The Shag Harbour UFO crash retrieval may well prove to be the most important UFO case ever to come out of Canada. It has already been compared to the Roswell Incident, though it has one important element that Roswell does not have -- documentation.
Shag Harbour has a paper trail a mile wide, from various government and military agencies, as well as film of the actual retrieval operation which was shown right across the country on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) evening news. After the event, and after the government's claims that nothing of any import occurred, it faded away completely. Faded, only to be resuscitated 26 years later by the indefatigable Christopher Styles, a researcher from Halifax and MUFON's Assistant Director for Nova Scotia. Chris' work on this case is nothing short of phenomenal, and all the more exemplary considering this was his first formal investigation.
On the night of 04 October 1967, shortly after 11:00 PM, a UFO some 60 feet in diameter was seen to hover over the water near the tiny fishing village of Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia. The UFO, which displayed four bright lights that flashed in sequence, tilted to a 45-degree angle and descended rapidly towards the water's surface. Upon impact, there was a bright flash and an explosive roar. Concerned witnesses began calling the nearby Barrington Passage RCMP detachment. None of those witnesses mentioned anything about a UFO. Most believed that a large aircraft had ditched into the harbour and that there might be survivors.
Eventually, three RCMP officers arrived at the shore near the impact site. Corporal V. Werbicki and Constable Ron O'Brien, dispatched from the Barrington Passage Detachment, were approaching from east of the site. Constable Ron Pond, who was on highway patrol on Highway #3, was heading towards Shag Harbour from a position west of the impact site, and his position allowed him to view the UFO while it was still in flight. The unusual lighting configuration and flight characteristics tipped Cst. Pond off to the unusual nature of the object long before he heard from Cpl. Werbicki, who received his information through the initial complaints to the detachment.
When all three officers met at the impact site they found that the UFO was still floating on the water about a half-mile from shore. It was glowing a pale yellow and was leaving a trail of dense yellow foam as it drifted in the ebb tide. Neither the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax nor the nearby NORAD radar facility at Baccaro, Nova Scotia, had any knowledge of missing aircraft, either civilian or military. Cst. Pond reported that the object had "changed" during its descent to the water's surface, i.e., it changed shape, and that it appeared to be "no known object."
Later, other local witnesses described much the same details as those of Cst. Pond. Also, a coast guard lifeboat from nearby Clark's Harbour and several local fishing boats were summoned to investigate, but the UFO had submerged before they reached the site. The sulfurous-smelling yellow foam continued to well to the surface from the point where the UFO went down, and a 120 by 300 foot slick developed. Search efforts continued until 3:00 AM and then resumed at first light the next day. Everybody involved was convinced that "something" -- that is, something real and unidentified -- had gone into the water.
The next morning a preliminary report was sent to Canadian Forces Headquarters in Ottawa. After communicating with NORAD, Maritime Command was asked to conduct an underwater search ASAP for the object responsible for the concern in Shag Harbour. Seven navy divers from the HMCS Granby searched throughout the daylight hours until sundown of 08 October 1967. On Monday, 09 October 1967, Maritime Command canceled the search effort claiming "nil results." Outside of the local area, media attention quickly faded.
The Shag Harbour crash/retrieval became Case #34 in the infamous Condon Committee Report which would serve as Project Blue Book's swan song. The case was brought to Dr. Condon's limited attention by the late Jim Lorenzen of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO). Dr. Levine, the investigator assigned to the case, allocated the grand total of two long distance phone calls to this investigation. One call was to the Watch Officer at Maritime Command and the other was to an RCMP spokesperson. Dr. Levine was assured that there was nothing to the case and that further investigation was futile. Thus, interest in the Shag Harbour case withered away, and the case remained dormant until the spring of 1993.
