczan’s as an unnamed “satellite tracker”. 1 I found it a bit frustrating to refer to somebody who has a good reputation in the space and astronomical community for computing orbits of satellites and re- entering space debris as just a “satellite tracker”. It gives the impression that he really was not qualified to make an evaluation of the case. At least Rutkowski could have identified him by name.
It is too bad that the Discovery channel did not present the explanation for this case in a fair and balanced way. Ted Molczan lives in Toronto and could have been interviewed to present his case. Instead, he had to be a bystander while the program presented Rutkowski and Jasek’s one-sided version of events. Chris Rutkowski claims to have mentioned it in his interview but down played it with the claim that the witnesses precise observations eliminated any such explanation.
An instant classic
The principle investigator for this case is Martin Jasek, who collected all the reports from the witnesses over two years after the
event had actually occurred. His conclusion was that they saw a huge mothership UFO. The case was so widely promoted, that
it was considered one of the top ten UFO cases by UFOlogists for Paul Kimball’s “Best evidence” film.
The event occurred on the night of December 11th of 1996 and was visible in the remote northwestern province of Canada called the Yukon Territory. Jasek’s witnesses were all located along the road running from Whitehorse to Pelly Crossing called the Klondike Highway. The straight line distance from the most southern location to the most northern location was something like 120 miles.
In an apparent effort to organize all the sightings, Jasek seperated them into three concentrations. There were seven witnesses at Pelly Crossing in the far north. In the mid-point of the highway, at Carmacks, there were nine witnesses. Finally, there were six wit- nesses on the southern end near Whitehorse at Fox Lake.
The Pelly Crossing sightings
Pelly Crossing is a small village located on the Pelly River. The population is only a few hundred people and it is quite remote. Out of this small population, Martin Jasek was able to discover seven people, who saw the UFO. He identified them with the designation of PEL followed by a number since many did not want their names made public.
PEL1, identified as Don Trudeau, was located off the highway in the woods to the northeast of Pelly Crossing. He was tending a trap line and estimated that he saw the event between 8 and 9 PM.3 Mr. Trudeau reports seeing the object in the west and it appeared to react to his flashlight. It came towards him. After he covered his flashlight, the object moved slowly to his right. It emitted a beam as it moved. The duration of the sighting was estimated to be four minutes.
PEL2 and 3 were together in the same car and driving north on the highway. PEL2 referred to it as “whole big cluster of stars moving!”4 According to PEL3, they pulled off the road near a gravel pit and watched the UFO slowly fade away, “some lights started to go out beforetheothers”.5 PEL2confirmedthisbystatingthateachofthelightsextinguishedinrapidsuccession.Thetrajectorywasfrom West to East and PEL2 saw it pass below the big dipper. He even included a sketch of the UFO showing the direction of flight in relation to this well known star pattern. According to PEL2, he arrived home around 9:10 PM. Working backward, they determined the time of the sighting as 9:00PM.
PEL4, 5, 6, and 7 were taking a course at a local college and came out for their break about 8:30 PM.6 They noticed the formation of lights in the northwest and saw it traverse the sky towards the northeast. The object was at a low angular elevation according to PEL 5 and 6. However, PEL 7 thought the object was much higher and closer to a 45 degree angle of elevation. While PEL 5 and 6 stated the event lasted about 3 minutes, PEL 7 (who was with them) estimated it to be more like five or ten minutes. Witnesses PEL 5, 6 and 7 also heard that witnesses in Dawson (about 120 miles to the northwest) and Mayo (about 60 miles to the NNE) also saw the UFO.
The Carmacks concentration
Alittle more than halfway between Fox Lake and Pelly crossing, is the village of Carmacks. The population for this town is not much greater than Pelly. Jasek discovered nine witnesses here but this large number is misleading. Four of the witnesses were all in the same vehicle. The other five involve a single family, where three of the witnesses were small children.
CRM1 through 4 were driving north along the highway when they saw the UFO appear.7 The driver (CRM2) stopped the car and they all got out to see the UFO move from the northwest to northeast. According to witness CRM1, the UFO, which was a dark shape behind the lights, then went to the east and headed south. The time of observation, according to him, was at 7:00 PM. CRM2 stated the lights were visible for around ten minutes and reported that they only moved from NW to NE. He estimated the angular size as being approximately 60 degrees. CRM2 also stated they went towards the airstrip to the northeast of town to see if the UFO had landed there. Witness CRM3 gave no time and did not say anything to Jasek but did talk to another investigator. Jasek could not interview witness CRM4.
