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A Police UFO Chase and Strange Things in the Sky at Red Bluff, California

There are UFO reports of all shapes and sizes, spanning the globe, and these can run the range from the odd to the outright insane. In many cases the elements come together to form a case that not only includes traditionally reliable witnesses, but many of them, all seeing the same thing and leaving us to wonder what is going on. In 1960 there was just such a case, which was first brought to the public’s attention by two sober, reliable police officers, and which would later be corroborated by many others to leave it a highly intriguing account that has never been solved.

August 13, 1960, started off fairly normally in the small town of Corning, California, near another larger town called Red Bluff, and on this hot night California Highway Patrol officers Charles A. Carson and Stanley E. Scott were out at work along Hoag Road. It was a hot, lazy evening, with the two of them looking for speeding motorists, but no one was really out in the rural area, and so they were mostly just driving along lost to their thoughts. Just before midnight they noticed something in the sky that they at first took to be an airliner, but it was flying so low that they feared it was in trouble, possibly even coming in to crash. They stopped their car to get a better look, and it would soon become apparent that this was no normal aircraft. Carson would later say of what happened:

From our position outside the car the first thing we noticed was an absolute silence. Still assuming it to be an aircraft with power off we continued to watch until the object was probably within 100′ to 200′ of the ground when it suddenly reversed completely, at high speed and gained approximately 500′ altitude. There the object stopped, at this time it was clearly visible to both of us and obviously not an aircraft of any design familiar to us. It was surrounded by a glow making the round or oblong object visible. At each end, or each side of the object there were definite red lights. At times about five white lights were visible between the red lights. As we watched the object moved again and performed aerial feats that were actually unbelievable. At this time, we radioed Tehama County Sheriff’s Office requesting they contact local radar base. The Radar Base confirmed the U.F.O. – completely unidentified.

In the meantime, the two men continued to observe the object, which they described as “as large or larger than an airliner,” completely transfixed by what they were seeing. At this point they had no idea what it could be up there doing its aerial acrobatics, and even as they excitedly wondered to each other what it was things got weirder when the object began to show signs that it knew they were there, on several occasions approaching them and then moving away again, all while occasionally lighting up the ground below with a bright red light. Officer Carson would explain:

On two occasions the object came directly towards the patrol vehicle, each time it approached, the object swept the area with a huge red light. Officer Scott turned the red light on the patrol vehicle towards the object and it immediately went away from us. We observed the object use the red beam approximately 6 or 7 times, sweeping the sky and ground areas.

After this, the mysterious craft then began to slowly move off to the east, and not wanting to lose sight of it the officers followed in their car. They kept increasing their speed to keep up with it, and were now chasing it down the road, and although they lost sight of it a few times they managed to relocate it again. At one point, they were shocked to see a similar light begin approaching from the south. This second inscrutable object approached the first and they took up a tight formation, after which they stopped and hovered there for some time, sporadically shooting red beams towards the ground, before both of them sped off to the east and disappeared. The two startled officers then went back to the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office, where they found that two deputies had also seen the strange object. Carson would say of this:

We returned to the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office and met Deputy Fry and Deputy Montgomery, who had gone to Los Molinos after contacting the radar base. Both had seen the U. F. O. clearly and described to us what we saw. The night jailer also was able to see the object for a short time, each described the object and its maneuvers exactly as we saw them. We first saw the object at 2350 hours and observed it for approximately two hours and 15 minutes. Each time the object neared us we experienced radio interference.

Image by Steve Baxter

The objects were also allegedly seen by another deputy, other Highway Patrol Officers, the night jailer, several prisoners, and some residents of the area, with around a dozen people having also observed one or both of them. In one case a formation of eight mysterious lights was supposedly seen. On top of this, the deputies who had seen the original object also reported trying to follow it as it had sped off along to its rendezvous with the other. Deputy Fry would explain in a report that would be heavily redacted and later released by the Air Force of what he and four prisoners had seen:

At 12:00 Midnight this Officer and Officer Montgomery went to Los Molinas and set on a small hill to the East named or called Blueberry Hill and at approximately 12:30AM of 8-14-60 observed four objects in the Western sky, they were traveling from the south to the north in a straight line and at times they would go straight up or down, one of the objects seem [sic] to stop and hover over the Red Bluff area. After a short time, there was an object seen going from the North to the South. I went out side of the Tehama Co. Jail to check the sky as officer Montgomery radioed that he had an object in the area that had appeared to have landed twice to the east of Los Molinas, on checking out side of the Jail observed a object coming in from the west to a position of about South East of the jail, and it appeared to stop and hover for a moment in that position. I called to the four trusties a [Blacked Out], [Blacked Out], [Blacked Out] and a [Blacked Out] to come out side and observe the flying object, by the time the four men arrived the object was hovering and it looked like a large Rail Road car with two large Red Lights one on each end, the whole object was a pale yellow glow in color and white lights appeared along it in three or four places which may have been windows. The object then took off in a southerly direction and passed out of sight without any of the above four persons and this writer hearing any type of motor or sound from the Object.

