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Red Bluff UFO Incident: Police Witnesses, Red Beams, Bright Lights & Project Blue Book Investigation

In 1960, in Red Bluff, California, two highway patrol officers claimed to witness rapidly moving unidentified flying objects in the sky, here is their story and the Project Blue Book investigation that followed.

The 1960 Red Bluff UFO Incident
The 1960 Red Bluff Incident is a fascinating encounter of two highway patrol officers with UFOs

Until the moment they spotted the object, the evening of August 13, 1960, a Saturday, had been a routine one for California Highway Patrol Officers Charles A. Carson and Stanley Scott.

At 11:50, as they headed due east on a rural road two miles east of Corning, they had no idea that they were seconds away from an extraordinary encounter that would generate news headlines all over the country.

When they first saw it, the object was at 500 feet altitude, slightly to their left, less than a quarter-mile away, and falling at a 45-degree angle from north to south. Certain that they were observing an airliner on its way to a fiery collision with the ground, they jumped out of their patrol car and awaited the inevitable. Because there was no sound, the officers assumed that the aircraft had lost its power and was in free fall.

It passed over the road. Then, when it got to within 100 or 200 feet of the ground, it did something wholly unexpected: it abruptly reversed direction and shot 500 feet upward before assuming a hovering posture. As Carson would write in his official report, "At this time it was clearly visible to both of us. It was surrounded by a glow making the round or oblong object visible. At each end, on each side of the object, there were definite red lights. At times about five white lights were visible between the red lights." The UFO was metallic-looking, shaped something like a football, and more than 100 feet long. The two officers thought the white lights looked like a row of "windows." They would shortly find that the red lights also functioned as searchlights. Scott dived for the radio and notified the dispatcher, Deputy Clarence Fry, at the Tehama County Sheriff's office. Scott asked Fry to alert all cars in the area and to direct some to the scene. He also wanted Fry to check with the Air Force radar station in Red Bluff (about 20 miles to the north) to see if it was picking up anything.

After hovering for a minute or so, the UFO moved to within 150 yards of them. Carson and Scott uneasily reached for their sidearms, .357 Magnum pistols loaded with armor-piercing bullets, with the intention of drawing them and opening fire if the object got any closer. Instead, it turned and swept the area with a brilliant red beam some six feet in diameter. The two red lights on either end functioned as searchlights, but only one operated at a time. Moreover, as Carson would later remark, "the beam wasn't movable in itself, the entire object had to move to move the beam light." Over the course of this aspect of the sighting, one or the other beam flashed six or seven times.

The object was performing fantastic maneuvers, shooting backward and forward in every direction. As all of this was going on, static sounded on the radio. Though it would continue as long as the UFO was in sight, it was not sufficient to blackout all communication. Exchanges with Fry (who had left the jail to see the UFOs himself) went on intermittently, and at one point Carson and Scott were informed that the Red Bluff radar was tracking the object.

Scott focused the patrol car's own red beam on the UFO. As soon as the light found its target, the object darted away. It started to drift eastward. Assured by dispatcher Fry that other police cars were on their way, Carson and Scott elected to follow the UFO. It stayed to the south of them, at what they estimated to be half a mile to a mile and a half, and kept its erratic movement, sometimes floating slowly, at other times zipping about at speeds "so fast as to be unbelievable."

From time to time because of its generally low altitude, it would vanish from view in the hilly countryside, and the officers, who knew the area well, would take back roads until they found it again. Once, when it went behind a hill and failed to remerge, they stopped the car and climbed up on the hood, from which vantage point they had a view over the hill. The UFO hovered there on the other side, but only for a moment. "All at once," Scott reported, "it seemed to jump over the hill." It approached them until a mere 150 feet separated the object from observers. It then headed eastward again.

