An intriguing detail of some mysterious vanishings is the presence of what is usually described as a mist, fog, smoke, or cloud, often strange in color or abnormally thick and opaque, often appearing out of seemingly nowhere. There have been several accounts of people over the years either entering mysterious clouds or even stranger still being enveloped by them, only to seemingly vanish into thin air, as if devoured by these nebulous vapors.
Some of the spookier and most baffling vanishings attributed to mysterious fogs or mists involve aircraft that seem to have just flown off the face of the earth. One of the more well-known of these occurred in 1914, when Chilean Second Lieutenant Alejandro Bello Silva disappeared under rather odd circumstances. On March 9, 1914, Silva embarked aboard his plane, a snazzy new Sánchez-Besa model biplane, on a flight that was to earn him his aviator certification. The challenging flight was to take him on a circuit over treacherous mountainous terrain from Lo Espejo aerodrome in central Chile, all the way to Culitrín, then to Cartagena, and then back to Lo Espejo for a total of 111 miles, which for the biplanes of the day was a fairly good distance, all of it over intimidating mountain passes and peaks.
Although the flight was considered to be quite challenging, Silva was widely-respected as a top student of Air Force flight school and a skilled pilot, and it was fully expected that he would be able to complete the course with ease. After experiencing some trouble with poor visibility and damaged landing gear, he confidently took off again on his mission, all while trailed by a plane carrying a companion and an instructor. Unfortunately, the instructor’s plane experienced a fuel shortage and was forced to return to base, but Silva continued on undeterred.
Witnesses would later claim that the pilot’s plane entered a thick cloud bank that had gathered quite suddenly, but rather than emerging from the other side as expected it just seemed to have vanished. Silva never did fly out of that cloud, and indeed neither he nor his plane have ever been seen again. The odd disappearance provoked a massive search for the missing pilot, but no trace of him or scrap of the plane was ever found, causing him to be pronounced lost and presumed dead. Despite numerous follow-up searches and investigations in the ensuing years, to this day Silva’s vanishing remains unexplained, and the case is so well known in Chile that there is even an expression there, “Más perdido que el Teniente Bello,” or “More lost than Lieutenant Bello,” when referring to someone having completely and hopelessly lost their way.
A similarly bizarre disappearance of a plane happened in 1952, during the Korean War. In March of that year, fighter pilot Commander John Baldwin was on patrol in the skies of Korea aboard an F-86 Sabre when he purportedly flew into a strange cloud formation and seemingly off the face of the earth. At no point was there ever any distress signal issued by Baldwin, nor was any sign of a crash ever found. Indeed, he was a seasoned pilot, had not been engaged in any sort of dogfight at the time, and had not met with enemy fire. Upon entering that cloud he had seemingly ceased to exist.
It is not clear what became of these pilots or their aircraft, but a perhaps sinister hint can be found in a rather harrowing and unexplained account from the Vietnam War. While flying aboard a C-130 cargo plane off the coast of South Vietnam, crewman Robert L. Pollock allegedly looked outside to see a “whirling grey cloudy mass” near the rear troop door, which seemed to be pulsating and growing in size. Pollock immediately attributed it to a fire or some other malfunction, but everything was in working order, and the whole time that strange cloud grew until it was almost filling the entire rear of the aircraft, still ominously swirling about in a clockwise motion.
The now rather unsettled Pollock called other crewmen and they too saw the amorphous mass of roiling smoke. Pollock claimed that he had tentatively put his hand within it and even stepped inside of the bizarre fog, and described it as being completely dark inside, yet not having any discernible odor or taste. Others who put their hands in noticed that their hands would completely vanish, such was the utter thickness of the mist. The unidentified cloud reportedly got alarmingly large, and the crew began to back away in terror, but then it suddenly began to recede until it was just a tiny swirling wisp, after which it disappeared, simply puttering out of existence. What was this mist and was it perhaps about to make this plane disappear as well? It is hard to say.
It is not only planes that have disappeared into unexplained mists, and indeed one of the weirdest mass vanishings ever involved such a phenomenon. The case in question goes back to the fighting of World War I, in particular the Gallipoli campaign, which took place on the Gallipoli Peninsula of the Ottoman Empire from 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916. The objective of the campaign was for the Allied powers of Britain and France to launch an ultimately unsuccessful naval and amphibious assault against the Turks to secure the Dardanelles, which is a strait that connects the Mediterranean with the Black Sea and served as an essential sea route for their ally, Russia. At the time, the strait was controlled by Turkey, an ally of Germany’s. The eventual plan was to push through and forcefully claim the city of Constantinople (present day Istanbul), which was the Ottoman Empire’s capital, and expel the Turks from the war.