This was a great relief to officers Carson and Scott, because they had not believed their own eyes, and had thought that everyone would think they were crazy. Officer Carson would say of this in a radio interview on the matter:

I am like officer Scott, I still find it rather difficult to believe even after watching. It was amazing to sit out there for two hours and fifteen minutes watching this thing, and it is even more difficult to tell someone else what you saw. It is quite an experience. That is all you could say about it. It was definitely not a balloon or optical illusion. We saw something out there. I could hardly believe what I had seen out there and I was thankful for the fact that there were other officers from different agencies that had seen the object, plus residents of the area and people traveling through because myself — I don’t think if I had seen it and no one else had seen it — I would have been pretty confused.

Image by Steve Baxter

In the meantime, the Red Bluff Air Force Station, a radar-only site at nearby Red Bluff, who had originally confirmed to deputy Fry that they had made radar contact with something strange, were now flatly denying that they had, claiming that they had seen nothing unusual. In the following week after Carson and Scott’s sighting there would be myriad other reports of something strange in the sky, some by similarly traditionally reliable witnesses, and this is what must have finally caused the Air Force to move in for their own investigation, sending in investigators from their Project Blue Book division, which was specifically tasked with dealing with UFO reports. They would immediately confirm that there had been various sightings both before and after the Conrad and Scott sighting, and investigator Duane K. Bilslend would write of this in his report:

Local inquiry succeeded in locating various residents who had witnessed the appearance of UFO previous to or on the same date the Highway Patrol Officers had reported seeing the one in question. The undersigned interviewed each of the above persons and based on a personal opinion formed through observation of credibility, responsibility and reputation, concluded that an unidentified object and/or objects of similar physical appearance, whether real or imaginary, were observed by various solid citizens of Tehama County California.

This all seems to be very promising, with a solid series of sightings made by many disparate reliable witnesses all describing the same thing, but unfortunately, the Project Blue Book investigation was under the authority of a Colonel Philip G. Evans, who at the time was very keen to end the Air Force’s investigation into UFOs, and was well known for conjuring up reports that were riddled with misinformation and dishonest data and information, mis-stating, fabricating, or omitting relevant facts, as well as often offering up lengthy and scientifically questionable “rational explanations” that sounded great to skeptics but didn’t always add up and were just as pseudo-scientific as anything else. His dismissive final report on the matter would read in part:

The conclusion of ATIC is that the sightings which occurred in the Red Bluff area were due to atmospheric refraction. It is an impossible task to determine what the exact light source was for each specific incident, but the planet Mars was the most probable culprit in the instance of the highway patrolmen. The planet at the time of the sighting was just below the horizon and probably hove into view due to the refraction of its light by the atmosphere. A contributing factor to the sightings could have been the layer of smoke which hung over the area in a thin stratiform layer. This smoke came from the forest fires in the area and hung in a layer due to the stable conditions associated with the inversion. In addition to the usual results of atmospheric refraction, special optical effects known as mirages may occur when there are strong temperature contrasts in adjacent layers of air. It is quite probable that reports of all of the sightings which occurred in California during the period 12-20 August 1960 did not reach ATIC. It is, therefore, impossible to make an accurate estimate as to how many sightings actually occurred and what percentage were due to the inversion. It is possible that some were due to other causes such as “hysteria” and the “get into the act” attitude of some people. However, in view of all available evidence in this case, it is concluded that the effects associated with the inversion were responsible for the sightings which occurred in the Red Bluff, California area between 12-20 August 1960.

This is despite the fact that Mars, Aldebaran, and Betelgeuse were all below the horizon at the time of the sighting, and an analysis of the meteorological records of the area for that night by atmospheric physicist James E. MacDonald did not find any evidence that would indicate the presence of a temperature inversion. Nevertheless, this was the Air Force story and they were sticking with it. As to what he thought of these findings, Officer Carson would say:

I have been told we saw Northern lights, a weather balloon, and now refractions. I served 4 years with the Air Force, I believe I am familiar with the Northern lights, also weather balloons. Officer Scott served as a paratrooper during the Korean Conflict. Both of us are aware of the tricks light can play on the eyes during darkness. We were aware of this at the time. Our observations and estimations of speed, size, etc. came from aligning the object with fixed objects on the horizon. I agree we find it difficult to believe what we were watching, but no one will ever convince us that we were witnessing a refraction of light.

Is that what this all was, just some refraction of light or some other mundane phenomena? Is so, how could it fool so many trained witnesses and be described by many people as something wholly otherworldly? Why did the Air Force confirm a radar lock on the object, only to then go and withdraw this? Just what was going on here? It is hard to say, and the Red Bluff incident remains a rather curious and intriguing mass sighting involving a good amount of very good witnesses, and which has never been adequately explained.