The Kinross Incident – Investigation Report by Gord Heath
Kinross Air Force Base – 1950s – near Sault Ste. Marie, MI
On November 23, 1953, a US Air Force F-89C jet fighter interceptor was dispatched from Kinross Air Force Base near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to identify an intruder that had appeared on radar. For thirty minutes, the jet raced out over Lake Superior under guidance from radar operators at a remote station on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Suddenly, the return from the jet merged with that of the bogie it was chasing. The IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) signal from the jet was lost. The radar blip from the F-89 never reappeared. An extensive search of the lake and shoreline over the next five days yielded no trace of the F-89 jet or its crew, pilot Lt. Felix Eugene Moncla Jr. and radar operator Lt. Robert L. Wilson.
The incident was documented as a UFO encounter throughout the book “The Flying Saucer Conspiracy” written by Major Donald Keyhoe and published in 1955. The USAF officially stated that the “UFO” was an RCAF Dakota C-47 flying east over Lake Superior. Is this a true account or is this just a cover story for a fatal encounter with a UFO?
Since 2001, I have been investigating this incident and trying to find the truth behind this mystery. This report presents my findings which I hope will shed some light on the still unsolved mystery.
From my investigation of the F-89 disappearance, there are at least three key questions that form the core of the mystery as it relates to what happened to the F-89 and crew on that snowy night in November, 1953.
What Caused the Alert?
The primary unanswered question that still seems clouded in mystery is what caused the alert at Kinross which resulted in the F-89’s mission over Lake Superior?
There are three main possibilities which are referenced in the historical accounts.
According to the report documenting the USAF Official Accident Board’s Investigation, the alert was caused by an RCAF C-47 flying 30 miles off course from its flight plan in an easterly direction over Lake Superior.
A second explanation is referred to in Donald Keyhoe’s book “The Flying Saucer Conspiracy”. According to the Keyhoe, a PIO (Public Information Officer) working at the Pentagon told him that the cause of the alert was “a Canadian DC-3” which was “over the locks by mistake”.
The third explanation is the basis of Keyhoe’s main storyline within his book, this being that the cause of the alert was not a DC-3 in restricted airspace over the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, but rather this was a UFO that was never identified.
Cause 1: Off Course RCAF C-47
The “official” cause of the alert is documented in the USAF Official Accident Board’s report prepared in December 1953 in the statement provided by 2nd Lt. Douglas A. Stuart. At the time of the alert, he was monitoring the intercept from “Pillow” GCI, a USAF radar station near the tip of the Keweenaw Pennisula which juts out into the middle of Lake Superior from Michigan. Lt. Stuart opens his statement with the following explanation for the alert:
When A-27-T was picked up by Pillow (P-16) it was believed to be VC-912, but because the aircraft was off the flight plan course by about 30 miles, it was classified as “Unknown”. Word was received from Naples (P-66) that Horsefly wanted a correlation check on the track.”
The aircraft is more specifically referenced elsewhere in the official accident investigation report, in Form 14 No. 52-11-23-5, paragraph 6:
The unknown aircraft being intercepted was a Royal Canadian Air Force Dakota (C-47), Serial No. VC-912, flying from Winnipeg to Sudberry, Canada. At the time of the interception it was crossing Northern Lake Superior from west to east at 7,000 feet. This flight was approximately 30 miles south of the intended flight path.
Over the past decades, there have been a few statements made by the RCAF with respect to the alleged intercept of the “off course RCAF C-47”. Some UFO investigators have interpreted the statements as indications that there was no such flight on the night the F-89 disappeared over the lake.
One example of written correspondence concerning the alleged encounter is a letter from a flight lieutenant writing on behalf of the Chief of the Air Staff at the Department of National Defence in Ottawa in April 1961 to a Jon Mikulich of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The letter states the following:
Thank you for your letter of April 4 requesting information regarding an ‘Unidentified Flying Object’ on November 23, 1953./
A check of Royal Canadian Air Force files has revealed no report of an incident involving an RCAF aircraft in the Lake Superior area on the above date.
