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T h e   B O A C   L a b r a d o r   s i g h t i n g   of   J u n e   2 9,   1 9 5 4   visitor responses
 Case #5

Ennis, Montana, USA - July 28, 1952

The prime witness in this case is U.S. Major Ben SHAFFER. The following is from a "STATEMENT OF WITNESS" as it can be found in the unclassified Blue Book files at

I, Ben SHAFFER, on the 29 July was returning with my family from a fishing trip in Idaho, we had not heard a radio or read a newspaper in the days we had been gone. About eight (8) miles south of Ennis, Montana, traveling from West Yellowstone to Ennis between 1400 and 1500 hours MST I noticed a dark colored object hovering over the mountains to the right of the highway. I slowed down and stopped the car, and as I did so the object formed a white cloud around itself. The distance was, as I would estimate it, three or four miles in a direct line and the clouds were about one thousand feet above the summit of the mountain. Shortly after that three smaller disk-like objects came bursting out of the clouds from different angles traveling at at an estimated two hundred miles per hour. Each of these objects made an arc in different directions and at the peak of the arc accelerated at a terrific speed and departed to a central point behind the clouds and disappeared. There was a trail of very hazy film of dark colored smoke. I had an eight-powered binocular when I was watching this.

I stopped two other cars, one from Arkansas and one from Ohio. The man in the car from Ohio had a pair of 50-power binoculars. We all, and I think there was about a dozen of us, watched with the naked eye and binoculars. Shortly after the three objects left the cloud five objects appeared on the right side of the cloud in a V-formation traveling slowly and then each of these in succession formed a small cloud around themselves. They changed formation from the "V" to single file and entered the big cloud one behind the other.

dark indefinite shaped object

The phenomenon as sketched by Major SHAFFER with on top (white line added) a view of the "dark indefinite shaped object" and below the same object now enveloped in a white cloud with the three small "disk-like objects" shooting out from it and curling back in. To the right the five smaller "objects" that in turn developed clouds around them and moved in formation to the bigger cloud.

During this time I took colored moving pictures with a 8mm Bell and Howell camera and still pictures, black anc white, with a Kodax Retina camera. We watched this phenomena for almost 30 minutes and the whole time while we were watching them no other clouds formed in the sky in our range of vision. Upon the advice of a civilian friend the films, undeveloped, were turned over to Major [deleted - WVU] of the 29th Air Division at Great Falls AFB, Montana.

Along about the end of the 30 minutes on a mountain to the left of the highway and some six miles estimated from us another cloud suddenly appeared and the same phenomenon took place with objects leaving and returning

I wish to add that I am a Major in the Army Corps of Engineers Reserve and had a "Q" Clearance 1946 to 1948 while stationed with Z Division, Sandia Base, Albequerque, New Mexico.

According to Wikipedia a "Q clearance" is a United States Department of Energy security clearance specifically relating to atomic or nuclear related materials ("Restricted Data" under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954). The clearance was established in 1946.

As for what happened to Major SHAFFER's films: a teletype from Project Blue Book Lt. Anderson G. FLUES to the 29th Air Division ADC in Great Falls, Montana, on September 8, 1952, 16:30 Z (12:30 p.m. EDT) says: "Returning Kodachrome movie film concerning your FLYOBRPT [Flying Object Report - WVU] of 29 July 52 belong to Mr. [Ben Shaffer, Great Falls, Mont. - Brad SPARKS] today. Films impossible to analyze properly". Unfortunately, the Blue Book file on the Ennis case contains no copies or prints from either the photographs or the films.

Comment - The Blue Book documents on the Ennis sightings were found in a file dealing with another UAP incident at Great Falls AFB, Montana, over a roughly 1.5 hour period that same afternoon, implying a relation. (See for witnesses' statements relative to the Great Falls AFB report). The time-frames may overlap, but at first glance there doesn't seem to be a simple linear connection.

According to the file, a call from Seattle alerting Great Falls AFB to the sighting of objects heading their way was received at 15:20 MST and the first Great Falls sighting was at 15:25. At 16:25 objects were sighted at Great Falls heading roughly from the W or NW to the SE and the last sightings occurred just before 16:50. Ennis is almost due S from Great Falls (~150 miles at ~190 deg). The ~30 min Ennis sighting commenced sometime "between 14:00 and 15:00 hours MST". So it looks as though the Ennis sighting certainly began - and possibly even ended - before the Great Falls sightings began. Therefore the sequence does not fit objects seen departing SE from Great falls and then being picked up at Ennis.

