You may not know it but it’s exactly 39 years since “the most complete” UFO sighting of all time.
I know, exciting.
When I read the word ‘complete’ I assumed it would mean something quite special and thrilling had happened – maybe a huge spaceship landing in a field near Doncaster, 200 little green aliens with pointy ears walking out, nipping to the nearest pub for a pint and a bag of Scampi Fries, then getting back on board and flying off again, chatting between themselves about how nice Doncaster is.
But disappointingly, as seems the case with most extra-terrestrial sightings, it wasn’t quite that enthralling.
The Trans-en-Provence case happened in January 1981 – so, to jog your memory, the same year Ronald Reagan became US President; Prince Charles married a young girl called Diana; the first London Marathon took place; and I celebrated my fifth birthday party by having 12 friends around for food, games, and a brief but brutal fistfight which erupted after Peter Lowe threw some jelly at me – and occurred in the town of the same name in France.
Just before tea-time, a 55-year-old farmer by the name of Renato Nicolai was ploughing his field when he heard what he described as a ‘strange whistling sound’. He then saw a saucer-shaped object (it’s always a saucer-shape isn’t it?) land 50 yards away.
“It was the colour of lead,” Nicolai reported. “Under the machine I saw two kinds of pieces as it was taking off. They could be reactors or feet and extended about 20 cm below the machine.”
Nicolai claimed that no sooner had this mysterious object landed, it took off again – rising into the sky and heading north-east, as though the driver had misread the map and realised they should have touched down in Belgium instead (reports the driver was a woman have yet to be confirmed).
Nicolai appears to have then carried on ploughing –presumably thinking, ‘ah well, nothing odd about that’ – and gone to bed, only deciding to report the sighting to the local gendarmerie the next day on the advice of a neighbour’s wife.
The gendarmerie interviewed Nicolai (I’m guessing their first question was something along the lines of, ‘so tell us Nicolai, did you drink any alcohol yesterday?’) then took photos of the scene and collected soil samples.
It was sent to the French Space Agency and a lengthy investigation began. The soil collected was vaguely interesting – it had been compressed by ‘mechanical pressure’ of four to five tonnes and heated to between 300 and 600 degrees. The investigation went on ages before concluding, in spectacularly inconclusive fashion, that no plausible explanation could be found.
The best part came when, after criticism of the investigation, it emerged the initial police report said that the marks on the ground ‘looked like one made the tyres of a car’. However, this was dismissed by the Space Agency because, and I quote, ‘the sole witness said otherwise’. In an interview for French TV a few years later, Nicolai – while sticking by his story - confirmed there had been vehicles passing by on the road at the time. Unbelievable - and which also begs the question that, if Nicolai’s version of events is to be believed, why did none of the drivers see a bloody huge flying saucer land and then take off again? I mean it’s the kind of thing you’d probably notice.
Now, if the above is the ‘most complete’ UFO sighting of all time then I’m afraid it doesn’t do much to persuade me of the existence of some other life form being out there.
Astoundingly though, there are plenty of people who do believe that.
There is, for example, a British UFO Research Association which has more than 1,000 members and is dedicated to ‘investigating UFO phenomena’ in the British Isles.
I clicked on their website out of interest and then into one of the stories in the Latest News section, headlined ‘An alien craft sending energy beams to the Ground’.
It is, I have to say, absolutely marvellous, and contains an incredibly detailed account of a girl called Jane taking photographs of the sunrise behind electricity pylons last January, while – and I quote – ‘travelling on a Megabus’ near Exeter.
It wasn’t until a few months afterwards when Jane downloaded the photos, the website reads, that she noticed “a strange looking black object in the sky with two long thin protrusions reaching down to the ground”.
The author goes on to write a 1,500 word essay detailing the mysterious sighting, which, midway through the story, reads that Dave (described as a British UFO Research Association Astronomy specialist) “felt that the shape of the object resembled a double legged streetlamp.” Then, by zooming in on the object in the photo, the author noticed a number four. “Well, this was certainly a Eureka moment”, he writes.
We are then given a full account of a Google maps search will concludes, eventually, that the mystery object’s actual identity is – lo and behold - a lamppost just outside Exeter … which, if I may be so bold, means the headline ‘An alien craft sending energy beams to the Ground’ is a tad misleading (although they do, in fairness, stick a ‘or is it?’ afterwards).
It may seem from the above that I’m poking fun at this organisation. I’m not. I love stuff like this and I’m seriously tempted to not only join but attend the annual conference, which has been held in Sheffield since 1987. Better still, for a bargain price of 49 quid the group offers an Investigator Training Course which, when you pass, means you’ll be sent all UFO reports that occur in your area – though this won’t include, reads the website rather mysteriously, ‘high strangeness cases’.
It is all fantastic stuff and although I don’t believe in UFOs in any way, who am I to say for certain? I mean we don’t know everything about the universe and, who knows, there might be a planet out there we don’t know about inhabited by alien-types who have their own supermarkets and TVs and spend their evenings listening to whatever the alien equivalent of The Archers is.
I hope so – maybe when I pass my Investigator course, I’ll find out.