Cargo Planes At Midnight. Right. . .

Somebody call the National Inquirer

Here’s how UFO legends get started.

In March on a no-moon night up in Colorado, in the San Luis Valley just north of here, I was having pizza in a little restaurant when a big jet sound, a huge rafter-rattling mother hovering, brought almost everybody in the place to their feet.

The tall drink-of-water waitress, the Bhutanese manager, the cowboy cook in back, the regular clientele including the round unflappable holyman – all ran outside in the dark to see.

The craft went away. The locals came back in.

“Military?” I asked the cool waitress. She nodded uncertainly and filled my glass.

Of course, military. What else? Forget the “UFO Observation Platform” billboard down by Hooper on Colorado 17. Or the unverified local cliché that the greater Moffat-Crestone metro area has had more recorded flying saucer sightings than anywhere else in the free world.

It came back later. With two friends. I was tending a fire in the stove in my little cabin 1,500 feet up the Himalayan east side of the valley, at the feet of some fourteeners, when I heard the hovering again. The slow rolling roar. This time I ran outside.

They were flying in close formation, about level with my porch, red running lights blinking in the dark. I don’t recall ever seeing anything that made so much jet noise fly so slow. They were not helicopters, not conventional fighters, I was sure.

They began a tight graceful turn practically in front of me. They were loud and powerful. I had no idea of their size. There was no scale – the night being so dark and the valley so large (5,000 flat square miles walled by mountains). Then something happened that reduced the scale to intimate. Up close and personal, it seemed.

The lead one, in the middle of their 180-degree turn north, suddenly shined a light in my eyes. A bright white light. On. Off. I had the distinct feeling it had gotten me, for whatever purpose. Maybe the infra-red of my wood burning stove is what attracted it. Maybe my body heat.
They flew away and the valley returned to its usual midnight silence. I imagined the fear they would arouse in less peaceful valleys where they could let loose with missiles, or whatever.

I forgot it until the other day I picked up a copy of the Crestone Eagle, a monthly newspaper with a lot of spiritual healing ads. The Page 1 story said people were upset by the “Air Force flyovers” on the evening of March 22. It quoted a couple of locals who had been flashed, the same as me. One said they came so close she thought they were going to crash into her house.

A local official, responding to complaints, called the nearest Air Force base, Peterson AFB at Colorado Springs. He told the Eagle that the appropriate lieutenant colonel told him he didn’t know where the planes came from but that they weren’t from Peterson. The lieutenant colonel speculated they were big cargo planes, C-5’s or C-17’s from “out of state.”

Come on. Colorado Springs is the home of the North American Air Defense Command. NORAD knows everything. It watches the entire airspace all the time. The Air Force could have been more specific, could have narrowed things down a little. I mean, the Orion Nebula is “out of state.”

The military has a bad habit of playing dumb. It seems easier that way, and usually it is. But every now and then irresponsible journalists will take a few quotes like those in the monthly Eagle and run with them. Pretty soon they become headlines in the supermarket tabloids.

Hey, I saw “Men In Black.” Come to think of it, Tommy Lee Jones had this pocket laser device that when you looked at it and he pushed the button, you forgot what you last saw. The flash erased your memory. OK. Like, the light that got me from that flying sauce—

Er, cargo plane. Yeah. That’s it. Cargo planes at midnight. From out of state.