Chris Styles, inspired by the work of the late Leonard Stringfield and Stanton Friedman, felt the time was right to re-open an investigation of Shag Harbour. With a modest grant from the Fund for UFO Research and much kind advice from veteran researchers Don Berliner and Stanton Friedman, Styles began to sift through the large legacy of documents and witness testimony that the Shag Harbour crash generated. Since the spring of 1993, here in point form, is a list of key points that have become apparent as a result of the research effort:
Of the witnesses who called the Barrington Passage RCMP Detachment, not one said anything whatsoever about a UFO. It was the authorities, i.e., RCMP, RCN, RCAF, NORAD and Coast Guard that first referred to the possibility of a UFO being the object responsible for the Shag Harbour crash. It is also especially interesting to note that in the intervening years, many persons in authority warned Styles that this particular or that particular witness was a drinker. However, not one of these people gave testimony that was in any way exaggerated, fanciful, suspicious, or contradictory to other testimony in any way. All the truly astounding observations and statements came from the professionals involved in the search effort, the military brass, or the witnesses to the peripheral related sightings that are part of the 04 October 1967 milieu.
A vast amount of documentation -- including most of the military orders and communications between the military bases and CFHQ -- was unclassified and readily available to the public in Canada's National Archives file RG 77. The composite picture that is painted is one of an extremely serious search effort for a UFO with the belief that it may in fact have been a vehicle of extraterrestrial origin. This was a serious consideration right up through the cancellation of the Maritime Command search effort and afterwards.
Within the Canadian military, concerns about Shag Harbour and other high-profile cases such as Falcon Lake, Manitoba (Stephen Michalak) caused the topic of UFO responsibilities to be brought to the attention of then Defense Minister Leo Cadieux. After lengthy consultation with Canada's Scientific Advisor, the Chief of Defense Staff Dr. H. Sheffer, Brigadier Ross and staff at the RCAF's "AIR DESK" (Canada's Blue Book equivalent), UFO responsibilities were transferred to Canada's National Research Council. A document, sent to the Chairman for the Advisory Committee on Scientific and Industrial Research and signed by the Defense Minister, was released to Styles by Department of National Defense's (DND) Directorate of History. It states Canada's belief in the possibility that "UFOs exhibit advanced technology which could contribute to scientific or technical research."
The night of the Shag Harbour crash there were several sightings over eastern Canada that were every bit as solid and significant. Some of these were hidden in "X-file reports," were unavailable, or were simply forgotten. The sighting of four UFOs by the crew of the M.V. Nickerson, a dragger with 18 men fishing off Sambro, Nova Scotia, had solid returns on its Decca radar for over two hours (this was from two hours till one half-hour before Shag Harbour began). Sightings all down the Nova Scotia coast in the hours just before Shag Harbour roused both 12-year-old Darrel Dorey and Shelburne insurance salesman R. Grandy Irwin to file official reports before Shag Harbour ever hit the headlines. Air Canada Flight 305 of 04 October 1967, while westbound on V 300 between Sherbrooke and St. Jean, encountered UFO activity that caused the pilot and co-pilot to file official reports in the hours just before the Shag Harbour crash.
Newspaper clippings published after the search effort was officially terminated show that in some military circles the interest in Shag Harbour and related sightings from that area and time period still ran high. An extremely interesting story dated 02 November 1967 -- almost a month after the Shag Harbour incident -- ran in all the southwest Nova Scotia weekly papers. It bore the title "Military wants UFOs reported." It was credited to a Major Victor Eldridge. Styles discovered that the Major wore many hats. Besides serving as a town councilor in the community of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and doing military columns for the southwest Nova Scotia weeklies, Victor Eldridge also served throughout the entire Shag Harbour incident as Chief Administrative Officer for CFS Barrington at nearby Bacarro, Nova Scotia.
This base was a key staging area for the Shag Harbour search effort and was a NORAD radar facility as part of the Pine Tree Line. Unlike practically everyone else -- the RCMP officers and RCAF and Navy personnel who have talked both on and off the record -- Styles discovered that the major had absolutely no memory of the event or of any other UFO incident involving the base. And neither did his CO. This stance became even more suspect when a RCMP UFO report dating from November 1970 mentions that the CO from CFS Barrington, one Colonel Rushton, called the Barrington Passage detachment to request the completed copy of the RCMP UFO report on what would later be known as the Smith Brothers sighting of Shag Harbour.
