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KNAPPSTER

George Knapp is a longtime reporter and anchor for KLAS Channel 8.

Thursday, June 03, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Knappster: Usual scientific explanations lacking in Mexico UFO case

By George Knapp

The official arrival of summer is still a few weeks away, but "pool weather" is already upon us, and that means it is perfectly acceptable to plop down and read whatever strikes your fancy. This is my justification for writing a UFO column.

Some readers are probably aware of my longtime interest in the UFO topic. Although I no longer report on UFO matters for local TV, my fat face seems to pop up weekly on some cable network UFO special. (In just the past week, I received three more requests for interviews and/or assistance from international journalists working on separate UFO programs.)

Mainstream science and the U.S. government have done all they can to discourage serious public interest and inquiries into the UFO subject, but the damned flying saucers just don't want to cooperate. They keep popping up at inopportune moments. Most are explainable, but a few are not.

The UFO news out of Mexico in the past few weeks caused a minor stir on this side of the border for a day or so, then quickly faded into oblivion, overwhelmed by grim news in Iraq. But the Mexican incident is one of the most intriguing cases in recent memory--and one of the best documented. It deserves some attention. The source of the information is the Mexican Air Force, which was given the green light to release the data by Mexico's version of Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense.

On March 5, a Mexican Air Force C26A, while on a drug interdiction and surveillance mission over the state of Campeche, encountered 11 unidentified flying objects. The UFOs were detected on both radar and a sophisticated thermal imaging sensor (known as FLIR) aboard the plane. The encounter occurred at 11,000 feet an hour before sunset and in clear weather. It lasted about 15 minutes and was recorded on the plane's cameras. At one point, eight of the objects formed a circle around the plane. Crew members were understandably shaken.

Mexican defense officials ordered a hush-hush study of the incident. They spent five weeks trying to figure out what had happened but couldn't come up with any explanation for what had been seen by radar, FLIR, cameras and eyewitnesses. The best they could do was to conclude the UFOs were solid objects of unknown origin and that they had flown along with the C26A under what appeared to be intelligent control. That's when they decided to go public. They took the highly unusual step of contacting prominent Mexican TV journalist and UFO investigator Jaime Maussan and then simply handed over everything they had on the case. Astonishing, to say the least. Governments do not cooperate with UFO investigators, as a rule, at least not the U.S. government.

Maussan, whom Knappster has known for nearly 10 years, broadcast the Air Force footage on his popular TV program. He and the Air Force held a news conference and made the footage and evidence available to other media outlets.

That's when the debunking started. Mexican scientists seemed to take their cues from all the old excuses handed out by the U.S. Air Force in years gone by, dredging up a veritable hit parade of weak explanations.

The first explanation was that this must have been ball lightning, a rare atmospheric phenomenon that has been used many times by American debunkers to try to explain away UFO cases. A nuclear scientist named Dr. Julio Herrera of National Autonomous University was contacted by the Associated Press. Herrera theorized that the UFOs were electrical flashes, and AP went with the story, ignoring the fact that this incident occurred in a cloudless sky and that it lasted for more than 15 minutes. Las Vegas physicist Dr. Eric Davis spent six years studying ball lightning and wrote a paper about it for Air Force Materiel Command at Edwards Air Force Base, where Dr. Davis worked for a time. Simply put, there is no way that ball lightning could be responsible, Davis says. Ball lightning occurs during storms, not in cloudless skies. It generally lasts only a few seconds, sometimes up to a minute, but NEVER for 15 minutes. Besides, the Mexican Air Force had already looked at this explanation and found it wanting.

The inestimable Dr. Herrera wasn't deterred, though. A day or two later, he offered a new explanation that was dutifully reported by skeptical media. He theorized that the UFO flashes were caused by the ignition of natural gases in the atmosphere. (He didn't actually use the term "swamp gas," but damn that would have been ballsy if he had.) The Campeche coast is an oil-producing region, so there is natural gas in the area. But no one knows of natural gas pockets that rise to 11,000 feet. Besides, the sensors on the plane revealed the objects to be solid, with definable parameters.. Plus, the objects followed the plane for many miles and even formed a circle around it. Does gas do that?

Another scientist speculated that the UFOs were "almost certainly" space junk, pieces of satellite debris that had burned up in the atmosphere. Again, this explanation doesn't fit the described behavior of the objects. Debris doesn't surround a plane and fly along with it. In addition, the Mexican Air Force certainly would have known if the Campeche coast was being dive-bombed by a vast field of space debris.

Finally, another critic offered up the old chestnut that it must have been weather balloons that caused the sightings. As with the ball lightning explanation, this one would have been more credible had anyone bothered to contact Mexico's National Meteorological Service, which explained that there were no weather balloons anywhere near Campeche on that day. A spokesman also noted that no one had bothered to contact the NMS to find out if ball lightning would have been a possible explanation. It would not have been, the NMS concluded.

A couple of UFO enthusiasts on this side of the border have taken the case to the other extreme, declaring that the Campeche UFOs were "alien motherships" and that the incident is a sign of more encounters to come. Simply put, we don't know what the objects were. They are, be definition, unidentified and will probably remain so.

The most significant development to come out of this, in my opinion, is the willingness of the Mexican government to openly discuss a UFO encounter. It is a demonstrable fact that world governments have classified files on UFO incidents, files that have never seen the light of day. For the Mexican military to openly admit that it has no idea what was flying around in its airspace is an astounding departure from the party line toed by other governments.

One other explanation needs to be considered. A colleague of mine with extensive experience in UFO investigations and with government agencies suggests that perhaps the Mexican Air Force assumed the UFOs were some sort of secret American craft being tested in Mexican airspace. It is conceivable they decided to go public with the incident because they wanted to put the American military on notice that this has got to stop. Of course, this scenario depends on the idea that the United States has developed some sort of invisible craft that mimics the characteristics of ball lightning and space debris.

A UFO addendum

The Mercury has gone international. Our previous stories about paranormal events on the so-called "Skinwalker Ranch" in Utah have been picked up and reprinted in Brazil's leading UFO magazine. The cover story was titled, "As fantasticas manobras do Skinwalker" It is a bit weird to see the story as written in Portuguese.

Gaming notes from Macau

Our colleague Harald Bruning, who covers Macau for the South China Post, says he has confirmed that the Sands casino raked in 60 million patacas during its first week of operation. That's about $7.5 million, better than expected, but not enough to frighten reigning Macanese gaming czar Stanley Ho, who vows that he "won't be afraid of 10 Sands casinos." Bruning says the Sands casino already reminds locals of Ho's casinos in that the place is filled with Chinese gamblers, lined up at the tables. Also lined up were hungry Chinese curious about the Sands' American-style buffet.

It also appears the legislature of Macau has voted to allow gambling operators to grant credit to customers This was a major sticking point for Steve Wynn's entry into the Macau market. He wanted casinos to offer credit so that gamblers didn't have to go to either banks or loan sharks. The ubiquitous Harald Bruning says the Macanese lawmakers have approved a plan that will allow casinos to grant credit, but only in the form of casino chips, not in cash.

Nevada Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt is readying for her return trip to China. She will be in Beijing June 7 to dedicate Nevada's new trade and tourism office, which has the potential to reap huge dividends for Nevada's economy. Hunt will not be traveling back to Macau during her trip, according to her staff.

Final gaming note: The government of Macau collected 10 billion patacas in casino taxes last year, which amounts to 35 percent of the casinos' gross revenues. Imagine what the casinos here would say if the state charged 35 percent of their gross revenues.


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