In a letter to Walter N. Webb, Carson recalled:

"Most of our time was spent observing the object. However, we made several attempts to follow it, or I should say get closer to it. But the object seemed aware of us and we were more successful remaining motionless and allowing it to approach us, which it did on several occasions... There were no clouds or aircraft visible... The object was illuminated by a glow. This glow was emitted by the object, not a reflection of other lights. The object was solid, definitely not transparent. At no time did we hear any type of sound except radio interference."

Eventually, as the object got farther and farther away, Carson and Scott turned around and returned to Highway 99E, which they had crossed some minutes before. Once on it, they drove south to a fire-watching tower. The forester was gone, but the building was open. The officers ran up to the top and looked out toward the UFO, now only a light source hovering near the horizon. Soon, however, it climbed up over a range of hills three miles to the east and resumed its eastward trek. Before it disappeared from sight for the last time, another light flew in from the south and joined the first. At 2:05 a.m. the objects could no longer be seen.

Silent Lights, Flattened Circles, and Flying Wings

Around midnight Deputy Fry and Deputy Max Montgomery left Red Bluff and drove southeast a few miles down to the tiny town of Los Molinos, where they positioned themselves on a hillside. As Fry would write in an official report:

"At approximately 12:30 a.m. we observed four objects in the Western sky; they were travelling from the south to the north in a straight line and at times they would go straight up or down; one of the objects seemed to hover over the Red Bluff area. After a short time there was a object seen going from the North to the South."

According to the sheriff's office and to press accounts, several other persons saw the same or similar objects that night, though Sheriff Lyle Williams would not release the names of those who had called or written to him. An Associated Press story on August 17 reported a sighting, said to have taken place around midnight in Willow Creek, California, 90 to 100 miles north-northwest of Red Bluff. The witnesses were two girls, seven and 13, who were camping with their parents. At the time of their sighting, the children were in sleeping bags and some distance from their parents, who were talking with friends around a campfire. Their mother, Mrs Morse, said, "The description given by the two highway patrolmen is identical to what our children said they saw."

The following evening, at around 10:05, Fry got a radio message from Deputy Montgomery, who was in the Los Molinos area. Montgomery was watching an object that twice had touched down on the ground. Could Fry see it from his position in Red Bluff? Fry stepped outside and saw an object coming in from the west. At a position southeast of him, it stopped and hung motionless for a short time. Fry called to the four trusties inside to come out and take a look. By the time they responded, the object was not in view - but only momentarily. Scanning the sky, a local man who had joined the group saw it in the northwest, and soon everyone was watching a hovering object that, as Fry wrote in his report, "looked like a large Rail Road car with two large Red Lights, one on each end." The UFO itself emitted a pale yellow glow. Along its midsection were three or four large rectangular "windows" through which a white light shone.

The object shot off to the south, toward Corning. Moments later it was observed by a Corning police officer, who saw it west of the city and heading south at great speed.

Over the next few days, a flood of reports swept north-central and northwestern California. For example, at Vallejo, August 15, 15 2:40 a.m., C. L. Shurtleff saw a "great big red thing" at 300 to 500 feet altitude. "I couldn't hear any sounds," he said, "so I knew it wasn't a jet plane or anything like that. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. It moved with incredible speed." At Corning, at mid-evening the next day, four residents saw two cigar-shaped objects with red and white lights. The UFOs maneuvered erratically for 10 minutes, then disappeared in the northeast. Sightings continued at least through the nineteenth.

Explanations and Dissents

On the morning of August 14, Officers Carson and Scott drove to the Red Bluff Air Station nine miles west of the city. They hoped to discuss the radar tracking of the object they had chased, but the commanding officer of the 859th Radar Squadron said that nothing out of the ordinary had shown up on the scopes - contradicting what Deputy Fry had been told just hours earlier. Openly skeptical, Carson and Scott asked to talk directly with the radar operator but were refused permission. An unpleasant exchange followed, and the officers left.

According to a Project Blue Book press release, a representative of the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATTIC), Wright- Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, called the base on August 16 to ask whether anything had shown up on radar. He was told no. During a follow-up call the next day, the commander, Major LeRoy denied having told anyone about radar tracking.