On the other hand a couple of Great Falls witnesses did describe the objects darting off behind a small cloud or group of clouds on the horizon, inferrably near the SE departure azimuth. There may therefore be some similiarity to the Ennis events here. Conceivably a distant phenomenon seen in the E from Ennis could have receded N and then been seen in the SE from Great Falls a little later. (Two lines of sight to the same static "clouds" NE from Ennis and SE from Great Falls would put the sighting distance in the order of 100 miles from both locations. Presumably this is unlikely. It would imply objects of very large true size and altitude moving at true speeds in the order of thousands of mph and would reduce the association with local mountain peaks at Ennis - repeated a second time with another similar display over a local mountain to the West of the witnesses - to mere coincidence.)

At Great Falls two or three observers mentioned "dandelion seeds" or other possible wind-borne objects as a cause of the sightings (one of the Great Falls witnesses said he couldn't see anything but dandelion seeds where people were seeing flying saucers). With reference to this detail, the reports collectively indicate a generally NW-SE direction of travel (sometimes erratic) but, frustratingly, the wind direction is missing from all the weather observations that afternoon.

Specifically for the observations at Ennis, we considered the following explanations.


The association of the large blobs with mountains makes one suspect detached mirage images of mountain peaks, but this seems easily ruled out.

SHAFFER estimated the distance to the mountain peak and the first object to be 3-4 miles; however there are no significant hills at all this close to the highway in the sighting direction. SHAFFER appears to have underestimated the distance. Indeed the teletype report in the ATIC file gives the apparent object location as 45° 13' N, 111° 32' W, which is about 7 miles East of SHAFFER's position in the vicinity of Cedar Mountain (10,718 ft; nearby peaks are all ~10,000 ft). The elevation of the road at SHAFFER's position is 5,300 ft. Therefore the relative prominence of the mountain was approximately 5,400ft, and the angle of elevation of the dark blob above the observer's astronomical horizon must have been approximately 10°.

Ennis map

Google Earth aerial view of the sighting location. Major SHAFFER was driving north on Highway 287. The objects/clouds were first seen to the right, then to the left of the road.

The telex also gives coordinates for the second cloud on the left side of the road, as 45° 11' N, 111° 57' W, naming the mountain as "Hill 9572" (meaning elevation 9,572 ft) which identifies Baldy Mountain, 13 miles away. Again there are no nearer summits in the sighting direction and SHAFFER underestimated the distance by about the same factor 2, thinking it was only 6 miles. The relative angular elevation of the blob in this case would have been about half as high, or about 5°.

These angles are far too large for any kind of mirage refraction.


Could the "cloud" itself have been just an unusual mass of contrail sown by a group of aircraft ("disk-like objects") looping in and out of the line of sight? It seems unlikely. The second display to the W could not plausibly be explained in this way, nor does it account for the dark "indefinite" yet "solid, not transparent" ovoid that was seen at the beginning of the sightings.

Lenticular cloud

Another natural suspect is altocumulus lenticularis. The description of an oval-shaped cloud that seems fixed above a mountain and seems to "dissipate then rejuvenate itself" sounds like a pretty good description of a mountain wave cloud forming in the peak of a standing wave in the lee of a mountain. As with the mirage theory, the fast little objects with trails of smoke have no explanation in this case and would be reduced to coincidental distant planes beyond the cloud, or something like this. There is the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport near Belgrade, but it's about 45 miles away and to the NE. Moreover, there's no airfield that could explain another (highly improbable) coincidental display occurring over a second mountain to the West.

Smoke rings

A very rare type of cloud that would better match the description given by Major SHAFFER - and in particular the cumulus-like aspect of the clouds and the movements of the smaller ones - is a ring-shaped vortex cloud or smoke ring. From a distance, a smoke ring may indeed look like a dark, indefinite-shaped ovoid. On occasion these dark, metres-wide rings get enveloped in a thick white smoke that appears to emmanate from the ring structure itself, forming an oval-shaped cumulus-like cloudlet. In the case of detonations carried out during atom bomb simulations (see our discussion of the Viborg case), this white smoke has been identified as white phosphorus that was mixed together in drums with TNT, diesel fuel and/or gasoline, the lot arranged in a circle and detonated.