May we point out that if an aircraft fails to answer a radio request to identify itself it would normally be assumed that its radios are not functioning, or that the aircraft has suffered a complete electrical failure.
The correspondence does not state that there was no flight of an RCAF aircraft over the lake that night. It merely states that there is no record of an incident in RCAF files for that date. The letter does cast some doubt on the necessity of an intercept under conditions where the aircraft fails to respond to a radio request to identify itself. This does raise a question of why there is no mention of any attempts made to contact the unknown to identify itself, particularly if it was already suspected that the aircraft was an RCAF aircraft, allegedly flying off course. My best guess on the reason why there is no record of any attempt at radio communications with the unknown, is that USAF personnel at “Horsefly GCI” had decided to use the RCAF C-47 in a mock intercept as a test of USAF response and/or a training exercise for the crew at Kinross.
A member of NICAP also sent a letter to the RCAF in 1963 requesting information on the alleged intercept. The Acting Director of Public Relations for the RCAF stated in his letter written June 24, 1961:
we have been unable to come up with any information regarding an intercept of an RCAF C-47 by a USAF F-89 on November 23, 1953. Any further information on this subject would have to come from the USAF, as they were the agency controlling their aircraft. Also as you stated, the C-47 was traveling on a flight plan taking it over Canadian territory. This alone would seem to make such an intercept unlikely.
This correspondence is a more specific denial that the intercept incident involved the RCAF C-47, although it does suggest that an RCAF C-47 was on a flight over Lake Superior the night of the F-89’s disappearance.
Following these clues, I decided it was important to obtain more specific information concerning the flight made by the C-47 on the night of Nov. 23, 1953. The Accident Investigation Report states that this C-47 was identified as having serial no. VC-912. I was to discover that this is not the manufacturer’s serial number for the aircraft, but was rather the identification code assigned for identification purposes of aircraft.
After some research, I was able to determine that this aircraft was flown by the RCAF 412 Transport Squadron which was based in Rockcliffe, Ontario in 1953. Through a Access for Information request to the Canadian government, I was able to obtain flight records for the 412 squadron for that year. The records are simply a summary of each flight made by the squadron’s aircraft. I was able to locate the closest entry for C47-912. The mission departed on November 21st, 1953 from CFB Rockcliffe. Its purpose seems to be to convey passengers “Mr. Merrifield and party”. The flight stopped overnight at CFB Uplands before departing for other airfields on Nov. 22nd. The plane did not reach Winnipeg until 12:20 EST. It departed Winnipeg at 15:55 EST reaching Rockcliffe at 22:10 EST, about 3 hours after the F-89 was lost over the lake. Through the flight records, I was able to find that the crew on this flight was F/O Fosberg, F/L Edwards, F/O Penhold, F/L Scharf and Sgt. Lynch.
This turned out to be a lucky break, as my search of telephone directories on the Internet revealed that there were not very many Fosbergs living in Canada. I mailed the following letter of inquiry to each Fosberg I found.
I am writing to you as I am trying to locate relatives of a Mr. Fosberg who was a pilot with the RCAF and served with 412 Squadron in Rockcliffe, Ontario in 1953.
The reason I am trying to locate anyone who knows this man, is because I am conducting historical research on the disappearance of a USAF F-89 and crew, which disappeared over the middle of Lake Superior, on an air defense mission from a USAF base near Sault Ste. Marie, on November 23, 1953. The official accident board report on the incident stated that the F-89 was sent to identify an unidentified aircraft which later was identified as an RCAF Dakota C-47, VC-912. The RCAF later denied that this aircraft had been in American airspace and was not at all involved with the incident. I have recently learned from documents in Canadian Archives that the pilot of the VC-912 that night, which was flying from Winnipeg back to Rockcliffe was a Flight Officer Fosberg.
If you know any information about this man, I would be very appreciative if you could contact me by telephone, mail or email. While it has been many decades since the incident, I think it is possible that Mr. Fosberg may be able to furnish information that would shed light on this ongoing mysterious disappearance.