In the midst of the bloody campaign, there came the Sandringhams, a military unit that had been created in 1908 by King Edward VII, consisting of men that had been recruited from the staff of the royal Sandringham Estate. They would later be included with the 5th Territorial Battalion the Royal Norfolk Regiment, or “The Norfolks." The regiment was rather unique in that it was one of the first examples in the British forces of what came to be referred to as “Pal’s Battalions,” which were military units made up of men who had all been recruited from the same civilian group, for instance the same town , company, or in this case royal estate. These were close-knit groups comprised of men who knew each other well, and in many cases had even grown up together.
In the case of the Sandringhams, they were about to go to war together. The Norfolk Regiment, made up of 250 men, 16 officers, and led by Sir Horace Proctor-Beauchamp, set out for the Gallipoli Peninsula from Liverpool on July 30, 1915 aboard the SS Aquitainia and arrived at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli on 10 August 1915 amidst heavy fighting. They did not have to wait long to see battle for themselves. On August 12, just two days after their arrival, the 5th Norfolks, as part of the 163rd Brigade, were ordered to launch an intense offensive against Turkish positions holding the Anafarta Plain in order to clear them out ahead of a planned Allied advance.
From the beginning the mission was faced with serious setbacks. The men were in poor physical condition due to the rigors of their arduous journey, the side effects of inoculations, a profound lack of sleep, and the harsh, brutally hot and arid climate of the area. Many of them were sick with dysentery, and general morale was low. In addition, the advance was to be carried out in broad daylight, with poor supplies, inadequate water, and with inaccurate maps, against seasoned Turkish fighters who knew the land well and were deeply dug in along ridges. Additionally, the objective of the mission was not made particularly clear, with some of the men thinking that they were to attack the village of Anafarta Saga rather than clear the way for the British assault.
It is perhaps no surprise that the attack turned into a massacre. The exhausted, thirsty, and sick men first made an error and turned the wrong way, separating them from the larger 163rd Brigade. Realizing their mistake, they nevertheless prepared to advance against Kavak Tepe ridge without support or reinforcements. When they did, they were immediately met with a rain of machine gun fire and picked off by numerous snipers entrenched in the ridge and sitting in trees. The Norfolk Regiment bravely pressed on into this maelstrom of blood and bullets, actually managing to push the enemy back towards a forest that was ablaze from artillery fire. Beauchamp and his men continued the charge into the burning forest, and that was the last anyone would ever see of them. The battalion would never emerge from the forest, none would come back to tell the tale, and by most accounts they had simply vanished from the face of the earth.
It was largely thought that the men had simply scattered and been killed in the heavy fighting out there in that blazing forest, but there was no strong evidence at the time to suggest this was the case. Nevertheless this was and still is the official conclusion. The case of the Vanishing Battalion remained pretty much closed until the 50th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in April 1965, when a New Zealand WWI veteran by the name of Frederick Reichardt, along with two of his compatriots, came forward with their own alleged first-hand account of what he saw on that fateful day. The story was recounted by Reichardt during a reunion of veterans and offered a bizarre, if controversial, twist on the tale of the famed missing battalion.
Reichardt went on record saying that they had been sappers with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and that they had been operating in an area near a Turkish position known as Hill 60, which was not far from where the lost Norfolk Regiment had been waging war. The sapper claimed they noticed between 6 and 8 odd, grayish brown, “loaf shaped” clouds hovering over the battlefield. The weird clouds were described as being completely still even in the face of high winds at the time. Beneath these clouds was reportedly another, even larger and denser looking cloud that was estimated as being around 800 feet in length and around 200 feet high. This massive cloud was allegedly hugging the ground over a dry creek bed when the Norfolk Regiment approached, and without hesitation they proceeded to march directly into it. When the regiment had disappeared into the cloud, Reichardt claimed that it had then slowly risen upwards to join the other strange clouds, apparently taking the soldiers with it, after which they all moved off to the north in unison before disappearing from view.
The bizarre story was first published in the September/October edition of the New Zealand UFO magazine Spaceview in 1965. The story would be somewhat corroborated when in 1966, another New Zealand veteran of the campaign, Gerald Wilde, told Spaceview magazine that although he had not seen the disappearance directly, he had heard many rumors among soldiers that the entire Norfolk Regiment had disappeared into a cloud that had been straddling the ground.
It was a rather bizarre story that flew in the face of the official conclusion of what had happened to the Vanished Battalion, but it was immediately jumped upon by UFO enthusiasts and became an almost legendary tale among missing persons cases, particularly those suggesting alien abduction. The story took on a life of its own, especially among alien abduction enthusiasts, and would be told again and again in various publications, each time gaining further details or having the details changed somehow. People just couldn’t seem to get enough of this sinister tale of cloud-shaped UFOs whisking away a whole regiment of men in the middle of a battlefield. The story gained such a following amongst the public that the British Ministry of Defence and the Imperial War Museum were constantly deluged with letters demanding the release of top secret files that outlined the mass alien abduction and had been covered up.
