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The Human Cost of an Alien Encounter: Revisiting Falcon Lake

More than 50 years after it happened, The Falcon Lake UFO incident remains one of the most compelling close encounter cases on record, and yet, compared to cases like Roswell or Rendlesham Forest, for example, it has maintained a relatively low profile. This is curious, given the reams of official documentation of the event, physical evidence in the form of strange metals found at the sight, and the fact that the witness suffered almost-fatal injuries as a result of coming into direct contact with a structured craft of unknown origin.

In a new book, published through my August Night imprint, noted UFO researcher Chris Rutkowski opens his vault of documents and images, gathered over several decades of inquiry, and presents a comprehensive picture of the Falcon Lake UFO incident. The book, When They Appeared, is co-authored by Stan Michalak, son of the original witness, who provides his inside perspective of what was happening in the Michalak home immediately following his father’s extraordinary encounter, documenting the daily struggles of his family as they dealt with his father’s injuries and the endless stream of investigators and media. Released after years of planning, When They Appeared is a sober and meticulous deconstruction of an event that presents a serious challenge to any true skeptic. Here, Chris and Stan talk to me about the Falcon Lake case, how it affected the Michalak family, and why it remains so important.

Chris Rutkowski (left), Stan Michalak (right), and the sketch of the craft drawn by Stan’s father, Stefan.

RG [to Chris]: Describe Stefan Michalak’s encounter in a nutshell and what sets it apart from so many other alleged close encounter cases.

CR: In May, 1967, Stefan Michalak was enjoying his hobby as a rockhound in Whiteshell Provincial Park, just north of Falcon Lake, Manitoba, Canada. Shortly after noon, his attention was drawn to two disc-shaped objects high in the sky. They both descended, and one dropped down to land or hover just above a flat rock outcropping not far from Michalak. He crouched behind a boulder and bushes so as not to be seen, and observed the craft for about half an hour. During this time, Michalak sketched the object in detail, noting it was a metallic craft of some kind, about 35 feet in diameter and about 12 feet high, with a domelike section on top from which bright purple light was emanating. Michalak said he could hear a whooshing sound as if air was being expelled or taken in, and there was a smell like burning electrical circuitry.

As he watched, a small door opened in the side of the craft, and light poured out from the opening as well. More importantly, Michalak now heard sounds like high-pitched voices, leading him to believe the craft was occupied. Convinced it was a secret American experimental vehicle that had encountered engine trouble, Michalak stood up and bravely walked towards the UFO, calling out jovially: “Come on out, Yankee boys! I can help fix your broken down flying machine!” By the time Michalak reached the craft, the voices had stopped, but he touched the side of the craft with his rubberized glove, which melted. The door shut, the craft revolved, and facing him was an exhaust vent of some kind. Suddenly, hot gas blasted out of it, knocking Michalak to the ground and setting fire to dry leaves, pine needles, and Michalak himself. He managed to extinguish the flaming result, but he realized he needed medical attention so he headed back home. He was treated in hospital for second degree burns and released, but then told his story to media in an attempt to warn others to stay away from that area or suffer the same fate.

Stefan Michalak following his close encounter with a landed craft at Falcon Lake. The burns on his chest and abdomen are clearly visible, their formation matching his description of what he speculated may have been exhaust vents on the craft, which expelled a blast of hot gas at him at close range, setting his shirt alight.

The incident was investigated by local UFO investigators, but more importantly, by several official agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and even Canada’s own nuclear research facility. The latter was because soil samples collected by the RCAF were found to be radioactive, as were strange pieces of metal found a year later at the site. The case was also investigated by representatives from the Condon Committee and was included in the infamous Condon Report. Besides being a close encounter case with physical evidence, the case is remarkable because many official documents have been available or found by researchers, including medical records, RCMP documents, interview files, and analyses of the soil and metal samples. All in all, there are hundreds of pages of documents detailing the great lengths to which two countries’ investigative agencies went in studying the incident.

A piece of the radioactive metal that was retrieved from the crash site in 1968. It was found in the cracks of the Precambrian rock. (Chris Rutkowski).