A few weeks later I received this reply from a Gerald Fosberg who now lives in Ontario.
I’m your man! I was at the time indeed serving with the 412 Sqn. At Rockcliffe, doing what I loved best – flying aeroplanes. At the time I was a flight Lieutenant, married with our first of three children on the way. Served 28 years and retired in May 1974 as a major. Continued flying Corporate Jets for another twenty years.
I remember the flight reasonably well, and just checked my log books to confirm the date. It was a night flight. We were probably at 7,000 or 9,000 feet over a solid cloud deck below and absolutely clear sky above.
Somewhere near Sault Ste. Marie, and north of Kinross AFB, I think a ground station (can’t remember whether it was American or Canadian) asked us if we had seen another aircraft’s lights in our area. I do think I recall them saying at that time that the USAF had scrambled an interceptor and they had lost contact with it. We replied that we had not seen anything. A few days later I received a phone call from somebody at Kinross who was carrying out an investigation on a missing aircraft. I could only tell them that we had seen nothing. That was the last I ever heard of the incident.
Sorry! However, if the mystery is ever solved please, would you let me know the answer.
Fosberg’s letter confirmed that he had been the pilot of the C-47 flying over Lake Superior that night and it also confirmed that he had been radioed by GCI after the F-89 went missing. They had asked him if he had seen the F-89 and he replied he had not.
This does partially confirm some details in the Accident Report, as it states the following in paragraph 6 of Form 14 No. 53-11-23-5 about the C-47:
The pilot stated that he was on top of a 5,000 foot undercast and at the approximate time of the interception he was flying in the clear and visibility was unlimited. He also stated he did not know he was being intercepted and that he did not see the F-89.
In further conversations with the pilot, it was not clear that he was aware that the F-89 was allegedly trying to intercept his aircraft and the radar return from the F-89 was observed to merge, allegedly with his aircraft just before all contact was lost with the F-89. In addition, Fosberg was quite clear that there was no possibility that his plane was off course by 30 miles at any time during this flight. He told me that because of the radio navigation system used, he would be quite aware if his plane veered off the flight plan.
I asked him if he could recall the flight path they took that night. He indicated to me that his flight took him directly over Fort William airport (now Thunder Bay) and Sault Ste. Marie. To the best of his recollection, he thought the flight path over the lake was a straight path from Fort William to Sault Ste. Marie.
Analyzing what was revealed by Fosberg, it seems to me that the USAF allegation that the C-47 was 30 miles off course is most probably false. Examination of this evidence suggests the following possibilities regarding the official explanation:
One possibility is that the C47 was never off course, but that the order for the alert was made because USAF officers at Horsefly GCI wanted to perform a mock intercept of the RCAF craft as it provided an opportunity to test interceptor response to a potential threat.
A second possibility is that the C47 was off course, and that the pilot simply was unaware of this or had forgotten about this.
A third possibility is that the C47 was not the cause of the alert, but was merely the most convenient scapegoat for a failed intercept attempt for another aircraft or unknown.
The first possibility suggests that parts of the Official Report contain erroneous information that must have been deliberately placed into the report for perhaps political reasons. It is difficult to see the motivations for deliberately placing this sort of erroneous information into the report.
Was the USAF trying to avoid blame for the loss of its plane and tragic deaths of its pilots in an unnecessary training mission? This may be possible but highly unlikely since many USAF planes and crews were lost during routine training missions in that time period. Did the USAF want to avoid an embarrassing admission that it flew a mission into Canadian Air Space without permission from Canadian authorities? This may also be possible but also highly unlikely because Air Force planes of both countries flew into each others air space on many occasions, sometimes just for fun or on missions to test each others response.
What Merged on Radar?
A second unanswered question is what was it that the F-89 merged with on radar before contact was lost with the F-89?
According to the report documenting the USAF Official Accident Board’s Investigation, the F-89’s radar return was observed to merge with the return from the RCAF C-47 before contact was lost with the F-89.
