Tuesday, July 31, 2001
Bringing 'Roswell Incident' Back to Earth
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
PLACITAS No one wanted to believe more than Karl Pflock that it was an alien spacecraft that crashed near Roswell in 1947.
A former senior Pentagon official-turned-writer and UFO investigator, Pflock categorized himself as a "hopeful agnostic" when he took up his Roswell investigation in earnest nine years ago.
"In truth, in the back of my mind, there was always this unstated assumption that, yes, there was a crashed flying saucer," Pflock said in a recent interview at his Placitas home.
Nine years of investigation led Pflock to a different conclusion. It really was a research balloon, not a spacecraft, that crashed near Roswell 54 years ago, Pflock argues in his newly published book "Roswell: Inconvenient Facts and the Will to Believe."
It is a point skeptics have been trying to make since the early '90s. But Pflock's book is different, coming from a UFO believer, said Dave Thomas, a Peralta physicist who has worked for years to try to convince the public there was no Roswell spacecraft.
"I think, if anything, that will help shake up some of the UFO people," Thomas said.
According to Pflock, the evidence is stronger than ever.
It was an oddly equipped research balloon that crashed near Roswell. The U.S. government covered it up, Pflock believes, not because it was an alien spacecraft, but because the balloon experiment was a Cold War secret.
But it is clear the Roswell faithful in the UFO community will not go down easily.
In the latest issue of the International UFO Reporter, UFO investigator Robert Durant says the book bears the hallmark of "pathological science" an unwillingness to seriously consider evidence that conflicts with one's beliefs.
"The idea of giving it up is more than they can stand," Pflock said.
Growing body of rumor
Over the past decade, Roswell has become the most visible icon for the belief that alien spacecrafts have visited Earth, and that powerful forces know about it and are covering it up.
But Roswell was not always so prominent.
What we now know as the Roswell Incident started in the summer of 1947 when a rancher found mysterious debris on his ranch near Corona.
Officials from Roswell Army Air Field collected the debris and issued a news release saying a "flying disc" had been found.
It was in the midst of a flurry of reports around the country of mysterious objects in the sky, the beginning of a "flying saucer" craze.
Military officials, nervous about their newfound Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union, were desperate to find out what the "saucers" were. Could they be some secret Soviet craft?
The Roswell story evaporated hours later when the Army said the "saucer" debris was just a crashed weather balloon.
Roswell was consigned to history's scrap heap until UFO researchers resurrected it in the late 1970s.
Old witnesses were interviewed and a new crop emerged, some telling tales of crashed saucers and alien bodies.
For Pflock, Roswell offered something most UFO cases do not the possibility of tangible, physical evidence of an alien visitation.
"That's the holy grail," he said.
After a career in Washington, D.C., that included a stint in the Reagan administration Pentagon as a deputy assistant secretary of defense, Pflock turned in 1992 to writing and UFO research full time.
His goal was to sort out what really happened at Roswell.
Sifting for facts
First, he had to strip away eyewitnesses who cropped up late in the game, claiming to have seen bodies or to have worked on a spaceship crash recovery team.
Like most UFO researchers, Pflock dismissed them as lacking credibility, finding inconsistencies and holes in their stories.
That left a group of people who really saw something, the debris of whatever it was that crashed on that New Mexico ranch 54 years ago. To be sure, it was something mysterious.
But a careful comparison of eyewitness accounts with recently declassified accounts of a secret research project called Mogul appear to answer the question, according to Pflock.
The Mogul researchers were seeing whether it would be possible to use balloons to listen for high-altitude echoes of Soviet nuclear tests.
"The bulk of what they remember," Pflock said of the eyewitnesses who actually saw the debris, "matches project Mogul."
But the real clinching evidence for Pflock was in the archives of the government itself.
For years after the Roswell Incident, senior military officials, writing in highly classified documents, bemoaned their lack of progress in solving the UFO mystery.
If only, the documents said, they could recover some crash remains.
In other words, years after the Roswell "saucer crash," the very government officials conducting top-secret investigations of the saucer phenomenon were bemoaning their lack of physical evidence.
Pflock acknowledges that UFO believers will simply argue the documents are simply part of the government cover-up.
But they were written, he notes, at a time when there was no Freedom of Information Act, before any of their authors would ever expect their words to be publicly revealed.
Pflock believes there are UFO cases worth study, that might shed light on the question of whether aliens have visited us. But Roswell is not one of them.
"I think that Roswell has just become an absolutely whale-sized red herring," he said.