Our fearless reporter survives a close encounter with UFO investigators.
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“Welcome, UFOS and crews” is the message on the rubber mat at Walt Andrus’ front door in Seguin. Not that the 71-year-old retired Motorola production manager expects E.T. to be dropping in, but as a founder and director of MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, Andrus keeps the welcome mat out to entertain terrestrials.
Established in 1969, MUFON now has directors in every state in the country and has become the world’s largest organization for investigating reports of unidentified flying objects. Frequent UFO sightings in the last few years—including one videotaped near Corpus Christi on February 15—have kept Andrus and his staff of four busy. “We’re getting more and more sightings all the time,” he tells me cheerfully, his eyes crinkling as he pats his thinning gray hair.
Today Andrus is “swamped,” he says. He has just returned from a week-long UFO conference in Arkansas, and his correspondence—which includes letters from Russia that he can’t read—has stacked up several inches high. Two staff members are busy at a computer and answering the phone in the office addition to the Andrus house. Jeanne Andrus, who has been married to Walt for almost fifty years, assembles manuals for UFO field investigators in the living room. Outside on the patio Illobrand von Ludwiger, a physicist from Munich who is also the director of the Central European branch of MUFON, sits reading.
Inside Andrus’ office the decor is out of this world. Several toy spaceships are parked on top of a bank of file cabinets. Andrus activates a bowl-size Hovercraft—a light on top blinks cherry-red, the fan inside whirs, and the little unit hovers over a desk. Another replica with suction-cup-like feet proves to be a radio, and as Andrus flicks on the switch an advertisement for Schlitterbahn blares. There is also the obligatory E.T. doll and others that more resemble the insectlike creatures described by native Texan Whitley Strieber in his best-selling books Communion and Revelation.
Andrus explains that his interest came relatively late in life, when, at the age of 27, he sighted his first UFOs. He was on vacation in Phoenix in the summer of 1948 with his family, and during a midday stroll through downtown his 5-year-old son looked up and yelled, “Look! Balloons!” Andrus recalls the four silver round objects moving slowly to the west and then vanishing one by one. “Then,” he says, “three of them popped back into view. There was never a jet trail, and there was no sound.” At the time, Andrus was skeptical. “I assumed these were experimental crafts the Air Force was developing,” he says. But time has altered his opinion.
Andrus readily cautions that most UFO reports can be explained: “Eighty to ninety percent turn out to be something mundane.” And that can prove disappointing to well-intentioned observers who, says Andrus, “really want to see a UFO.” That includes his wife, Jeanne, who spied a shiny, slowly moving object one evening and was sure it was a flying saucer. No, no, advised her husband—“It was just Venus setting in the west.” The MUFON field investigator’s manual warns that the brightest star, Sirius, and the three brightest planets—Jupiter, Mars, and Venus—are frequently mistaken for alien-bearing ships. Comets, meteors, and the moon in its red-hued gibbous phase can also be misinterpreted when they are distorted and magnified by atmospheric phenomena. Other culprits include ball lightning, swamp gas, mirages, distant tornadoes, and sunlight reflecting off flocks of birds and swarms of insects. Landing lights on airplanes have been known to cause a stir under certain conditions, as have advertising banners fluttering in the wake of an aircraft. High on the manual’s mistaken-identity list are space debris, experimental aircraft, model planes, fireworks, research balloons, kites, satellites, and—you guessed it—the Goodyear blimp. A thorough field investigator will also consider the possibilities of halluci-nation and hoax. After turning over all the options, says Andrus, what’s left is about “ten to twenty percent of your reports that really defy earthly explanation.”
While the orange lights recorded last February in Sandia, just 25 miles northwest of Corpus, made the ten o’clock news around the state, Andrus dismisses the sighting as “interesting, but not exciting.” But the event was definitely exciting to Tommy Kolaya, who videotaped the mysterious lights. The 39-year-old businessman was on a picnic and had been filming his daughter, niece, and nephew. Says Kolaya: “The lights just appeared out of the sky and made some horizontal and vertical movement not like any aircraft I’ve ever seen before. There was no sound and no air movement either.” There is “no way the lights could have belonged to a helicopter,” says Kolaya, who is in the oil and gas business and has flown in helicopters many times. “I hadn’t thought about UFOs that much, but now I wonder that in all the galaxies there’s bound to be someone else besides us who can fly.”