Keyhoe reports he was told that the F-89 radar return didn’t merge with anything on radar. The source told Keyhoe that the F-89 was miles away from the other blip when it crashed into Lake Superior.
Since that time, others have made claims that the F-89’s return must have merged with the return from a flock of birds or perhaps a phantom radar echo from the F-89.
Keyhoe’s account suggests that it the F-89 was chasing a UFO when it observed to merge with the UFO on radar.
F-89 Merged with RCAF C-47
The official report from the USAF Accident Investigation Board states the following on page two of Form 14, referring to the F-89 and the “unknown aircraft”:
After the turn was completed, the pilot was advised the unidentified aircraft was at 11 o’clock, ten miles distant. Radar returns from both aircraft were then seen to merge on “Pillow’s” radar scope. The radar return from the other aircraft indicated it was continuing on its original flight path, while the return from the F-89 disappeared from the GCI station’s radar scope.
A few paragraphs later, under “Investigation and Analysis” the report identifies the unknown aircraft:
The unknown aircraft being intercepted was a Royal Canadian Air Force Dakota (C-47), Serial No. VC-912, flying from Winnipeg to Sudberry, Canada. At the time of interception it was crossing Northern Lake Superior from west to east at 7,000 feet. This flight path was approximately 30 miles south of the intended flight path.
The only supporting information contained with in the report for the accounting of the identity of the unknown is contained in the statement written by 2nd Lt. Douglas A. Stuart, the GCI controller at “Pillow”. His statement opens by identifying the unknown which was the target of the intercept:
When A-27-T was picked up by Pillow (P-16) it was believed to be VC-912, but because the aircraft was off the flight plan course by about 30 miles, it was classified as ‘UNknown’.
From the information I have obtained during the course of my investigation, I have concluded the following with respect to this aspect of the official explanation.
- The RCAF C-47, VC-912, was flying over Lake Superior from west to east at the time of the intercept, on a flight from Winnipeg, Manitoba to its home base at Rockcliffe Air Force Base, near Ottawa, Ontario.
- The pilot of this aircraft was Gerald Fosberg, who states that his aircraft was never off course during this flight. He states the maximum error of the radio based navigation system as being about 5 miles.
This evidence suggests that the purpose of the intercept contained in the report, is likely a USAF fabrication and brings into question the truthfullness of the statement made by 2nd Lt. Douglas A. Stuart.
The USAF account of the purpose of the intercept mission has also been brought into question in correspondence by RCAF officials in response to queries about the Kinross incident.
What Stuart’s statement does suggest is that the identity of the RCAF C-47 was known throughout the intercept. The USAF GCI controllers were tracking its course. Is it possible that the RCAF and the RCAF pilot were unaware that their plane was off course and was being tracked by the F-89?
What is revealed in the accident report and other correspondence is that the USAF never once indicated to the RCAF or the RCAF pilot of the C-47 that his plane was the target of the intercept mission. If the plane was in fact “off-course” as stated, you would think the USAF would have mentioned this to the pilot of the aircraft and/or other RCAF authorities, but there is no evidence this action was ever taken. If the RCAF had been informed about the off-course status of its aircraft, then it would seem likely that some sort of follow-up investigation would have followed to determine the cause and search for remedial action. My correspondence with RCAF pilot, Gerald Fosberg indicates that no investigation of the sort was ever made by the RCAF.
It is possible that the USAF was just using the C-47 as a pretext for a “mock intercept” training mission. But why would they need to lie about this if this were the case? During the 1950’s, all kinds of Air Force planes crashed on routine training missions.
If the statement made by Lt. Stuart contains a factual error about the purpose of the intercept mission, I believe this quite possibly indicates the whole investigation report might be a deliberate fabrication to cover up something more sinister, such as a UFO pursuit which ended with the disappearance of the F-89 and its crew.
F-89 Merged with Nothing
This account of the disappearance of the F-89 is contained within UFO investigator, Donald Keyhoe’s book “The Flying Saucer Conspiracy”. During his investigation of the Kinross F-89 disappearance, Donald Keyhoe made several telephone calls to First Lt. Robert C. White, a Public Information Officer, at the Pentagon’s Air Force Press Desk.