Black smoke ring

Black smoke ring enveloped in a cumulus-type cloudlet over Denmark. For more info go to VO-RI-25 in our smoke ring picture gallery.

The three objects that shot out of the cloud may have been part of such a pyrotechnic display (perhaps projectiles that were fired into the cloud and then curled back toward the ground again). In correspondence with Martin SHOUGH, American researcher Joel CARPENTER wondered if the trails emerging from the cloud and curving back in could be showing the direction of rotation of the currents, like windings around a coil, that form such a ring. But the direction of motion drawn by SHAFFER (if correct) is opposite to the direction of rotation in vortex rings that originate from the ground.

Extending this scenario a little further, the five other objects that developed white smoke around them and travelled slowly in a V formation, then lined up and disappeared into (behind?) the bigger cloud, may have been more distant ?smoke rings? that were drifting towards the bigger one. Their direction of travel, however, was opposite to the generally NW to SE direction followed by the objects spotted at Great Falls (and of which several witnesses felt that they were carried along with the wind). But as the sighting location is about 150 miles further South, wind patterns may have been very different from those at Great Falls. Also, we note that Major SHAFFER describes a "trail of very hazy film of dark colored smoke". This would indicate not only the presence of smoke but also a weather situation with very little wind, i.e. ideal circumstances for vortice rings to stay intact and in place for many minutes (there are several well-documented examples of smoke ring observations in our files that mention durations of 5 to 20 minutes).

But what are the chances of atom bomb simulations having taken place near Ellis in July 1952? There are no military bases close enough W or E of the sighting location and the Nevada nuclear test area is 600 miles SSW of Ennis.

So where else might these hypothetical smoke rings have originated from? A Google Earth search for industrial chimneys close to the sighting location revealed none. Controlled explosions as special effects for a movie perhaps? We checked and found "Red Skies Of Montana" (a 20th Century Fox production from 1952) to be a close call. There's a scene in this movie showing explosions during a forest fire, but further research revealed that the movie's release date was February 1952, i.e. almost half a year before the sightings. A series of explosions at a mining site perhaps? Ennis has a long history of mining operations, but detonations conducted almost simultaneously at sites several miles apart seem unlikely.

The appearance of a similar unusual UAP display on opposite sides of a road made us wonder if we should not be looking for a moving smoke or steam producing source. A steam locomotive sprang to mind. We Googled a bit and found that only 13.5 miles W of the sighting location is Virginia City where a steam locomotive is still being used to this day to transport tourists through the mountains. This "Virginia & Truckee Railway" connects Virginia city and Carson City, the latter being East of where SHAFFER was, i.e. where the first display was seen. But steam and smoke rings that emanate from chimneys of locomotives are typically short-lived and, worse still, according to the "Virginia & Truckee Railway" was not operational between 1950 and 1970 . So that too proved a dead end.

In short, despite the good descriptive match with a rare type of vortex phenomenon, we were unable to find a suitable candidate capable of producing long-lived smoke rings almost simultaneously at different locations SE and SW of Ellis. In consequence, the idea of ring-shaped vortices remains speculative at best.

A final note on the angular sizes of the main object: SHAFFER's drawing and report contain no indication about the angular sizes, but the relative sizes indicated in his drawing are somewhat internally consistent. The estimated true width of the cloud is 300 ft which would indicate the small "disk-like objects" to be in the order of 10 ft across proportionately, if they were at the same distance. He describes these as appearing to be "fighter plane size". The orders of magnitude are correct. The true distance was estimated (incorrectly) as three or four miles, which would imply an estimated visual subtense of about 1° for the cloud. At this range a "fighter sized" object would be in the order 0.1° and some shape (reported as "disk-like" but this need not mean anything) would probably be resolvable.

The authors look forward to receiving additional reports and/or comments which may help assess the soundness of the mirage theory for this particular type of UAP sightings (to contact us, see our e-mail address on the contact page).