Colonel Calvin Rushton also requested a list of civilian witnesses from Cst. Ralph Keeping. Though having "no memory of Shag Harbour or the subsequent search effort," Major Eldridge, in a 01 May 1993 telephone interview with Chris Styles, assured him that, "There was not enough to it to warrant any journalistic treatment." A strong opinion indeed from a man who did not know what he was being asked about just seconds before. It is also an opinion not shared by the military witness (Cpl. Timothy Nielson) who experienced the same Close Encounter and missing time episode as the Smith Brothers of Shag Harbour.
The role played by Father Michael Burke-Gaffney in the Shag Harbour crash and other UFO cases was largely unknown before Styles' investigation. This former and now deceased Jesuit priest was an astronomer and cornerstone at St. Mary's University in Halifax. What was less known -- and would have made UFO debunker Donald Menzel proud -- was that Father Gaffney also held a position with Canada's NRC as a UFO investigator and government contact person. Requests from Ottawa can be found in Canada's RG 77 file calling for the priest to gather physical samples from UFO trace cases and Close Encounters to send to NRC headquarters for detailed analysis. Despite this high level of involvement, the father was often quoted in the press a propos his "being sick to death about UFOs."
In a 18 October 1967 interview in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, Father Gaffney claimed to have no interest in the phenomenon, and then states that speculation on the topic did no good. Hmmmmm. This statement would appear to be somewhat at odds with the files, in fact genuine RCMP X-files,which Styles found among the personal papers of the late astronomer. Two of those x-files are replies to Father Gaffney from the superintendent of the Nova Scotia RCMP, assuring the father that he would receive UFO reports from southwest Nova Scotia as quickly as was reasonably possible. In fact, personal notes in archives from this period of October 1967 show that he took notes on the details of UFO sightings given to him over the telephone, even before they could be mailed or telexed. Time seemed to be an important concern for this scientist who had "no interest in the UFO phenomenon."
The Story! Perhaps the most exciting element of Styles' investigation is the story of an attempted recovery operation at a point some 25 miles up the Nova Scotia coast from the impact site, near the community of Shelburne. At this point in the investigation, this story is only just that, a story. However, though hard documentation is so far lacking to confirm the details, there are documents that support the belief that there was in fact a second search effort other than the one confirmed at Shag Harbour. Also, some of the military personnel in secondary roles have gone on the record regarding their roles, their instructions and orders, and their second-hand knowledge of this other naval operation off Government Point. Men who were directly involved have told their stories, but have requested anonymity due to the usual and familiar concerns about family and pensions.
The "story," unlike other crash/retrieval scenarios, has what we might call a "happy ending": after ships sat over the submerged UFO for a week, watching it being repaired by yet another craft, the flotilla is ordered to show challenge to a soviet submarine that decided to violate the then 12-mile international limit and attempt to make contact with the underwater UFO. As this confrontation unfolds, both UFOs leave the area underwater and move toward the Gulf of Maine, where they break the surface and fly away. This departure gives rise to a second major sighting on 11 October 1967 of two UFOs sighted in that area by multiple witnesses from Shag Harbour to Yarmouth.
As a wrap-up to this Shag Harbour report, a direct quote from Chris Styles himself would be fitting. Chris hopes "to avoid comparisons to other UFO crashes and their respective investigations and legends. It would be tragic to get into a 'my UFO crash is better than your UFO crash' argument. Crash scenarios, like every other aspect of the UFO phenomenon, offer the promise of a greater understanding of UFOs, wherever they occur. We should be ready for anything, though. Yeats may have been more correct than he knew when he was heard to say that 'Knowledge increases unreality.' We should be ready to have our belief systems challenged."
The Shag Harbour Crash/Retrieval has been been featured on TV's Sightings, Strange Universe and others, and has been the focus of many radio programs and newspaper articles as well. Chris Styles, along with Don Ledger, are co-authors of the upcoming book Dark Object, based on the Shag Harbour investigation, which is due out this fall (1997).
The Shag Harbour investigation continues to unfold. It is imperative that anyone with any relevant information on the Shag Harbour incident or related cases should come forward and share their knowledge. Relatively speaking, the Shag Harbour case is a fairly recent one. Many of the original witnesses to the event are still alive (and for the most part, still kicking) and have been interviewed. However, the investigation is reaching a critical point. There are still a few missing pieces to the puzzle. And we know that there are people out there with valuable information that we do not have.
Special Thanks to MUFON.