When Donald Keyhoe asked Lt. White about the official statement made by Truax Field, that the F-89 had merged with an object 70 miles off KeWeenaw Point, Lt. White was reported as replying, “Thats not true.” When Keyhoe asked if the AP story was wrong, White is reported to have replied:
Well … no. Truax made the statement. But the ‘merging’ part was a mistake. That second blip was from some object actually miles from the F-89.
When Keyhoe asked why the GCI had stated they had merged, Lt White responded “They just read the scope wrong.”
It is important to note that the merging of the returns on the scope, does not necessarily imply actual physical contact. Firstly, the F-89 could be flying at a different altitude and could pass above or below its target. Secondly the resolution of the radar screen is such that the returns are displayed larger than actual scale size, otherwise, the returns would be impossible to represent on the screen. However, it is quite a leap to suggest that the GCI operators would state the returns had merged when the targets were “miles apart”. If the equipment and operators were that unreliable, it would be impossible for the radar system to be of much practical use in guiding the pilot’s to intercept an unknown.
Lt. White’s statement may indicate that Air Force officials at the Pentagon were worried about the implications of an intercept with a UFO which resulted in the disappearance of their aircraft. Whether the disappearance was from the capture of the aircraft, or a collision and crash of the F-89, it would imply an inability to prevent penetration of the air space by an intruder. It might also suggest a hostile intent by the unknown intruders flying the UFOs. The Air Force was already worried about public alarm over the possibility that the UFOs might be vehicles from a technologically superior civilization from another planet. Clearly, they would not want the public to be alarmed by awareness that the USAF was vulnerable in its sorties of UFOs in US air space.
F-89 Merged with Radar Reflection
This theory has mainly been advanced as an alternative explanation by skeptics who use this as a theory to discount witness testimony of radar images from UFOs.
To my knowledge, this was most famously advanced as a theory to explain the “UFO waves” recorded at multiple radar sites over Washington on at least two nights in July, 1952.
Radar “ghosts” are a real anomoly which is caused by reflection of the radar return from an atmospheric layer. This can create a secondary return from the radar target which is displayed in a different position from the real return on the radar.
Some persons, seeking to discredit the witness testimony of radar operators, suggest that radar unknowns that are not identified as actual aircraft, are merely ghost reflections of a real radar target, or alternatively, returns from flocks of birds or other airborne anomolies.
Such misidentifications do occur, but they are sometimes invoked inappropriately by those who overreach to try to find an easy explanation for soem unsolved UFO cases.
In the case of the Kinross Incident, the “radar ghost” explanation apparently appears in a project Blue Book file on the case. It is important to note that there never was an actual investigation by Project Blue Book into the Kinross Incident apparently because the incident was never reported to the Blue Book office as a potential UFO encounter. The Blue Book file was only opened due to a response from the public who had made inquiries to the Air Force about the accounts that the F-89 disappearance was related to its pursuit of a UFO.
The opening of the file was done for the purpose of providing an explanation for the event to those who made inquiries to the Blue Book office. Apparently, the main entry was a speculation from UFO official debunker, Donald Menzel, that the incident was probably caused by a radar ghost.
It is highly unlikely that the GCI operators guided the F-89 over 150 miles out over Lake Superior in pursuit of a flock of birds or the reflection of the F-89 from an atmospeheric layer.
If the account of the information contained in the Blue Book Kinross file is correct, this would be very strange. Why wouldn’t the Air Force supply the explanation contained it its own accident investigation report? Is it because the Air Force knew the report was itself false and was just clinging to anything for a possible explanation?
F-89 Merged with UFO
It was in Donald Keyhoe’s book, “The Flying Saucer Conspiracy” that it was suggested that the F-89 had merged with a UFO on radar.
Oddly, in his book, there is no mention of the RCAF C-47. The only other aircraft referred to is a Canadian DC-3 which PIO Lt. White at the Pentagon reported was over Soo Locks by mistake. According to Keyhoe’s book, this is what caused the alert.
