R e s e a r c h

T h e  Z w i s c h b e r g e n  "S a a s   F e e"  p h o t o

 Case History

On the afternoon of July 26, 1975, three Dutch hikers (B., his brother H., and their friend M.), were about to take on the last kilometres of a two-day mountain trip in the Swiss Alps when, at approximately 3 p.m., they allegedly encountered a circular object hovering in the air in front of them. According to the witnesses, the unidentified object seemed to be made of "some sort of metal, not unlike aluminium". It had a dull grey colour and its shape resembled that of an inverted soup plate. According to the witnesses, the strange contraption was "at least 15 metres [approximately 50 feet] in diameter" and appeared to be suspended over the small village of Zwischbergen, at a distance of 100 to 500 metres [328 to 1,640 feet]. B. succeeded in taking a colour slide of the phenomenon. Immediately after the photo was taken, the object started to move and glided behind the trees where it disappeared from view.

Zwischbergen 1975 The much publicized "Saas Fee" photo from 1975. The picture, taken not in Saas Fee but near the village of Zwischbergen, is a stereotype image of a "flying saucer"-type UFO from the seventies.
[© Bernard RIKKERT DE KOE - used with permission]

Zwischbergen 1989 A picture from 1989, taken by witness H. from almost exactly the same position where his brother was standing when he took his famous UFO photo 14 years earlier. To give an idea of the distances: the tree to the immediate right of the unidentified object in the UFO shot is 115.5 m (approximately 380 feet) away from the camera.
[© Hans RIKKERT DE KOE - used with permission]

Back in the Netherlands, B., H., and M. showed the slide to a fellow member of a local parochial choir, whom they knew was a co-worker of the country's largest (now defunct) UFO group NOBOVO. In the years that followed, the case received worldwide publicity. The slide is usually referred to as "the Saas Fee photo", because of the proximity of this well-known ski resort to the much smaller village where the photo was taken.

The late Dr. J. Allen HYNEK, an astrophysicist who served as a scientific consultant to the U.S. Air Force UFO projects Sign and Blue Book, once referred to the "Saas Fee photo" as one of the best UFO photos ever. At the time HYNEK was generally regarded as the pre-eminent authority on UFO phenomena. In 1977, after conducting a computerized image evaluation, another reputed investigator, UFO photoanalyst William H. Spaulding, concluded that the size of the object was "25-30 feet in diameter" and that it was "'removing' some of the fog/haze layer as it moved toward the camera".

A closer view of the unidentified object.
(click image for more detail)
[© Bernard RIKKERT DE KOE - used with permission]
click for a more detailed image

Eight years after details of the case had been published, additional eye-witness testimony surfaced: a group of Belgian tourists reportedly photographed "something odd in the sky" on that same day, at the same time. This second photo was taken from the village of Eison, 49 km (30.4 miles) west of the location where the three Dutchmen had taken their picture.

Eison 1975 Corroborative evidence? This photo was taken in the Swiss village of Eison, less than 50 km from Zwischbergen and on the same afternoon of July 26, 1975. An unknown object is visible close to the top frame of the picture.
[© Guido ABTS - used with permission]


These exceptional circumstances prompted CAELESTIA to undertake a follow-up investigation. Our findings were published in 1994 in a book called Unidentified Aerial Object Photographed near Zwischbergen, Switzerland, on July 26, 1975.

Study of the original slide by photo experts confirmed that the document shows a threedimensional object. With the image itself being explicit enough, only two possible interpretations remained: either the object is a metres wide craft of unknown origin, or a small model. Although the investigation did not make it possible to decide either way, several circumstantial elements were uncovered that cast doubts on the assumed authenticity of the photo. To wit:

  • The analysis conducted by Spaulding proved seriously flawed and was found to be conducted, not on the original slide, but on a third- or fourth-generation print.
  • While drawing up an inventory of B's slides from the mountain trip in question, it turned out that the three slides that should have preceded the unidentified object photo and the one that should have followed it were missing from the collection, creating a suspicion that they were removed because they showed less successful attempts to create a UFO shot.
  • The rim of the object appears to be "dented", possibly as a result of ungentle landings from previous attempts to get the object in the air in front of the camera.
  • The dark coloration of the bottom side of the object indicates that the image was not affected by aerial perspective, suggesting that the object was small and close to the camera.
  • Attempts to imitate the photo with the help of an aluminium camping-plate yielded similar "flying saucer" pictures (video images of the sighting location confirmed that it is quite easy to launch and recuperate Frisbee-type objects at the site).
Aluminium camping-plates like these make convincing "flying saucers" when suspended or tossed in front of a camera (see for example some of the fake photographs we made using this technique).
  • Witness M., who emigrated to New Zealand in 1983, confirmed the sighting only after he contacted the other two witnesses.
  • There existed a suitable climate in the mid seventies for concocting a practical joke of this nature: (a) similar, bogus "flying saucer" pictures were common in the press those days; (b) only hours before the UFO shot was taken, the witnesses had created and photographed a funny face using a rock and dressing it up with a pair of glasses and a sun-cap; and (c) a few days before the trip to Zwischbergen, the group had already sighted an unusual, light-reflecting object in the sky which they had jokingly referred to as a "UFO", but which they assumed was a weather balloon.
  • In spite of the large number of potential witnesses (popular ski resorts in the valleys adjacent to the Zwischbergen valley, an air show at a nearby airfield and a major traffic congestion 20 km north northwest of the sighting location), no corroborative eye-witness testimonies were found that confirm the presence of an unconventionally shaped, metres-wide airborne vehicle in the vicinity of Zwischbergen on the day the photo was taken.

Furthermore, the second photo taken at Eison that same day proved irrelevant after study. Most likely it depicts a bird and was taken, not at the same time, but approximately one hour after B.' s UFO shot.


Despite the fact that the hoax hypothesis was never confirmed, CAELESTIA feels that the Zwischbergen photo, like so many similar "flying saucer" pictures, can only be accepted as proof of the existence of unconventional, metres-wide flying objects in our skies, if it is corroborated by additional, independent and more convincing evidence.

At present, the best objection that can be raised against the hoax hypothesis is the apparent sincerity of witnesses B. and H. Both brothers were interviewed at length by CAELESTIA and they kindly and patiently provided us with additional pictures and background data concerning their holiday in Switzerland in 1975.

Wim VAN UTRECHT (July 2000)