The remaining five witnesses CRM5-9 were a family of five.8 The father had seen the lights through a northeast window moving left to right. It moved slowly and was low (near treetop level). It consisted of a row of lights that went out as it moved to the right. While CRM5 stated his sighting was initially between 9 and 10PM, he adjusted his sighting time to just after 7PM after talking to investigators and his brother, witness CRM2.
Observations at Fox lake
The witnesses at Fox Lake were all in cars driving north. Their locations are based on what they remember and not what was recorded at the time.
FOX1 was driving north and, as he approached the southern end of the lake, he saw a bright light to the north-northwest.9 He drove the length of the lake but noticed nothing unusual about the light. On the northern side of Fox lake, after a car and a semi-trailer had passed by him going southbound, he suddenly noticed that the light was now three rows of lights moving eastward in front of him. They disappeared behind the hill to the right of the road and he lost of sight of them. No specific time was listed in Jasek’s description but he gave a time range of between 7:45 and 8:15 PM.
FOX2 and FOX3 were in two separate cars driving north along the lake.10 They were traveling together with FOX2 being a mile or so ahead of FOX3. FOX2 saw the UFO “hovering” over the lake. He stopped the car. FOX3 also stopped his car south of FOX2. FOX2 reported the UFO approached him, passed over his head, and then proceeded eastward over the hill. FOX3 reported seeing the UFO approach FOX2 and pass over him in an eastward direction. FOX3 noted the time as between 8:25 and 8:30 PM. While they stated that they had stopped their cars when inteviewed by Jasek, it is important to point out that FOX3 in his account written a month after the event stated he did not stop his car even though he wanted to do so. 11 FOX2 and 3 then drove up the road a short distance to a campground, where they discussed what they saw.
Further to south were witnesses FOX 4 and 5. They saw the UFO as it passed over the lake. Like a majority of the other witnesses, they noted that the direction of travel from left (west/northwest) to the right (east/northeast). FOX 5 recalled looking at the car’s clock (one of the few witnesses, who seemed to think about noting the actual time) and remembered it as 8:23PM.12
The mothership conclusion
Based on what the witnesses told him, Martin Jasek drew the conclusion that a massive UFO was flying across the Klondike
Highway that night at low altitude. Since the UFO was determined by his calculations to be very low in altitude, it would be
impossible for the witnesses to all see the same UFO at the same time. If we accept Jasek’s conclusion as the correct one, then there were either multiple UFO motherships flying from west to east that night or there was just one such UFO making multiple passes from west to east. In the single mothership theory, one has to assume that the UFO was able to move back towards the west and not be seen by anybody on the highway so it could then put itself into position further south/north along the highway to repeat another west to east pass.
Jasek accepts the sighting data from the witnesses as being very accurate. He uses this subjective data to compute altitudes and object size that appears to match what the witnesses described. However, there are some issues that he chose not to mention or consider in his analysis.
How good are the eyewitness reports?
While Jasek presents a rather impressive array of witnesses, there are some important factors that need to be considered here regarding eyewitness testimony. One of the world’s top experts on such testimony is Elizabeth Loftus, who wrote the book, Eyewitness testimony, in 1979. Despite being over thirty years old, the book is still relevant. In her book, Loftus states:
When we experience an important event, we do not simply record that event in memory as a videotape recorder would. The situation is more complex. Nearly all of the theoretical analyses of the process divide it into three stages...First, there is the ACQUISITION stage--the perception of the original event-- in which information is encoded, laid down, or entered into a person’s memory system. Sec- ond, there is the RETENTION stage, the period of time that passes between the event and the eventual recollection of a particular piece of information. Third, there is the RETRIEVAL stage during which a person recalls stored information..This three-stage analysis is so central to the concept of the human memory that it is virtually accepted among psychologists.14 (emphasis mine)
In the acquisition phase, the witness sees the event and interprets it based on their own knowledge/ beliefs. Elizabeth Loftus de- scribes this problem with “expectations” :
Some psychologists believe that expectations cause a real change in what a person perceives....other psychologists believe that our ex- pectations do not affect perception itself but rather they affect how we interpret what we have seen, or how we respond to what we have see. Whichever of these theories is correct (and there is some possibility that both may be true in part), one thing is clear and accepted by all. Expectations have an enormous impact on what a person claims to have seen. 15(emphasis mine)
Did any of the witnesses have preconceived notions about what a UFO should look like. Writing in the Condon report, Dr. William Hartmann noticed this problem when evaluating the reports written by witnesses regarding the observations of the Zond IV re- entry:
Reports of a “cigar-shape” apparently stem from a subjective tendency to connect the string of sources and from popularization of this concept in the UFO literature. This important phenomenon I will call the “airship effect;” it is demonstrably present even in reports as far back as 1913.....16 (emphasis mine)
In July of 1996, the movie “Independence day” made it into the theaters. The alien spaceships in this film were massive objects. Is it possible that knowl- edge about the film and its huge spaceships might have had an effect on how the witnesses interpreted what they saw?