It was only later, after the book was published that Donald Keyhoe seemed to encounter the explanation that the UFO was an unidentified RCAF C-47. The C-47 is a military version of the DC-3.
In Keyhoe’s book, the two pilots of the DC-3 were interviewed on Frank Edwards radio program. On this program, they apparently denied that they were ever over Soo Locks.
What is mysterious about this version of the story, is that I have found no mention of this explanation for the intercept in any of the newspaper accounts that were published the day after the F-89 crashed. All of them refer to the RCAF C-47 as the target of the intercept. What accounts for this anomoly?
Is it possible that Keyhoe was reporting about an interview on Frank Edwards radio program that never took place? Or is it possible that Frank Edwards interviewed two pilots from a Canadian DC-3 jetliner in response to what was merely a rumor that was never officially issued by the Air Force to the press. Was the DC-3 explanation deliberate disinformation fed to Keyhoe and others, possibly to discredit their story or was the USAF temporarily confused about the actual events that occured that night?
According to NICAP (the UFO organization headed by Donald Keyhoe), there were two explanations for the unknown provided by the USAF. The first being a Canadian commercial DC-3 airliner which was over Soo Locks by mistake. The second being an RCAF C-47 flying 30 miles off course from its flight plan from west to east over Lake Superior.
The second explanation is clearly more believable than the first as there is no way to explain why the F-89 was over the middle of the lake pursueing a DC-3, that had initially been reported as “over Soo Locks”.
On the other hand, if the USAF was really confused about the identity of a UFO, then it would make some sense that they possibly had some trouble explaining the purpose of the intercept.
The Keyhoe book suggests there was a third UFO or unidentified aircraft, which had caused the alert when it appeared on radar over Soo Locks. If an identified aircraft had penetrated restricted air space over Soo Locks, the first action would probably be to alert the pilot of the aircraft, although it would also make sense for EADF to send a jet interceptor to the location in case the aircraft had hostile intentions.
If an actual unidentified aircraft had penetrated restricted air space over Soo Locks, then it would certainly make sense to send a jet interceptor to identify the aircraft and take appropriate actions. If the F-89 had in fact pursued an unidentified aircraft from Soo Locks out over the middle of the lake, and then disappeared from radar after merging on the screen with the unknown aircraft, then this would be a real mystery.
If the USAF failed to identify the intruder, it is possible that they would want to cover up this story, even if the intruder was just an unidentified aircraft. Thus it would make sense that they might fabricate a false story about the target being an RCAF C-47, even though they knew this was not true.
If the aircraft was never identified, this suggests two possibilities:
- The USAF and RCAF were never able to identify aircraft because they lost radar contact with it sometime on its journey before it landed.
- The USAF and RCAF were never able to identify the aircraft because it was not an aircraft that needed to land at an airport or air strip. Perhaps it was a helicopter which could land anywhere, although it seems highly unlikely that a helicopter could outrun an F-89 for such a long distance.
This does once again suggest a possibilty that the unknown might have been a craft of unknown origin and technology – a UFO by definition and possibly a vehicle of extraterrestrial origin.
What Happened to the F-89?
A third unanswered question is what happened to the F-89 after radar contact was lost with it?
Lt. Felix Eugene Moncla, Jr. and F-89C “Bluestreak”
The official USAF investigation board concluded that the F-89 crashed into Lake Superior at the time radar contact was lost with the aircraft or shortly afterwards. Later USAF correspondence suggested that the F-89 had probably crashed into Lake Superior on its way back to Kinross after the intercept was completed.
An Algoma Railway crew located at Limer, Ontario heard a jet crash into the bush east of Lake Superior some unspecified time after contact with the F-89 was lost, suggesting a possibility that the F-89 perhaps crashed into the bush east of Lake Superior.
Another possibility is that the F-89 was captured by the UFO it was chasing.
Did F-89 Crash into Lake Superior?
The report that was prepared by the Official Accident Investigation Board concluded on the fate of the F-89:
The aircraft probably crashed in the Canadian waters of Lake Superior just prior to or at the time of interception.
