By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
On the evening of January 8, at about 7 p.m., Constable Lee Roy Gaitan, a no-nonsense Texas lawman, was walking outside his house when something caught his eye. Off in the distance, racing across the night sky of the small town of Dublin, was what looked like a red orb. It flashed through the night, vanished and then reappeared several seconds later.
Gaitan rushed inside to get his 8-year-old boy. The red orb had disappeared, but now, maybe 3,000 feet up, nine to 10 flashing lights were bouncing up and down in the sky. Gaitan got his binoculars to try to make sense of what he was looking at. Suddenly, a stream of lights shot off across the sky at a blazing speed, followed shortly by what looked like two fighter jets.
"I don't know what I saw," Gaitan would later tell Larry King. "...I don't know if it was part of an experiment, military or what."
That night, as many as 17 witnesses—including a police chief, a private pilot and a former air traffic control operator—say they saw the same thing above Dublin and nearby Stephenville. Now, more than six months later, Stephenville has become a new Roswell: a gathering place for UFO enthusiasts, conspiracy theorists and others who are trying to make sense of what Gaitan and others saw that night.
Last week, a group called the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) released a report that lends credence to the claims made by Gaitan and others. Using a Freedom of Information Act request, Robert Powell, director of research for MUFON, and former Army radar analyst Gene Schulze obtained more than 2 million radar readings of flight activity over Stephenville and Dublin that night. Schulze—who spent four months analyzing the data—says he is positive something unusual was flying in the air on January 8.
"I'm convinced that there were objects in the air that night that were not traveling with beacons on, that the military is not claiming and that the FAA is not explaining. They certainly fit the scenario of what the witnesses saw," Schulze says.
Initially, the military claimed none of their aircraft were flying over Stephenville that night. But then, two weeks later, the military issued a tersely worded release that said 10 F-16 fighter jets had in fact been over Stephenville conducting training operations.
Major Karl Lewis, an Air Force spokesman, would not say exactly what the planes were doing, but some have speculated that their training that night could have included the ejection of flares (used to confuse heat-seeking missiles), which would explain the red orbs Gaitan and others saw.
But overall, the military's admission of flight activity that night has created more questions than answers, and by the time MUFON arrived to conduct its own investigation several weeks later, the number of people who had witnessed something strange in the sky on January 8 had ballooned from 17 to more than 100. By the time MUFON officials left they had collected more than 200 reports, although not all were about the January 8 sighting.
In the time since, MUFON has been busy gathering other information. Earlier this month, they released a 76-page report detailing their findings, and last week they began to speak about their analysis of radar for the first time.
The report is based on witness sightings, letters from numerous government agencies and 10 different Freedom of Information Act requests to the FAA, the National Weather Service, all military bases near Stephenville, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Services, and the 21st and 30th Air Force Space Wing Commands, which are located in Colorado and California, respectively. The military did not release any information in response to the requests, but the FAA did. The report, then, is based on witness reports and the readings of five FAA-controlled radar towers.
"What we found is that whatever the object was, it is basically unknown and its capabilities aren't something we're aware of the military having," says Robert Powell, MUFON's director of research. "The bottom line is there's sufficient evidence from witnesses and radar that something unusual happened on January 8 that neither the military or Homeland Security could either confirm or deny."
Perhaps the most unusual thing Powell and Schulze found, besides the existence of possible UFOs, is that whatever was in the sky that night was headed straight for Crawford, where President George W. Bush's ranch, sometimes called the Western White House, is located. According to Schulze's radar readings, a flying object traveling at 40 mph was headed in a straight, undeviating course toward Crawford for more than an hour, and then it disappeared.
The first step in the radar analysis, according to the report, was to determine what military aircraft were in the area that night. A redacted logbook from Carswell Air Force Base showed that as many as 10 F-16s were in the air between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. for training exercises, but on two different occasions, the planes left their training area for unknown reasons. On their way back to Carswell, two flights veered 15 to 30 miles east of their normal training route, at one point encroaching dangerously close to civilian airspace for unknown reasons. Another sortie of jets, which left Carswell at about 6:30 p.m. headed toward south central Oklahoma also diverted from their normal course on the way home. Rather than return to Carswell, they headed south, making a loop around Comanche, Dublin and Stephenville—the very places where multiple witnesses saw strange lights followed by military jets—before heading home. "It is odd," the report states, "why these aircraft flew this circuit far to the south prior to returning to base and why these two aircraft were redacted in the CAFB logbooks."