In his MUFON journal article (February 2000), Jasek reports that they did not start interviewing witnesses until February 1999.17 This is over two years after the actual event and brings up another point raised by Loftus regarding eyewitness testimony. The retention stage can result in changes in what a witness remembers.
When a witness perceives a complex event, a number of factors, such as the exposure time, or the salience of the event, or the witness’s prior expectations, will affect the accuracy of what is perceived and stored in memory. But to compound the problem once the material has already been encoded, further changes can take place. The time between a complex experience and a witness’s recollections of that experience is a crucial period. Both the length of this retention interval and the events that take place during it affect a witness’s testimony. ..It is by now a well-established fact that people are less accurate and complete in their eyewitness accounts after a long retention interval than a short one.18 (emphasis mine)
Another factor not considered/mentioned by Jasek is that many of the witnesses were together at the time of the sighting. The were not independent of each other. Some of them were related and talked to each other afterwards. Loftus mentions the effects of such post event discussions:
Time alone does not cause the slippage of memory. It is caused in part by what goes on during that passage of time. Often after wit- nessing an important event, one is exposed to new information about it......Postevent information can not only enhance existing memories but also change a witness’s memory and even cause nonexistent details to become incorporated into a previously acquired memory.19 (emphasis mine)
Two of the principle witnesses presented by Jasek are the witnesses FOX2 and FOX3. They were used for a critical triangulation ef- fort to determine the size of the UFO. However, both FOX 2 and 3 discussed what they had seen immediately after the event. FOX 3 was sure that the UFO passed directly over FOX2 in the statement he had written a month later. How much of an effect did this have with FOX2’s description TWO YEARS later? The angle of elevation for his UFO could change from a low elevation to directly overhead.
It is important for those defending this case as an alien spaceship to understand the quality of the evidence they are presenting. What Elizabeth Loftus states in her book should be “required reading”:
During the time between an event and a witness’s recollection of that event -- a period often called the “retention interval” -- the bits and pieces of information that were acquired through perception do not passively reside in memory waiting to pulled out like fish from water. Rather, they are subject to numerous influences. External information provided from the outside can intrude into the witness’s memory, as can his own thoughts, and both can cause dramatic changes in his recollections.
People’s memories are fragile things. It is important to realize how easily information can be introduced into memory, to understand why this happens, and to avoid it when it is undersirable.20
Relying on eyewitness testimony as the sole evidence for drawing conclusions regarding this event is fraught with the possibility of mistakes.
The skeptical viewpoint
While Jasek interprets the eyewitness testimony as being rock solid, skeptics look at it as less reliable. They are not stating that the witnesses are lying but suggest that the testimony has potential errors that need to be considered when evaluating what was seen.
One of the problems with Jasek’s eyewitness testimony is the question of time. While some recalled a specific time, others seemed to not think of looking at the clock or their watch. The Pelly crossing witnesses give a time range of between 8 and 9 PM. Probably the best time frame is given by the witnesses who were in class and had just gone on break, which was scheduled for 8:30 PM. The Carmacks witnesses are tied to two different time frames. CRMS1 said the time was at 7PM but CRMS5 originally thought it was between 9 and 10 PM. All we can gather is that the time range probably encompassed between 7 and 10PM. The median time for this is 8:30PM. The Fox lake witness were consistent except for FOX 1, who gave a time frame of 7:45-8:15. If we assume a margin for error (remember this is based on two year old memories), we can assume that he probably saw the same event and it was the same 8:30PM time reported by the other Fox Lake witnesses.
