A Spanish Close Encounter Re-examined

Ian Ridpath
Magonia 22, May 1986.

Every UFO researcher knows that the dazzling planet Venus is the single most common culprit in UFO sightings, yet It still catches out people who should know better. I found the following example in The Encyclopaedia of UFOs, edited by Ronald Story, where it appears under the heading 'Serena Encounter' as an example of a genuine close encounter of the first kind, in which (according to the case investigators) the UFO seemed to exhibit intelligent control and produced electromagnetic and physiological effects.

In brief, Mr and Mrs Antonio Serena plus their three daughters were driving home one evening from a visit to friends near Valencia, Spain, when they noticed an intense white light that chase5 their car along l4km. of road for an hour. After following them on the right as they drove south-westwards, the UFO then zig-zagged in front of them before it finally descended to an estimated height of 7 or 8 metres and extended landing gear. As the UFO came closer, the car's lights began to fail, and the engine experienced ignition problems after one of the children became violently sick. After another car approached from the opposite direction the UFO moved away, and eventually it disappeared.

This case was investigated by Willy Smith, then professor of physics at Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in conjunction with two Spanish Ufologists, Miguel Guasp and V.J. Ballester Olmos, The three researchers assign this case to the 'high-strangeness' category. Their report takes up two and a half pages of the Encyclopaedia of UFOs, more space than is devoted to celebrated cases such as the Travis Walton abduction and the Tunguska event. The researchers rate it very highly indeed.

By chance, I discovered they had previously written up the story in UFO Phenomena vol. 3 no. 1, an annual review of ufology published in Italy which is presented in the style of a scientific journal. This earlier paper contains an important clue to the identity of the UFO that is not given in the Encyclopaedia article. The authors note that on the date of the sighting (February 22, 1977) the planet Venus was approaching its maximum brilliancy in the evening sky. Yet they reject Venus as an explanation on the grounds that it had set at about 9.30 p.m, on that date, whereas the UFO sighting did not begin until about 9.30 and lasted until

The setting time of Venus on that date was indeed about 9.30 GMT. However Spain, in common with most of western Europe, keeps time one hour ahead of GMT. Therefore Venus was, after all, visible as the Serenas drove home, and its setting time of 10.30 matches the time at which the UFO vanished.

The 'chase' of a car by a bright celestial object is a familiar theme in ufology. A map of the event, given by Smith, Guasp and Ballester Olmos shows that during the encounter the Serenas were heading southwest, towards the direction of the setting Venus. the road was winding, which would cause the planet to appear to zig-zag in front of the car as they reported the UFO to do. The UFO stopped moving when Mr Serena pulled up the car for his teenage daughter Carmen to vomit by the roadside. A mixture of travel sickness on the winding road and excitement over the UFO seems a plausible explanation for Carmen's stomach upset.

There does seem to have been something genuinely wrong with the car's electrical system, for the following day Mr Serena found that his car battery was dry. Smith Guasp and Ballester Olmos attribute this to the UFO, for they do not think that Mr Serena, who's job is that of a bus-driver, and maintains his car conscientiously, would let his battery run dry. however, that is what must have happened unless, of course, UFOs are now given to topping up their own batteries from passing cars.

In short, all the aspects of this 'high strangeness' case can easily be attributed to prosaic causes. The original failure to solve the case stems from an elementary error in the setting time of Venus. It demonstrates that even the endorsement by a professor of physics of a close encounter involving electromagnetic and physiological effects is no guarantee that a genuine UFO is involved.