Things got weirder still when a secretive group of US scientists and officials referred to as MJ-12 released a report on the same incident in a paper titled 1st Annual Report, in 1998. The document is apparently an annex to another paper that describes the incident dating to 1952. The 1st Annual Report describes the incident thus:
On August 21 1915, members of the New Zealand Army Corps’ First Field Company signed sworn statements that they saw the One-Fourth Norfolk Regiment disappear in an unusually thick brown cloud which seemed to move and rose upward and vanished. There were no traces of the regiment nor their equipment. No explanation can be found in the historical records of the Imperial War Museum archives.
Although this particular statement is thought to be a hoax, it adds an intriguing layer to the whole mystery. Another report that takes the story into a decidedly paranormal direction is a claim made in a 1967 book titled Flying Saucers Are Hostile, in which authors Brad Steiger and Joan Whritrenour claim that a further 22 more witnesses from the New Zealand military eventually came forward to corroborate Reinhardt’s story, and also they share what they refer to as part of the “official history” of the Gallipoli campaign. In the book the authors state that this “official history” describes how the Norfolks were ensconced within a strange, unseasonable fog which reflected sunlight in such a way as to produce a blinding glare in which artillery personnel had been unable to fire.
There have been many, many theories as to what happened to the now almost legendary Vanished Battalion, ranging from that they were gunned down and massacred by Turkish forces and their deaths covered up by the War Office, to that they were whisked away to another dimension or another world. The story has certainly been played up and exaggerated over the years, and fact can be difficult to distinguish from fiction, but the idea of a whole battalion of men disappearing into strange unexplained clouds is a powerful one that has remained pervasive in the field of the paranormal.
More recently and not nearly as well known is an eerie disappearance in the country of Japan. On November 19, 1963, a Tokyo bank manager, an employee, and a customer, were in the manager’s car on their way to play a game of golf. This is not so strange in and of itself, as golf games are common venues for business transactions in Japan. What is weird is what they would witness along the way. For much of the way a black car had been in front of them, and when they pulled up next to it they noticed that the front windows were tinted, and that in the rear there was an elderly man calmly reading a newspaper.
Although the car was somewhat odd to them, the witnesses did not think much of it until a white smoke or fog began to envelope it, seeming to come out of nowhere. The smoke was exceptionally thick, and soon had completely obscured the vehicle, although it did not spread to anywhere else. After a few moments the fog inexplicably dissipated, and when it did the black car was simply gone. The witnesses would later claim that the whole episode had lasted only a few seconds. What in the world is going on here?
An even more terrifying encounter allegedly occurred in April of 1992, and while it did not result in a vanishing it certainly seems like it was headed in that direction. On the evening of April 12, the anonymous witness was driving through the desolate desert wasteland of US 180 near Deming, New Mexico, at approximately 11:20 PM when he noticed a white light shining in the dark off to the left side of the road. Thinking this to be odd he continued on his way, only to suddenly notice that a grayish-white, luminous cloud of smoke had stretched across the road ahead almost like a wall.
The witness then drove right on into this eerie fog, and claimed to have driven through it for around an hour but soon found that it was so thick he could barely see the road right in front of his truck. It was all extremely odd considering that such dense fogs are exceedingly rare in such desert locales. Perplexed, the witness exited the vehicle to take a look around, but as he did he claims that he abruptly lost control of his limbs and sprawled to the ground, dizzy and numb and unable to move. As he lie there on the parched earth surrounded by this clinging vapor, two shadowy figures approached out of the murk to grab him by each arm and begin hauling him through the smoke towards a shiny metallic object situated nearby.
According to the witness, these beings brought him through a rectangular opening in the side of the craft and placed him in a chair-like device. It was now that he could see that the two figures were not human, but rather slender, bony entities around 5 feet in height, with oval faces and large black eyes. The chair was put into a reclining position and the witness claims that something was inserted into his nose, some type of tube or device, which caused a distinct buzzing and stinging sensation that caused him to shout out. The two beings were apparently startled, reportedly then throwing him back outside, after which he levitated to his vehicle and the thick fog melted away to leave him there shaking and sobbing in the desert night.
These cases surely cover a range of disparate disappearances and what I like to call "near-vanishings," and perhaps there is no real connection to any of them other than the presence of strange clouds, fogs, smoke, and mist. Yet one wonders just what the significance of this detail is on the outcome of what happened to these people. Was it just coincidence, or did this fog have some dark meaning and effect? If so, then where did it come from and what does it mean? Is this aliens, an inter-dimensional phenomenon, or something altogether even stranger still? The answers remain unclear. No matter what has happened here, the one thing we can be sure of is that in most of these cases these people encountered clouds or mist and ceased to exist.