The direction described by the witnesses is reasonably consistent with a few exceptions All mention the direction of travel being eastward and seeing the object to the north of them. Because a majority of the witnesses were driving north on a road, they had a ready reference point from which to determine direction. There were some witnesses that gave directions that were slightly differ- ent. My experience from examining fireball reports has shown that there are often reports that are not consistent with the others and are usually a result of an individual being confused about direction or having memories that are not quite accurate. Considering the fact that they were reported two years later, these kinds of errors are not that surprising. Ignoring these potential errors can result in improper calculations and inaccurate conclusions.
Jasek spends a great deal of time trying to calculate the size and altitude of the UFOs reported up and down the highway using these observations of direction. In the case of the Pelly crossing sighting, he relies heavily on the Don Trudeau observations to make the UFO appear close to the observers in his calculations. However, Mr. Trudeau was not on the road and was in the middle of the woods on a trail. He did not have the ready reference of where north was located. Add to this that he was telling his story years later under the influence of a UFO investigator and there is a potential for error. If his initial observation was actually to the northwest instead of due west, the true position of the UFO, based on all the observations, is much farther away from the observers than estimated. There is reason to suspect that this was the case when one examines all the observations (Carmacks/Pelly Crossing/ Fox lake) as an observation of the same event. They all could not see the same object close up at the same time over a distance of over a hundred miles.
The observations of FOX 2 and 3 appears to be the prize rebuttal being presented by Jasek/Rutkowski. They have selected the ob- servation by FOX 2, who stated the UFO passed overhead, to demonstrate the UFO was close and not far away. FOX2 gave sketches based on two-year old memories. In figures 7 and 8 he drew his location and where he thought the UFO was located relative to his position.
It is interesting to point out that, In Figure 7 (right)21, the car is located after the turn but in figure 8 (left)22 is before the turn. Does this imply that he did not stop his car as he claimed or can’t he remember where he was located? More importantly, looking at fig- ure 7 closely, we see that FOX2 drew the UFO not directly above him but that he was on the southern edge of the UFO body. The main body of the UFO was in front of him. This indicates the UFO was not directly overhead as he claimed but at a lower angle of elevation.
During the Condon study, the problem with angles of elevation estimates by witnesses was identified:
The angular elevation, or apparent location above the horizon, of objects is generally not estimated very accurately at all. The difference from 0° or from 90° of angles near the horizon or near the zenith tends to be substantially overestimated. Anything that is more than 45° or even 30° above the horizon is often reported as overhead.23
One can see this problem with the Pelly crossing witnesses. Three witnesses saw the same event. Two, PEL5 and 6, saw the object as low on the horizon. However, PEL 7 gave a much higher angle of elevation. This was in disagreement with all the other observations made by other witnesses in the area.
Based on the sketches, time span that had elapsed between the event and the report, the potential influence of FOX 3, and the potential for gross error in estimating the angle of elevation, it appears the FOX2/FOX3 triangulation argument is not a very reliable measurement that can be used to establish the true location and altitude of this UFO.
If we assume that all of the witnesses up and down the highway saw the same UFO over the same time period and in the same posi- tion in the sky, we come to the conclusion that what was visible was not very close at all. It would have to have been very high in actual altitude and quite a distance away from the observers.
It was Ted Molczan and Harro Zimmer who broke open this case in 2012. They had identified that it was possible that the booster rocket that had launched Cosmos 2335, less than 24 hours earlier, might have re-entered over Alaska and Northwestern Canada. Using the last set of Two line elements for the rocket body and special software, a potential track was computed. It was a very good match for the path across the sky many of the witnesses reported. It started in the northwest for all the observation points and moved towards the northeast. The sketch made by witness PEL224 (below left) of the UFO and the big dipper was a very close ap- proximation as to the computed trajectory created by Molczan25 (below right).
The rocket body re-entry also explains how all the witness- es saw something very similar from so many different loca- tions over a wide area. Most reported an easterly motion coming from the west or northwest low in the sky. Those witnesses who reported something slightly different (high angles of elevation, directions/trajectories indicating bi- zarre motion) could very well have been inaccurate due to mistaken perceptions created during the acquisition stage or altered memories created in the retention phase.