RG: [to Stan]: Your father’s experience affected him for the rest of his life, but it affected your family too. How did you cope with it? How did you manage to integrate and assimilate your father’s experience into the relative normality of your everyday existence?

SM: At the beginning, we were most concerned for his health. In a matter of two weeks, he had dropped twenty pounds and was having difficulty keeping food down or eating anything that was solid. It took almost a month before he was able to enjoy real food. His weight gradually returned to about 160 to 170 pounds. His burns had healed, but the spots on the lower abdomen remained for quite a while longer, resolving into round, red welts which healed as scar tissue – so he always had hard nuggets under his skin, even after many years. His nausea and blackouts continued for a time as well.

Chris Rutkowski (left) and Stan Michalak (right) visit the remote site of the Falcon Lake UFO incident in May, 2017.

As a family, we were very aware of what he was experiencing. My sister was so heavily involved in her university education and working most evenings, that she was seldom at home during the day. My brother was also in university, and studying hard, but he became our “gate guardian” to keep away the ever-present media. I did my best to not be underfoot, to respect my father’s quiet time, and not be a bother.

It was my mother who bore the brunt of it, and kept a grip on her family, that is to say on her children, but she was also an excellent nurse while my father recovered. Any investigators who came to our home, like RCMP or RCAF, were looked after by my mother; she always offered refreshments and treats to anyone who was considered an official guest. Outside the home, she maintained an air of self-assurance even though she was constantly watchful of the media, and careful what she said to anyone about what had happened. It’s not as though she was trying to keep a secret, she just preferred not to have to explain all of it to just anyone. Not to mention the fact that her English was poor, and she was self-conscious of that.

Once he was fit to return to work, our family life didn’t actually change too much. There was never a time when we felt like celebrities. This was a difficult story that came with injury and a measure of disbelief, so there was no joy in it, only concern. I was bullied in school for it and, of course, there were constant reminders from those who were skeptical and rather mean about it. It took a few years to calm down to the point where no one seemed to care enough about the story. Only then were we able to resume a relatively normal life without the constant reminder that we were the family of that odd man who was burned by the UFO.

RG: [to Chris]: Was the Falcon Lake encounter an isolated incident, or did it fit into broader UFO activity at the time, regionally or nationally?

CR: In addition to Michalak’s experience, there had been several UFO reports in the Whiteshell area around that time, suggesting it was part of a localized flap or wave. But UFO reports found in the Canadian National Archives show that the Falcon Lake case was pivotal in its influence and connection with other incidents in Canada in 1967, including other unexplained reports investigated by official agencies, not the least of which was the first report of a crop circle that was investigated by no less than the Royal Canadian Air Force itself! And at the time, there were even unexplained radar cases at military installations within a short distance of Falcon Lake.

Falcon Lake.

RG: [to Stan]: What was your father’s opinion on the possible origin of the craft?

SM: Dad had no idea at all what it was that he saw in the woods that day. His first thought was that it was a test craft, something top secret, likely from the United States. He was an industrial mechanic, on his way to becoming a millwright, so he had knowledge of machines, fit and finish, metal construction, and metallurgy. He did not have a good foundation in things like propulsion systems, aero engines, nuclear power, or any of the things one normally associates with aircraft technology. So, he was perplexed when he considered that the two craft he saw did not fit into the basic fundamentals of terrestrial flight – the things that most people take for granted – such as the screeching sounds made by jet engines, the roar of exhaust as planes take off, the powerful whine of turbo engines, or the rumble of piston power. The very idea of Newtonian principles of flight were lost on him. He never researched the possibilities (at a time, remember, when that would have meant looking things up in books at the library, and not online, as we can do today) or tried to rationalize what he saw.

He was, however, a relatively naïve man. He had been a military policeman in Poland before World War II, then went underground to fight with the partisans after the country was defeated by the Nazis. So, he was not an ignorant nor overly fearful man. He had enough experiences in his time in war-torn Europe, and ten years of trying to settle in Canada, to give him some accurate perspective. But when faced with something he truly did not understand, he would often take the word of the first person who professed to know something about it. He had learned early in life to find an expert in something he needed to know to get information that way. Unfortunately, the so-called experts who lined up to talk with him immediately declared that this UFO was extra-terrestrial – and they gave him sound explanations for their theories, so he began to see the possibilities that these craft could not have come from the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. As an example, he claimed the UFOs made no noises that he recognized when they flew – nothing typical of an earth-bound aircraft. Well, argued the experts, if the sound the craft made did not follow any typical examples, they simply had to be from beyond our planet – it was only logical. He would entertain arguments from skeptics who claimed that the blast of air that hit him and caused his injuries was simply too terrestrial in nature, and could not have come from an other-world craft. So, he was confused – which was the correct answer?

