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 Case summary

Below is an excerpt from an article published in the Spring 2004 issue of the International UFO Reporter. IUR has been one of the world's leading journals since it's first issue appeared in November 1976.

Peculiar sight over Catalina

On an early summer night in 1968, various witnesses in Southern California observed a rather peculiar sight in the sky. Fortuitously, the Los Angeles NICAP Subcommittee had established SKYNET, a tracking and filter center designed to collect and investigate UFO reports. On the night of July 9, a series of phone calls from Long Beach and surrounding communities concerning a large, glowing mass, positioned high over the Catalina Channel, came into the project coordinator's home in Pasadena.

The first call came from a group of teenagers aged 13 to 18 gathered at the home of Kenneth Allgreen, three miles north of the shoreline. At 9:35 p.m. they noticed a graywhite diamond-shaped haze under the full moon in the south-southeast. At 10:05 it began moving 55 degrees of arc in a horizontal line toward the west. By 10:15 it had returned to its original position near the moon. Maneuvering near the large mass were five smaller cloud-like objects, oval shaped with clear-cut edges. Two were grayish and three were "kind of white". Viewed through binoculars they looked solid. They kept their shape and precise edges through subsequent maneuvers. Although the edges of the larger object were "fuzzy", it did not seem to be a normal cloud because it moved too fast during its brief journey westward and back again - 55 degrees in three minutes. It was many times the size of the smaller balls, an estimated 5?6 times the diameter of the full moon. The end facing west was long and narrow and the part facing east was shaped "like a diamond". The boys were convinced that they were viewing something highly unusual. They estimated that the main mass was about 10 miles high. About 11:00 p.m. the large mass turned reddish-orange in color and began traveling upward at an approximate angle of 30 degrees. By 11:30 p.m., it "just faded away", taking five minutes to dissipate.

SantaCatalina-sketch

A sketch of the cloud cigar and satellite objects that illustrated the IUR article (adapted here for publication)

The next call to SKYNET came from the family of I. Castano of Compton. From their home 7 miles north of the Long Beach witnesses, his family had viewed a group of four oval, cloud-like objects about one-eighth the size of the full moon. The objects were observed from 9:30 to 10:00 p.m. and were glowing white with precise edges. They were gathered around the moon when first seen and then started leaving "right and left". They seemed to be far out in space. Stated Castano, "the objects spread out and then dashed toward one another. It looked like some kind of war". The Castanos apparently did not see the large cloud, but it should be noted that they were further north than the Long Beach witnesses.

Another report comes from the files of Paul Wilson of Hawthorne, a local UFO investigator. His neighbors, Michael and Leslie G., told him that for 20 minutes they had viewed a glowing oval object, slightly smaller than the full moon. It was shiny and white with clear-cut edges and seemed to be several miles away. Soundless, it seemed to maneuver in the general area of the moon.

While this activity was going on, SKYNET contacted Jim Griebel, the only SKYNET member residing near the coast. His home was three miles north of the Long Beach witnesses. Through binoculars he could see a cloudlike mass low on the southerly horizon. Whether composed of one or two masses he was not sure, but the cloud(s) seemed diamond-shaped on one end and round on the other. While the bright light from the moon interfered with Griebel's view, there would seem to be little doubt that he was seeing the large, cloud-like mass which was being viewed from Long Beach.

 Sources

- TAYLOR, Herbert S., "Satellite Objects and Cloud Cigars", International UFO Reporter Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring 2004), pp. 9-10 (also available online at www.cufos.org).

- DRUFFEL, Ann, "Catalina Channel Island Recurring 'Cloud-Cigars'", Proceedings of the 1976 CUFOS Conference, also at: www.anndruffel.com.

 Evaluation

We have always applauded attempts to bring together reliable eye-witness reports describing Unidentified Aerial Phenomena with similar characteristics (in this case: reports of large, cigar-shaped objects that are accompanied by smaller, usually disc-shaped, objects or lights).

When in July 2009 Herbert TAYLOR asked us to comment on the Catalina Channel case we first pointed out that, apparently, no one had checked the azimuth and elevation for the reported observations [1]. Indeed, we had four independent groups of witnesses here describing what appears to have been the same phenomenon, visible in the sky over Long Beach or the Pacific between 9:30 and 11:30 p.m., to wit:

(1) a sighting at Long Beach, concerning a grey-white, diamond-shaped haze with fuzzy round edges, 4-6 times the size of the Moon, observed in the SSE, moving 55 degrees of arc to the W, then back again, with five small cloud-like objects, grey and whitish, yet sharper defined, manoeuvring near the haze;

(2) a sighting at Compton, 7 miles N of Long Beach, concerning four small cloud-like objects 1/8 size of the Moon, gathered around the Moon, i.e. in the SE;

(3) a sighting at Hawthorne, 11 miles NNW of Long Beach, concerning a shiny white oval-shaped object, slightly smaller than the Moon, in the SE;

(4) a sighting 3 miles N of Long Beach concerning a cloudlike mass in the S.

SantaCatalina-map

Google Earth map with the approximate locations of the four groups of witnesses.

With these data as a base, it should have been easy for a local investigator to triangulate the location of the phenomenon fairly exactly. Moreover, at 9:35 p.m. on the night in question, i.e. at the time the phenomenon was spotted by the witnesses at Long Beach, the Moon was indeed in the SE (azimuth: 144.5 degrees) and not too high above the horizon (altitude: 18.4 degrees) [2]. This too would have helped in determining the lines of sight with some degree of exactitude. Yet, it appears that nothing of the sort was done. So in attempting to evaluate these sightings we have to rely on the descriptions of the phenomenon as given by the eye-witness.

The witnesses at Long Beach mention white, cloudlike lights that "spread out and then dashed toward one another". This is about the closest you can get to describing a light show involving different spot lights. The bigger gray-white haze with fuzzy edges would then have been the culmination of light from the different light beams. The photo on the right is a telling illustration of what we believe may also have caused the luminous spectacle over Catalina Channel on July 9, 1968.

42 years after the events, we can only speculate as to the nature of the light show. Perhaps this was a NAVY celebration of some sort involving searchlights mounted on the docks or on ships at sea. Or perhaps there was a concert or a full Moon party going on at the beach (after all, this was the turbulent Summer of 1968 and a full Moon graced the sky that night).
SantaCatalina-sketch
World War II picture of a searchlight unit operating in Southern California. The picture is borrowed from www.skylighters.org where it carries this caption: "Searchlight beams strike the base of the cloud ceiling, creating an effect resembling a flying disc". Imagine this display with a clear atmosphere beneath the cloud ceiling, i.e. without the light beams. What you get is something very similar to what can be seen in the sketch published in IUR.
 Our opinion

The likely explanation for this luminous display is a series of movable spotlights illuminating the cloud ceiling or a layer of haze.

In an e-mail of August 5, 2009, Herbert TAYLOR acknowledges that our suggested explanation of spotlights illuminating a cloud "makes a lot of sense".

 Notes & References

[1] E-mail exchange between Herbert TAYLOR and Wim VAN UTRECHT, July-August 2009. In the many mails we exchanged with Herb, we were struck by this investigator's willingness to consider down-to-earth explanations for historical UFO reports that have long been considered "solid cases". An all-too-rare quality in this field of study.

[2] The Moon's azimuth and altitude were checked using aa.usno.navy.mil.