Re-entry events perceived as UFOs
Space debris re-entries have been a UFO report genera- tor since the early days of the space age. When Sput- nik 2 re-entered in April of 1958, it produced UFO reports. One of the most famous occurred on March 3rd, 1968. The debris from Zond IV had re-entered the Earth’s atmo- sphere over the eastern United States and produced many reports to project Blue Book. Several of the witnesses had
allowed their preconceptions of what a UFO looked like to produce a craft with windows, when all that was visible was points of light against a dark sky.
Several other cases have produced very similar UFO reports: December 31, 1978 - UK - cosmos 2068 rocket
November 5, 1990 - Western Europe - Gorizont 21 rocket body March 30-31, 1993 - UK - cosmos 2238 rocket
November 14, 1997 - Northwestern US - Proton K rocket September 1, 1999 - Northwestern US - Proton K rocket September 7, 1999 - Florida - Proton K rocket
Many of these produced rather bizarre descriptions of massive objects with lights. The November 5, 1990 case is particularly inter- esting because the witnesses were subjected to a Rorschach test of sorts. Just about any shape imaginable was sketched by the witnesses.31
How re-entering space debris is reported has been recorded for many decades. Sometimes, the event is simply recorded as a bright fireball because it behaves like one. However, when the debris is large enough to break up and spread out over many degrees of sky, witnesses begin to perceive the lights as being connected to some dark object. When this occurs, UFO reports appear in large numbers.
The missing witnesses
An important characteristic of UFO sightings that Dr. Hartmann noticed about the Zond IV case was something he referred to as the “Excitedness effect”:
An effect important to the UFO problem is demonstrated by the records: the excited observers who thought they had witnessed a very strange phenomenon produced the most detailed, longest, and most misconceived reports, but those who by virtue of experience most nearly recognized the nature of the phenomenon became the least excited and produced the briefest reports. The “excitedness effect” has an important bearing on the UFO problem. It is a selection effect by which the least accurate reports are made more prominent (since the observer becomes highly motivated to make a report), while the most accurate reports may not be recorded. 32
If there were observers, who saw this as an alien spaceship, were there observers who saw this as a meteor or space debris re-entry? Since it was two years later, it is unlikely that Jasek would have encountered anybody who remembered this as an astronomical event unless they were an astronomer. These observers probably would be unable to recall the date even though it was quite the spectacular event. Despite the lack of any witnesses from Jasek, who thought it was a meteor, there are hints that some people identified this as a meteor or re-entry. In the film produced about the Yukon UFO with the title, “It came from the heavens”, a witness named Jean VanBibber said she talked to a Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP) the next day. He apparently saw the event but had come to a different conclusion about what he had observed:
I went to the post office and...the next day and I saw the RCMP there and I told him, I said, well, I saw that big UFO that flew over yester- day... last night. And he said, that was no UFO, that was a meteor breaking up...33
Additionally, Jasek provides no newspaper reports from December 12 or 13, 1996. The media might have recorded the event during that time period as something like a meteor and not like an alien spaceship. Examining the newspaper archive, I found one report from Alaska that indicated the object was not an alien spaceship.33
While the article mentions many meteors that night, it also mentions two balls of light, seen by many observers, that were moving from west to east in the northern sky at about 8PM. They wrongfully attributed this to the Geminid meteor display when it sounds more like the rocket body re-entry.
No explanation, other than an alien spaceship, is ever good enough
The UFOlogical response to the Molczan explanation is an example of “to the last man” defense often found in “classic” UFO case discussions. Instead of acknowledging the possibility that the explanation has merit or providing a valid counterargument dem- onstrating that the calculations by Zimmer/Molczan were inaccurate, Jasek retreats to the standard UFOlogical position of assuming theeyewitness“knewwhattheysaw”. Hehaschosentoignorewhatisknownabouthowsatelliteentriescanbemisinterpretedand the issues associated with eyewitness testimony. Instead, Jasek selectively chose subjective measurements based on two year-old memories to convince himself that it was not a re-entering rocket booster. This approach ignores the bulk of the testimony that suggests the object was much further away and higher in altitude. Most importantly, Jasek/Rutkowski ignore the fact that this re- entry did occur about the same time the witnesses (especially at Fox Lake and Pelly Crossing) reported seeing their massive UFO but failed to see the actual re-entry! Either it was an incredible coincidence that the UFO was passing through the sky the same way and at the same time the re-entry occurred OR they simply misinterpreted the re-entry as a UFO.
Quelle: SUNlite 2/2014