Well, if the wayward orange lights in Sandia don’t get Walt Andrus worked up, what does? Andrus says, “How about multiple sightings by a lot of witnesses—which occurred in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, February fifth.” There, at six-thirty in the evening, he explains, “three different constructions—a bowl shape, a triangle shape, and a boomerang shape—each as big as a football field, approached within seventy-five feet of many residents and were powerful enough to shake windows in nearby houses.” Andrus goes on, “I’ve got twelve reports—some include whole families in each report—describing what happened.”
Of course, if you live in the affluent community of Gulf Breeze, Florida, says Andrus, you are used to visits from on high. “They started on November 11, 1987, and have been going on ever since.” Andrus pulls out a file packed with photographs of UFOs. One series of 23 shot over a period of days clearly records the craft suspended above Gulf Breeze. To Texans the object looks strangely like the circular restaurant that rotates at the top of San Antonio’s Tower of the Americas. “When I received the call about this one,” says Andrus, “I didn’t even wait for an airplane; I got right in my car and drove out there.” In the meantime, the real estate developer who snapped the photos awoke late one night to find an entity peering in at him through his bedroom blinds.
Some of the stranger reports Andrus investigates are abduction claims. They are checked out as thoroughly as possible (no one has yet taken a camera along on any of these abductions) and sometimes include a session with a hypnotist. Many abductees are unwilling to talk about their experience, and some who do face public derision. Dallas resident Carolyn Sue Greene, along with her son, Timothy, claims that on January 27, 1984, they had what MUFON somewhat stiffly terms a “close encounter with a possible missing time element.” The mother and her seven-year-old son were driving east from Ennis in East Texas around eight in the evening when she noticed excessive static on the radio. Her headlights blinked fitfully and finally failed. Even though the motor also sputtered out, the car kept going forward as if “some force literally took control of the steering wheel and the car was driving itself,” she told MUFON. A bright white light lit up the entire car, and after that Carolyn and Timothy remember nothing. When they regained their senses, their car was in a ditch and the white light had disappeared. But high above them and receding fast into the night were several flashing red lights.
To this day Greene recalls the evening’s events as “very, very frightening.” The unemployed truck driver’s life has changed considerably since that night. She is now divorced—“My husband thought I was crazy.” But a few good things happened too. “I’m not really the same person. I had only a ninth-grade education, but after that night I went back to school and got my GED.” Timothy, now fifteen, had trouble with school after that night in January: “I was real quiet for a couple of years and my grades went down. I sort of convinced myself that it didn’t happen, and my grades started going up again.” Now, though, Timothy is more open about what happened. “I don’t care what people think,” he says.
Back on Planet Earth, I ask Von Ludwiger if he has ever spotted a UFO. “Yes,” he says, “but nothing too convincing.” The physicist and his associates in Germany are working on theoretical explanations for UFOs, using sophisticated mathematical formulations to prove that UFOs can exist. “We are looking for an explanation of why they occur,” he says. In his work a fifth and a sixth dimension are necessary to account for the vast amount of time and distance it would take to travel from galaxy to galaxy.
If you suspect you’ve glimpsed an unidentified flying object overhead, says Andrus, get as many witnesses as you can and call MUFON or your local police or sheriff’s departments. They have the phone number on hand for the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle. “More and more people are reporting UFO sightings,” he says—not just because there are more of them, but because people aren’t as afraid of admitting they have seen something inexplicable. MUFON sends out a field investigator to interview the observer and to look at the site. “The sooner we get there, the better,” advises Andrus. “We have to find out if there was a sighting. Just because someone says it happened doesn’t mean it did.”
It would seem from looking at the sheaf of accounts of sightings and abductions that everyone but me has had an encounter. I haven’t even come close. Darn it, I demand to know, why haven’t I seen one for myself anyway? The genial Jeanne Andrus laughs and tells me, “You probably just haven’t been looking up!”