CE-1 NEAR ASTORIA, OREGON
By Greg Long
(© 1981 by Greg Long)
Between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m., May 12, 1981, a 23-year-old truck driver and his 21-year-old girlfriend1 left Seattle, Washington, for a 170-mile trip to Astoria, Oregon, to pick up a load of king crab for a Seattle seafood company. The young woman, a cashier and sales clerk at the Boeing Company, had decided to take a day's vacation and rode in the sleeper of the empty Mac Cabover. Visibility was fair, driving conditions good.
The driver drove south on Interstate 5, passed through Kelso and Longview, Washington, and crossed the Lewis and Clark Bridge over the Columbia River. Some patches of fog lay along the low straights of Highway 30 on the way to Astoria. The windows of the truck were rolled up against a 45° temperature, and the heater was running.
At approximately 5:00 a.m. somewhere near Clatskanie, Oregon, and going down a hill, the young man felt something peculiar. The truck was going slower than it should.
As an experienced driver on this route (he had driven it at least 20 times over several years averaging two or three trips a week during season), he knew that with an empty truck, going downhill in ninth gear, and exceeding the speed limit, he should have been traveling at least 70 mph. He checked his tachometer; it read 1600 rather than 2100; and to his surprise, his speedometer registered between 45 and 55. He commented on this to his companion, who told him that he was imagining things. Naturally concerned over this event, the young man was relieved when shortly thereafter the truck returned to its normal speed. However, the driver soon noticed something strange in his left mirror after he had reached the bottom of a hill and hit a straightaway. What looked like two little orange "flames" were apparently "stuck" in the mirror, filling about 1 inch of horizontal space.
Glancing at the road in front of him and at the mirror approximately every 2 to 5 seconds, as was his habit, the driver attempted to find an explanation since the most puzzling aspect of the lights was their unyielding, fixed position in the mirror even as he went up and down hills, around tight curves, and through increasingly tortuous terrain.
Moments later the driver noted a white light positioned at the "apex" of the other two, as if forming the top point of a triangle, the orange lights at its base. The driver attempted to find an explanation for these lights; perhaps they were the cab lights of a truck. Yet the most nagging characteristic of the lights was their persistent, stationary position similar to that of the reflection of an object on the inside surface of a windshield. As the witness said later in frustration, "They were always there; they never moved."
The highway became increasingly windy and hilly. The driver's girlfriend noticed the young man's concern with the mirror and asked him what he was looking at and to keep his eyes on the road. He called her attention to the lights, but because of her position in the sleeper and the obstruction of his head, she was unable to see the top white light. She did, however, perceive the two orange lights, and as the driver now noticed, saw them reflected in both mirrors.
The lights then drew closer, filling about 3 inches of the left mirror, and the driver saw that they were flashing. Again, he sought an explanation — hazard sign posts? He pointed out the lights again to his companion, who suggested that they were tower-cable lights. Later, the driver recalled that the duration of the flashing lights was similar, as he put it, to the "telephone pole effect" — a flash for each telephone pole that passes outside a driver's window, which suggests a maximum duration of two or three seconds.
At this point, the uneasy driver rolled down his window and looked back down the road, but saw nothing. In a like manner, nothing was reflected in his mirrors. Once he returned his eyes to the road in front of him, the lights, however, reappeared — only in his left mirror. Several times he looked behind him, his head outside the window, and failed to see the source of the lights. Perhaps, he thought, the lights were above him.
The highway wound into a stand of trees and once the driver turned the corner and entered this overgrown area, the lights were no longer visible in his mirror. The driver thought, "No biggie," relieved that the lights were gone, and began to discuss them with his girlfriend. Then, several miles later the lights reappeared, an estimated truck length behind him.
The driver then, deciding to confront the lights, pulled over on the right-hand side of the highway on the top of a hill, shut the engine off, and opened the door. Standing on the cab step, he saw an object southeast and approximately in line with the back of the truck hovering across a ravine above 30- to 40-foot-high trees on the other side of the highway. He later estimated the distance of the object at 500 feet. The object was composed of three triangle-shaped, fluorescent-type orange lights similar in color to traffic lights and arranged triangle-fashion, two at the bottom, one at the top. The lights were flashing clockwise and sequentially and seemed to flash at the witness.
Then, a white light slowly came on beneath the bottom two orange lights, and shone upwards, illuminating what appeared to be turbulent mist or fog. The witness later compared the illumination effect of the white light to the glow of a headlight from an unseen vehicle mounting a distant hill, or to a headlight slowly coming on. The mist or fog was, in the driver's words, "like smoke coming out of a chimney." Just as the driver began to step down from the cab to observe more closely, a "totally blinding, super high-beam halogen light," or "spotlight," shone from the object and flashed in the witness'[s] face. The driver's girlfriend, who had joined him by this time, was also blinded by the spotlight.
The object then moved toward the witnesses, the light beam fixed on them. The driver later estimated that the object moved 100 to 200 feet, at which time he leaped into the cab, knocking his girlfriend over, started the engine and left the site.
Shortly afterwards, the witnesses noticed that both mirrors had "frosted" or "fogged" over. The driver wiped off the left mirror and drove into Astoria. The fog on the right mirror had not dissipated.