Official Project Blue Book report on the Bluff UFO sightings
Official Project Blue Book report on the Red Bluff UFO sightings
Official Project Blue Book report on the Bluff UFO sightings
Official Project Blue Book report on the Red Bluff UFO sightings
Official Project Blue Book report on the Red Bluff UFO sightings
Official Project Blue Book report on the Red Bluff UFO sightings

The Air Force conducted a perfunctory investigation out of McClellan Air Force Base. From his own observation, Carson would characterize that investigation as "tongue in cheek." It led to a "solution" at variance both with witness testimony and with astronomical data, leading the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) to call it "one of the most strained on record." According to the Air Force:

"The sightings which occurred in the Red Bluff area were due to Atmospheric Refraction. It is impossible to determine the exact light source for each specific incident, but the planet Mars was the most probable culprit in the instance of the highway patrolmen. The planet, at the time of the sighting, was just below the horizon and probably hove into view due to the refraction of its light by the atmosphere. A contributing factor to the sightings could have been the layer of smoke which hung over the area in a thin stratiform layer. This smoke came from the forest fires in the area hung in a layer due to the stable conditions associated with the inversion."

In a September 16 letter, Lt Col Lawrence J. Tacker, the Pentagon's UFO spokesman, added Aldebaran and Betelgeuse to the list of suspects, and on October 6 he declared that "Mars and the star Capella were the most probable answers for these sightings." Astronomer and NICAP advisor Walter Webb prepared his own analysis:

"The official USAF explanation for the Red Bluff sighting was a refraction of the planet Mars and /or the stars Aldebaran and Betelgeuse. At NICAP's request, I checked the positions of the planet and the two stars for the date, time, and place of the observation. It was found that all three objects were below the eastern horizon at the start of the sighting, that Mars did not rise above the horizon until about an hour after the sighting began, that Aldebaran did not rise until 1 a.m., and Betelgeuse not until 3 a.m., an hour after the sighting was over. Atmospheric refraction can elevate celestial objects above the horizon but by no more than 35 minutes of arc (a little more than the apparent diameter of the sun or moon). Refraction can also cause a star or planet near the horizon to appear to shift or wobble slightly. However, the Red Bluff object reportedly performed violent maneuvers over a wide area of the eastern sky before disappearing below the eastern horizon (a celestial object in the east would have continued to rise higher in the sky and eventually set in the west). Further, the object described by highway patrolmen Scott and Carson bore no resemblance at all to a refracted star or planet - a very large, oblong object shaped somewhat like a football with a red light on each end and a row of white lights visible at times between the red lights. According to the officers, the object swept the sky and ground six or seven times with a red beam of light. In my opinion, the explanation used by the Air Force is completely without basis and ignores the fundamental facts of the observation."

In a separate statement NICAP added:

"As for Capella, which was barely above the horizon when the sighting began, no star, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, could give the appearance of a large ellipse a few hundred feet off the ground, nor could it maneuver as described by the police officers. Also, the objects disappeared below the eastern horizon at the end of the sighting, whereas Capella would have risen about 35 degrees in that period."

Though the Air Force and, later, astronomer/debunker Donald H. Menzel would assert that all of northern California was awash in temperature inversions on the night of August 13/14, 1960, atmospheric physicist James E. McDonald found nothing in meteorological records to substantiate this claim.

Carson, an Air Force veteran, and a private pilot rejected the various proposed explanations, noting that he and Scott were experienced sky viewers "aware of the tricks light can play on the eyes during darkness. Our observations and estimations of speed, size, etc., came from aligning the object with fixed objects on the horizon." Referring to the Air Force explanation, he remarked, "I'd hate to try to take one of my cases into court with such weak arguments." Lonnie Zamora UFO Incident: A Reliable Police Officer, Blue Flames, A Landed Craft & Small Beings.


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