In my article for the UFO Journal last month, I briefly alluded to the immense flash of light that occurred over the southwestern U. S. at 11:18 p.m. (Mountain Time) on Sunday night, August 15, 1999, and I promised to address that event in a future column. That bizarre and fascinating event is the subject I address here, with the hope of being able to communicate to the reader just how dramatic it was, and, in my opinion, how mysterious it remains, to this day.
As the reader will see below, and what makes the event of such interest to the UFO community, is the fact that many eyewitness accounts suggest that the epicenter of the flash occurred in the same general area toward which three mysterious aerial objects appeared to be on converging trajectories, and converging at incredibly high speed!
In addition to those calls from the southwest over subsequent days, NUFORC continued to receive reports from all across the U. S. and Canada…Minnesota, California, Ontario, Florida, and from many other locations…about events and sightings that seemed to me to be suspiciously reminiscent of, and possibly related to, the major flash that had occurred. The full spectrum of the reports can be seen on our website, UFOCenter.com, where 54 entries are posted for the evening of August 15. Those reports represent only a minor fraction of the total number of telephoned reports we received for the incident, given that most people do not take the time to follow up a telephone call with a written statement.
What makes this first flash so interesting, and a fact which seems to rule out any type of meteoric event, is that a second, and similar, flash occurred, approximately 21 minutes after the first!! Whereas the epicenter of the first flash was subsequently determined to have been in western New Mexico, approximately 60-80 miles west of Albuquerque, the epicenter of the second flash was much closer to Las Vegas, Nevada, and it was, I believe, not quite as dramatic as the first flash over New Mexico. However, the second flash was dramatic enough to have caused it to be reported on 11 p.m. (Pacific) news in Las Vegas, only shortly after it had occurred there. That fact was confirmed by several witnesses to that second flash, who appeared together with me on the late night radio program, Coast to Coast, hosted by Art Bell, to discuss that second flash.
As is usually the case, following a major event like these two flashes, it can be several days, or even weeks or months, before the reports and evidence can be assembled into a coherent body of fact, sufficient to be able to say with any reliability what had occurred. Typically, following an event like this flash, an investigator has a table littered with notes and records, which tell him that something dramatic must have occurred, but just what it was, remains unclear.
However, in the case of this incident, I had an early advantage in my analysis. I had the advantage of having an acquaintance inside the offices of Sandia Laboratories, in Albuquerque, who knew of my work in ufology, and who correctly reasoned that I would like to have access to what was taking place inside those government offices, regarding the event. That source also knew that the event had been recorded by Sandia’s multiple “sky cameras,” situated around the Albuquerque area. Hence, shortly after the flash had occurred, NUFORC began receiving a stream of objective information about what Sandia scientists were saying about the flash, and what might have caused it.
Moreover, and of greatest assistance to my analysis of the incident, was that I received from inside Sandia Laboratories a short video, captured by a Sandia “sky camera,” mounted on a high building in downtown Albuquerque, which had recorded the first event in great detail. That video provided me with the precise time of the event...18 minutes and 16 seconds after 11 p.m. (Mountain Time). Also, the individual who sent me the video included video excerpts of other, more prosaic, aerial events, which allowed me to compare the recorded flash with other “pedestrian” events that the camera typically captured, e.g. a full moon, or a dramatic meteor, passing overhead.
The video recorder, mounted in the “sky camera,” began recording the first flash at 18 minutes and 16 seconds after 11 p.m., and it recorded 72 frames of video, which typically runs at 30 frames per second. Hence, the duration of the flash was almost precisely 2.6 seconds, which was consistent with what many witnesses had estimated.
I share below a report, submitted by Mr. Jacob Hottell, who was out walking with his dogs near his home in Aztec, NM, at the time of the flash. Here is the text of his report:
I saw an incredibly brilliant bluish white light traveling at an incomprehensible speed!
On Sunday night 08/15/99 at 11:23 p.m. (sic. 11:18 p.m.), I was walking on a nearby hillside with my dogs. It was very dark and I was facing north-northwest, admiring the Milky Way galaxy. Suddenly, the whole earth lit up. The trees in front of me were bright green.
My natural instinct was to search for the source of the light. It was coming from over my right shoulder (Note: to the east). I turned to my right and saw a brownish trail, or streak. The huge blue-ish white brilliant light was about the size of a full moon. Instantly, the light went behind some spotty clouds. (There were gaps between these minor clouds.)
Then suddenly, “spikes of radiation” flashed off of the bluish white ball. The spikes spanned from horizon to horizon. The ball disappeared, and the sky and the earth then fell dark. I was stunned remembering the magnitude of the spikes that shot from east to west then fell downward like an umbrella, or like “cat’s claws.” They were curved.
I am an audiovisual engineer and electronics technician. Sound is my profession. I waited for at least 10 minute for a sonic boom or some other atmospheric disturbance, but nothing happened…it was silent. I heard crickets and there was some kind of night bird chirping away. The sound of the night seemed to magnify!
Trying to comprehend the speed and time that this all took place left me in a state of shock for several days. It must have taken place outside of our atmosphere because there was no sonic boom, etc. This (fact) dramatically multiplies the distance (that must have been) covered, in a few split seconds.
One noteworthy aspect of his report is that the object passed to the east of his location. It is interesting because NUFORC received another report from an adult female, a grandmother, who had resided her entire life in Farmington, NM, located approximately 20 miles to the west of Aztec. She reported that the object that she and her grandson had witnessed had passed directly overhead their location. Obviously, those two witnesses had witnessed a different object from what Mr. Hottell had been witness to, and those two objects appeared to be on different ground tracks that appeared generally to converge in the southern sky, where the flash then occurred!
Moreover, NUFORC also received a report from a gentleman who was at his home in Bosque, NM, located south of Albuquerque, at the time of the flash. He reported that he had been witness to an object in the night sky, which he saw streaking to the northwest, just an instant before he witnessed the immense flash to the north of his location. What makes this report of interest is that he was a very high-quality witness. Not only was he a medical professional, but also, he was a professional pilot, with a commercial/Airline Transport License issued to him. This latter fact is noteworthy, given that he probably is quite capable of accurately estimating direction, angle of elevation, and other technical aspects of his sighting that he shared with NUFORC during his telephoned report.
The cause of the New Mexico “flash,” in my opinion, remains a mystery. The scientists at Sandia had very little to say about the event, although I know from my source in that laboratory that some quite capable and prestigious scientists there were left mystified by the flash. One of them agreed with my assessment that the amount of energy that must have been released during the flash, in order to illuminate that large an area of the Earth, served to rule out a meteor. Both he and I had arrived at the same conclusion that any dramatic meteor that would have caused that bright, and long-duration, a flash, almost certainly would have generated an atmospheric shock wave that would have been easily detected at ground level. However, no audio report was reported by any of the witnesses who submitted reports to NUFORC.
In my opinion, the event remains a mystery…and a very intriguing one! I am very pleased, indeed, to have the opportunity here to be able to share with the reader some of the more interesting, and baffling, details of the event!