I don’t often comment on UFO cases but this one interests me for the dynamics it displays between “believers” and “skeptics,” and I find myself somewhere between the two camps. It interests me, in the first instance, because it is one of those cases where – thankfully – we are not dealing with reports of dead extra-terrestrials or any such stories of “evidence” to prejudge the case.
The celebrated early ufologist Major Donald Keyhoe first wrote about this case in his book The Flying Saucer Conspiracy. According to Keyhoe, on Nov 12, 1953 radar operators observed a return on their screens over northern Michigan that appears suddenly. An F89 fighter jet was scrambled from nearby Kinross Air Force base to intercept and investigate. Traveling at approximately 500 mph the figher passed over the far eastern edge of Michigan’s upper peninsula. Approximately 100 miles from Sault Ste. Marie, the return from the jet and the unknown object merged. The radar return then faded from the screen and the fighter was never heard from again.
The next day, the Chicago Tribune ran an AP wire story with the headline “Jet, 2 Aboard, Vanishes Over Lake Superior.” Beyond talking about the merging of the radar returns, the short article provided no other information. Later, the local Sault Ste. Marie newspaper quoted a local Kinross AFB spokesman as stating that the unknown object was in fact a C-47 military transport of the Royal Canadian Air Force, a statement that the Canadian government to this day still denies. Adding further difficulty to this explanation was the fact that the UFO was being tracked at speeds of 500mph, whereas the top speed of the C-47 was only about 200mph. Keyhoe apparently was told about the incident the very night that it occurred from a retired military source.
Contacting the Air Force the day after the incident, Keyhoe was informed that the aircraft had simply lost power, and crashed into Lake Superior. His suspicions rose that the Air Force was covering up something when he was also told that the ground radar crew, misread their radar returns, and that the the aircraft and the unknown object were actually several miles apart. These suspicions were only deepened when the Air Force couldn’t get its story straight to the widow of the lost aircraft’s pilot. At first, she had been informed that her husband simply flew too low, and crashed into Lake Superior. But another Air Force representative who visited a few days later, when asked if she could recover her husband’s body, told her that the body was not recoverable because her husband’s plane had exploded at high altitude.
Keyhoe and a German-American friend of his, Walther Riedel, decided that the case might be the key to the entire UFO mystery, and speculated that perhaps extraterrestrials were seeking some sort of contact with humans – literally abducting the Kinross F-89 crew alive to learn our language in order to communicate with us! For Keyhoe, the final piece de resistance of the story was the fact that the base radar operator, 2nd Lt. Douglas A. Stuart, stated that “It seems incredible but the blip apparently just swallowed our F-89.”
At this juncture, the skeptics weigh in to point out that the Northrup F-89 was plagued with manifold design problems that were so grievous that the Air Force nearly abandoned the aircraft altogether. The faulty-aircraft explanation was further enhanced by the discovery in 1968, reported in the local Sault Ste. Marie newspaper, of wreckage of an F-89. So much for the Kinross case…
…or was it? Notice on the one hand that the reported speed of the UFO was far in excess of anything a C-47 was capable of, and, if the Canadian Government is telling the truth, none of its C-47s were in the area that night to begin with. But note also, the speed of the UFO was hardly sufficient enough to conclude that it was “extraterrestrial” either. The only unusual thing, as far as Keyhoe then knew the story, was the apparent merging of the radar returns and the disappearance of the F-89, and the inability of the Air Force to settle upon a consistent story: now it’s a collision with a Canadian C-47, now its pilot error flying too low, now it’s a high altitude explosion.
But surely the appearance of the F-89 wreckage in 1968 settles the matter? Perhaps, but then, why did it crash, and what was the original radar return? And why did the radar operator himself say that the two object’s returns merged? Surely if there was a collision some other wreckage might have been recovered, but none has ever been mentioned. And there’s not sufficient detail – as far as I know – to determine if the wreckage that was recovered was that from the lost F-89. Indeed, if there was a collision with a Royal Canadian Air Force c-47, then at some point one would expect recovery of that type of wreckage as well, yet none has ever been reported. So in my view, the Canadian government is probably telling the truth: there was no Canadian C-47 in the area that day.
The explanation that the original radar return was another case of an artificially produced return doesn’t work either, for why would the Air Force come up with three conflicting accounts when it could have simply admitted that the aircraft was lost through malfunction. In short, in my opinion, nothing adds up here, neither for the skeptical case of F89 malfunction, nor for the case that this was something extraterrestrial. The lone signature that indicates we might be in the presence of an exotic technology is the merger of the radar returns, the loss of the F89, while the original radar return remained visible until it went out of range. If there was a collision, in other words, it remained unaffected by it. And if there was not then we’re left with a coincidental malfunction of the aircraft at the very point of contact, or a deliberate hostile action against the F89 by the unknown, or, as some versions of the story have it, with the F89 simply being “swallowed whole” by whatever it encountered.
As if to heighten the whole mystery of the incident still further, in 1988 the late Robert G. Todd obtained an account of the incident under Freedom of Information Act inquiries. The official account states, somewhat cryptically, “The fighter and the bogey (unidentified) blips merged on the GCI radar scope and there was no further transmission from the fighter. The bogey was not aware of any aircraft in the area, and GCI saw no blips break off from the target.”
Say that again? “The bogey was not aware of any aircraft in the area…”? Todd, of course, thought this was simply a mistake. But what if it wasn’t? What if it was an inadvertent slip? Either way, it is clear that the Air Force thought it was dealing with the signatures of a real technology, not a will-of-the-radar-wisp.
In the end, the dynamics are clear: the skeptical explanations do not do full justice to the facts of the case, but similarly, the extra-terrestrial explanation exceeds them. For my part, the indicators are that we’re dealing with a technology of some sort, probably not under US Air Force control (or at least, not known to the officers of Kinross). The indicators are too slim to point conclusively to anything extraterrestrial, but by the same token, they leave an air of mystery hovering over the whole incident that does suggest that in the Kinross case, we’re dealing with something significant and beyond the known ordinary capabilities of the US Air Force at the time.