It was probably not possible for the investigation board to reach a more definitive conclusion due to the simple fact that no trace of the F-89 or its crew were found during the search of the lake and shoreline.
Given that the F-89’s IFF signal was lost at the time the radar return from the F-89 was observed to merge with the return from the return from the unidentified aircraft, it does seem the most likely reason for the loss of both signals and the loss of radio communications would be that the F-89 crashed into the lake at this moment.
If the F-89 had crashed into the lake surface, it would probably have broken up with little intact wreckage. Only small pieces of floatable debris would remain on the surface along with fuel, oil and hydraulic fluid slicks. The fuel would soon evaporate and perhaps the oil slick would break up due to the action of waves and surface currents. Visibility was impaired by poor weather during the first day of the search. Under such search conditions, it is possible that it was not possible to locate the remnants from the crash.
Theoretically, it might still be possible to locate metal fragments from the F-89 at the bottom of Lake Superior by using a deep water submersible equipped with side scan sonar imaging to search the lake bed beneath the hypothetical crash site. Until such a search is made, it cannot be definitively concluded that the F-89 did crash at this site.
Without positive confirmation of the location of the F-89 wreckage, there will always be questions about what the real fate was of the jet and crew.
Did F-89 Crash into Bush East of Lake Superior?
Because the last place of contact with the F-89 was in Canadian airspace, the search of Lake Superior was coordinated by the RCAF Eastern Area Rescue Coordination Centre based in Trenton, Ontario. The US search efforts were led by the 49th Air Rescue Squadron from Selfridge AFB near Detroit, Michigan.
As was often the case in such search efforts, the search teams received many tips during the course of the SAR operation concerning observations submitted by members of the public who thought they may be related to the F-89 disappearance.
One such report was made by an Algoma Central Railway maintenance crew which was operating at Limer, a short distance east of Wawa, Ontario, on the night of the F-89’s disappearance. The railway workers reported that they had heard a low flying jet followed by the sound of the plane crashing. Originally, investigators dismissed the report because the reported time for the incident was beyond the time the F-89 could have been in the air with its limited fuel supply. Later, a witness indicated that he was possibly wrong about the time. With coaxing from the father of 2nd Lt. Robert Wilson, the USAF reopened the search. This second search was conducted by the USAF in the spring of 1954. The second air search covered a large land area to the east of the south eastern shore of Lake Superior. The early part of the search was hampered by snow coverage of the rough terrain. The later part of the search was hampered by the ground being obscured by emerging leaves on deciduous trees. The search provided no new clues on the fate of the F-89.
Is it difficult to assess whether the reports of the jet crash were reliable. If the sound was from the F-89 it would first be necessary to explain how the F-89 could have flown from the middle of Lake Superior to the area of Wawa, Ontario without being detected by radar. From the reports I have read about the incident, it seems apparent that the incident was observed from at least three or four separate USAF radar sites. I have also heard that the incident was possibly observed from at least one Canadian radar installation. Surely, if the F-89 was still flying after radio and radar contact was lost at 18:55 EST, then some radar reflection of the F-89 should have been observed.
One interesting detail in the testimony from Lt. Stuart, is that the F-89 was intermittently painting a target return on radar. The return from the F-89 was displayed on some sweeps but was absent on others. It was also reported that radio communications between the F-89 and GCI were sporadic during parts of the F-89 intercept flight over the lake. Were radar and radio affected by some sort of electromagnetic interference from the unidentified aircraft/UFO or was this merely caused by the weather front which was advancing over the lake?
It is interesting that no similar radio communications or radar tracking problems were noted for the F-89 search flights piloted by Lt. Mingenbach, Lt. Nordeck and Capt. Bridges. The jets piloted by these air force officers all flew through the same weather front as Moncla and Wilson flew through earlier that evening.