In Astoria the driver parked near the fish company and walked inside between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. to load up. At this time, a man who the driver had never met told the driver that the witness'[s] truck smelled as if 100 gallons of antifreeze had been "dumped" over it. The witness checked and detected nothing; nor did he see any marks, as if from burning, on the truck. Neither witness had experienced adverse or detectable effects from the light beam.
By 9:30 a.m. the truck was loaded with crab, and the witnesses were ready to return to Seattle.
The driver later estimated that he drove, at the most, about 15 miles, averaging 50 mph, from the point at which he first saw the lights until he stopped and confronted the object. Both witnesses estimated at least 1 minute of sighting time on the side of the highway. Total sighting time was approximately 20 minutes.
This case came to me several weeks after the driver reported the incident the day of its occurrence to Robert Gribble of Phenomena Research of Seattle, who later passed it on to me. Because of the delay and difficulties in contacting the witnesses, more complete details were lost. In addition, as with many witnesses, the driver, young, impatient and tired of talking about the incident to relatives and friends, was ready to forget the whole thing. Thus, this analysis is based upon Bob Gribble’s notes, an hour's telephone conversation with the driver and two telephone conversations with and a completed questionnaire from the girlfriend. However, despite these drawbacks, the case is a strong one and is especially intriguing because of the proximity of the event to St. Helens, Washington, the site of a spectacular CE-I multiple-witness sighting on March 17, 1981,2 and to Ridgefield, Washington, where a 26-year-old mother witnessed an apparent CE-I on May 1, 1981.3
Was the Astoria object a helicopter? To determine this, I telephoned every known source of aircraft in the vicinity to find records of helicopter flights. The only two possibilities could have been the Army National Guard at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, southwest of Astoria, or the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station at Tongue Point. However, the Coast Guard operations officer told me that although the Coast Guard has helicopters that periodically patrol the Columbia River for oil pollution, they do not fly at 5 a.m., nor are they noiseless, as this object was, according to the driver, nor did he have a record of a helicopter in the air at 5 a.m. An official at Camp Rilea said that no helicopters are based at the camp although helicopters occasionally fly in during season. However, no helicopter activity was going on at Camp Rilea during May.
The female witness said that the lights seemed either to move or turn as they flashed in sequence; at least, they looked different each time they flashed or were, in effect, "turned" triangles. She could not tell if they were extended or attached to a gray, cone-shaped object evident to her when the spotlight came on. The driver testified that he saw no outline of an object associated with the triangular lights. Since the driver provided a drawing of the UFO, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the odd positioning or "actions" of the lights. However, both witnesses felt strongly that they were being observed. The driver said: "When I was sitting there looking at it, it felt like... it was something there and it was watching me ... like it was scoping me out." When the spotlight came on, he felt that it was "aiming for me." His girlfriend said that the object was "definitely checking us out."
As in many UFO accounts, size and distance of an object can be difficult for witnesses. In this instance, the female witness's estimate of three quarters of a mile distance versus 500 feet for the driver poses an obvious problem especially since her estimate of the object's size ranged from "30 times the size of a star" to a "house." Could the details she offered of the object, especially of the triangular lights and clockwise motion of the mist, be evident at three quarters of a mile? I believe that the female witness is simply poor at such estimates.
The driver estimated the size of the UFO at 10 quarters held at arm's length and that it filled one fourth of his vision. Certainly the object was large.
The female witness had difficulty dealing with degrees-above-horizon, but since she agreed with the driver that the object was above tree line, the discrepancy between her and the driver's estimates seems insignificant. In general, the female witness was at least nearly average in her ability to estimate distance, altitude and apparent size, but she was certain she was not looking at a conventional aircraft and did attempt to explain the object away — as a military device. Given that she has no real interest in UFOs and had never seen one before (although she regrets not staying to watch the object further), the female witness seems basically honest and genuinely puzzled by the experience.
The driver had never witnessed a UFO before, is not preoccupied with UFOs, doesn't read UFO "literature," and, according to his mother, is levelheaded. He was legitimately frightened by the experience and felt that "I just thought I had to tell somebody, you know, in case somebody else saw something ..." He admitted that "perception is difficult at night," but despite minor inconsistencies in his testimony (and these made weeks after his initial report), his recall of the experience was unchanged over a month after the event.
1. Names on file with MUFON.
2. "International UFO Reporter,” Frontiers of Science, pp. 11-13, May-June, 1981.
3. Report sent to MUFON.
Reference for the above text is: MUFON UFO Journal, #167, January 1982, pp. 15-18.
UFOCAT PRN – 117902
UFOCAT URN – 117902 MUFON UFO Journal, #167, January 1982, pp. 15-18
UFOCAT URN – 167839 *U* UFO Computer Database by Larry Hatch, # 14213, © 2002
North America – United States
State of Washington
Seattle Latitude 47-36-22 N, Longitude 122-19-55 W (D-M-S) [populated place]
Kelso Latitude 46-08-48 N, Longitude 122-54-30 W [populated place]
Longview Latitude 46-08-17 N, Longitude 122-56-17 W [populated place]
State of Oregon
Astoria Latitude 46-11-16 N, Longitude 123-49-53 W (D-M-S) [populated place]
Clatskanie Latitude 46-06-04 N, Longitude 123-12-24 W [populated place]
Camp Rilea Latitude 46-06-54 N, Longitude 123-56-25 W [locale]
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