When asked what he thought he saw, he would often answer, “You tell me.”

Stefan Michalak’s sketch of the UFO he witnessed.

RG: [to both]: What are your personal thoughts on the nature of the craft that Stefan saw?

CR: This case is one of the last true “nuts and bolts” UFO reports in ufology. There was no suggestion of exotic concepts more popular today, such as dimensional portals, consciousness downloads, telepathy, etc. Michalak was a very pragmatic and “down to earth” man (pun intended), with no interest in paranormal or spiritual aspects of phenomena. He was convinced he had seen and touched a physical craft of some sort. We know that that this time period was the cusp of the American Apollo space program, it makes sense that Michalak would have thought in those terms, especially given his own military background. But since we know that nothing resembling such a saucer-shaped craft had been successfully flown by any country (then or now), we are left with a mystery. Michalak was not one to make up stories or fabricate a hoax, and he had too much respect for fellow military members to lie, especially since he had nothing to gain and did not seek money or notoriety.

SM: I have always been an aviation enthusiast. In my latter years, I became very knowledgeable, and have extensively researched what was happening around the world in aviation technology in the 1950s and 1960s. I have found nothing concrete in our development of air or space craft that explains what he saw that day, yet, not having seen the UFOs for myself, I can’t explain his sighting any more than he could. So, does logic dictate that if I can’t explain it, but I know it was seen and experienced, then it must be other-worldly?

Simply exploring basic physics, something that can be done these days in a matter of a few hours online, provides a lot of insight into what this craft could not be. We know that there was a lot of theoretical research being done into propulsion systems back in the 1960s, and that there are still ongoing studies that speculate on what it would take to power a craft like the one my father saw. So far, nothing has come of it. Once again, it leaves us with the extra-terrestrial explanation as the only logical answer. If we had such technology in 1967, why strap three men into a tiny capsule on the top of a massive rocket in order to get them to the moon, when one could do the job with whatever made the UFOs work – assuming, of course, that they were of American origin?

A grid of dots can be seen on Stefan Michalak’s burned shirt.

I am inclined to believe that what landed on that rocky outcrop was not of this world. We have tried to offer terrestrial explanations for its behaviour because we don’t have any reference for anything other than what we presently know. That doesn’t give us actual answers, just theories based on limited knowledge. The biggest problem with this case, as far as I’m concerned, is that, like my father, I have relied on experts to give me answers when I needed to solve complex problems or understand complicated issues. To date, there really aren’t any experts in this field, just a lot of smart people with theories. I believe the case will remain “unexplained” until it isn’t – and by then, we will have solved bigger issues on this planet than simply who may have paid us a visit 50 years ago.

RG: [to Chris]: What was/is the Canadian government’s official explanation for the Falcon Lake incident?

CR: I will defer to the RCAF, which noted in a report: “Neither the DND nor the RCMP investigation teams were able to provide evidence which could dispute Mr. Michalak’s story. Although the investigation has been completed, a satisfactory explanation or conclusion is still lacking.”

When They Appeared is available now from all good online bookstores.

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Robbie Graham has lectured around the world on the UFO subject and has been interviewed for the BBC, Coast to Coast AM, Canal+ TV, Channel 4, and Vanity Fair, among many others. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The Guardian, New Statesman, Filmfax, and Fortean Times. He holds first class degrees in Film, Television and Radio Studies (BA hons) and Cinema Studies (MA) from Staffordshire University and the University of Bristol respectively. He is the author of Silver Screen Saucers: Sorting Fact from Fantasy in Hollywood’s UFO Movies (White Crow Books, 2015) and the editor of UFOs: Reframing the Debate (White Crow Books, 2017). Visit robbiegraham.uk
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