It is also interesting to note Lt. Mingenbach’s testimony regarding the radio transmission he heard about 40 minutes after radar and radio contact with the F-89. He reported that the transmission sounded like an accidental transmission from F-89 pilot, Lt. Moncla. He recognized Lt. Moncla’s voice from his distinctive slow southern drawl. Does Lt. Mingenbach’s testimony suggest the possibility that the F-89 did not crash when it was last seen on radar? If so, what could have happened to the plane and crew?
Was F-89 Captured by a Flying Saucer?
The theory that the F-89 was possibly captured by a UFO was proposed in Donald Keyhoe’s book “The Flying Saucer Conspiracy”.
The basis for this theory can be summarized as follows:
- Donald Keyhoe is woken by a phone call on the night the F-89 was lost and told of a rumor at Selfridge Air Force Base that the F-89 was lost after “colliding with a flying saucer”.
- The USAF provides contradictory explanations for the intercept, suggesting a possible cover-up of the alleged UFO encounter.
- An aerial search of Lake Superior and the Lake Superior coastline provides no trace of the F-89 or crew.
- Keyhoe and a friend discussed the disappearance of the F-89 after it merged with an alleged UFO and the lack of any wreckage and conclude one possible explanation for was that the F-89 and crew were captured by the UFO.
To this day, we don’t know who it was who phoned Donald Keyhoe and alerted him about the rumor that an F-89 had been lost after colliding with a flying saucer. We do know that Selfridge Air Force Base played key roles during the intercept and seach efforts. The alert was called by Selfridge so it is clear they were aware of the real reason for the alert – whatever it was. It seems apparent that several radar sites in the US were monitoring the flight of the F-89 so there were probably at least ten or twenty observers of the intercept at the three or four GCI sites. Most of these observers have kept a low public profile and have opted to remain silent about what they witnessed that night.
The contradictions in the USAF accounts of the intercept does suggest that they were conducting a coverup of the incident. It would be logical for the USAF to cover up the incident if the loss of the F-89 was related to a pursuit of a UFO. This is because it was official USAF policy to hide information about real unexplained UFO encounters from the public.
But are there other potential reasons for a coverup? I have tried to formulate alternative scenarios that would potentially lead to a coverup by the USAF.
My best formulation of a possible alternative scenario is this:
The USAF was involved in a preplanned training mission which simulated a real intercept of a soviet bomber over the Canadian border. They used the RCAF C-47 as the “dummy target” but never notified Canadian authorities about the training mission. They invented the excuse that the C-47 was flying 30 miles off track as a cover story to avoid controversy arising from unauthorized incursions into Canadian territory.
The problem with this scenario is that it unplanned incursions of US aircraft into Canadian air space were apparently not uncommon during this time period. Canadian incursions by RCAF aircraft were also not uncommon in this time period as such incursions werew viewed by both countries as good training to test the defense readiness of allies.
A second possibility is that some of the contradictions arose out of confusion and poor communication. One key question is whether the USAF ever did allege that the cause of the alert was a Canadian DC-3 airliner in restricted air space over Soo Locks. Keyhoe alleges he was told this by Lt. Robert C. White who served as a Public Information Officer for the USAF at the press desk in the Pentagon. Is there any evidence that Lt. White ever refuted this claim? Was Lt. White confused or ill-informed about the “real cause” of the incident?
Donald Keyhoe also stated that Frank Edwards had interviewed two pilots of the Canadian Airliner which had supposedly been observed in restricted air space over the locks. They had reportedly stated unequivically that they had not violated this retricted airspace. Are there any records of this interview? Who were these pilots? We know that this does not refer to the pilots of the RCAF C-47 as they were only contacted by the USAF and asked if they had seen the lost F-89. They were certainly not interviewed by Frank Edwards. Curiously, the allegation that the F-89 alert was caused by an incursion of an aircraft over Soo Locks never seemed to make it into any newspaper archives. I can’t imagine that these archives have been tampered and falsified. So it is rather odd that no newspaper ever reported anything about unidentified traffic over Soo Locks on the night of the alert.
The failure to locate the aircraft keeps the mystery alive but it does not provide convincing evidence that a flying saucer was involved.