UFO Crash Retrievals – A Developing Myth

John Harney
Magonia 58, January 1997

Ufology as a separate field of study depends on the hypothesis that some UFO reports are genuine descriptions or instrumental records of objects or phenomena unknown to modern science, It is generally agreed that the vast majority of UFO reports are wrongly interpreted sightings of objects such as aircraft or meteors, for many of the stranger reports, convincing psychological explanations are available.

Many ufologists have always been convinced that a small percentage of UFO reports are sightings of craft from other planets. It is not acceptable to them to say that because most reports can be attributed to more mundane causes, then the remainder can also be, given sufficient information.

Such ufologists have a desperate craving for unequivocal physical evidence which would prove their case. Some of these people are keen on science and technology. They have little time for myths, unless they can be given rational, literal interpretations. They also have little taste for UFO abduction stories. They see the purpose of ufology as the general acknowledgement of the reality of alien spacecraft surveying our planet. They are not interested in giving psychotherapy to people who apparently believe that they are constantly being abducted from their bedrooms through solid walls into enormous glowing craft which are unaccountably invisible to their neighbours. Such things are the stuff of dreams and delusions; their space people may have advanced technology but they are not to be granted any magical powers such as those possessed by the characters in fantasy novels.

Stories of crashed saucers which leave wreckage and occupants, dead or alive, have been around for a long time, in various forms. The American 1897 airship wave is a familiar example. The problem is that all these stories lack credibility, and investigations have revealed that, while some witnesses were undoubtedly sincere but mistaken, most of the stories were simply crude hoaxes.

Then came Roswell. As the story developed it was quickly seen as a boon to the nuts-and-bolts ufologists, tired of vague lights in the sky and accounts of life on other worlds received by telepathy or other occult means. A physical object had crashed, its substance was not of this world, and it did not dissolve into nothingness when picked up. Therefore it must still exist, hidden away on some US Air Force base. The final proof. This makes it seem simple. Just exert enough political pressure and the sensational truth will eventually be revealed. However, it is not so simple.

Although the Roswell case is undoubtedly based on a real incident involving the recovery of the wreckage of something from a ranch near Corona, New Mexico in July 1947, it received only brief, if widespread, publicity at the time. After the bizarre press release about a flying disc being recovered caused a worldwide sensation, the cover story designed to damp things down – that it was, after all, only a weather balloon with a radar target attached – was generally accepted (at least by those whose opinions on such things mattered) and the story died. It was mentioned by Frank Edwards in his book Flying Saucers – Serious Business (1), but it was apparently not publicly discussed again until the late 1970s, when Jesse A. Marcel, who had been the intelligence officer at the 509th Bomb Group at Roswell in 1947, decided to publicise his version of the affair.

This resulted in a reawakening of interest and investigations by ufologists gradually became more intensive and better organised. Eventually a very detailed story emerged and was published in various books, articles, reports and television documentaries.

This publicity stimulated many ufologists to probe old cases which seemed somewhat similar, but had not been taken very seriously. This process unearthed details which had not appeared in the original reports, such as the alleged recovery of the bodies of aliens, as well as wreckage. Many other, often trivial, details emerged and I hope to demonstrate that crash retrieval stories, as they are now discussed, tend to fall into a pattern, which takes the Roswell accounts as a model.From the Roswell story we can extract a number of motifs, many of which are not essential to the story, but can be seen to be repeated in accounts of other incidents. It is interesting to note that other crash retrieval stories are compared with Roswell; so far as many ufologists are concerned this is the standard by which they are assessed.

Crash retrieval stories, as I have said, are remarkable for the absence of accounts of paranormal or visionary experiences which are involved in so many UFO reports, But do they form coherent or consistent narratives with their own internal logic? Do they, when closely scrutinised, make any kind of sense? I don’t think so.

Let us look at two other cases as well as Roswell and we shall see that it would be quite crazy to interpret them as evidence of alien visitors crashing their saucers but perfectly reasonable to see them as part of a developing myth within the framework of UFO reports, beliefs and criticism by sceptics.

Although the Roswell object was almost certainly not a weather balloon, and there are serious doubts about the recent suggestion that it may have been a much larger balloon carrying equipment designed to monitor, distant atomic explosions (Project Mogul), it could have been some other secret military device. There wasn’t much more to the story until rumours of aliens, dead or alive, being recovered from another crash site began to emerge. According to some reports it was only a few miles away, but the most detailed accounts gave it as being on the Plains of San Augustin, more than 150 miles away. However, some pretty compelling evidence has been presented that this story is untrue. (2)Various accounts of the recovery of the aliens allege that those still alive offered no resistance to capture, being unarmed and quite helpless, but they were cruelly treated by the military. This is a theme which recurs in other crash retrieval stories.

 The aliens, being somewhat backward in the
technology of automation, remote control and remote sensing, have to pilot the craft themselves

According to the Roswell reports, a considerable amount of time elapsed before the aliens were captured. This raises an obvious problem of internal logic if we choose to believe such stories. We are apparently supposed to believe that the organisers of such missions to Earth send craft into our atmosphere which use some advanced means of propulsion, but are somewhat less mechanically reliable than our airliners. The aliens, being somewhat backward in the technology of automation, remote control and remote sensing, have to pilot the craft themselves. If they crash, there are no back-up craft to rescue them; they simply have to wait for the inevitable arrival of the military and shipment to some secret base where their bodies are dissected or, if still alive, they are incarcerated indefinitely.

It can be argued that there is much confusion and uncertainty about Roswell because the events happened so long ago. More recent reports should provide a clearer picture. But do they? Take the incident in North Wales in January 1974, for example. At 8.34 in the evening of 23 January a violent explosion was heard in the area of Bala and Llandrillo, followed by an earth tremor which was was strong enough to be recorded at Edinburgh University. Witnesses reported seeing lights around a nearby mountain. It was at first thought that an aircraft had crashed on the mountain, but the Royal Air Force (RAF), which sent a team to search the mountain, later said that there had been no crash and they had been looking for debris from a meteor fall. (3) However, it was said that the area around the mountain was sealed off for several days and that even the police were not allowed there. The media failed to follow up the story and when Jenny Randles attempted to investigate it she found the local people unwilling to discuss it. (4)

At this point the story, whilst intriguing and rather puzzling (why would the RAF want to go looking for meteorites?) was hardly a crash retrieval case. Like Roswell, the story died when the media accepted official explanations.

Almost 20 years later, ufologist Margaret Fry moved to North Wales and began to unearth a number of witnesses, one of them being a nurse who said that she hod driven to the mountain with her two daughters on that night because she thought that an aircraft had crashed. She claimed to have seen a large, circular object, glowing orange, on the ground, but no evidence of bodies or wreckage. She also claimed that she was stopped by police and military personnel, who ordered her to leave the area. (5)

Perhaps it should be mentioned that Margaret Fry has been interested in UFOs for many years and has made ‘countless sightings’. Perhaps it should also be mentioned, as it has been by Jenny Randles, that the brilliant meteor seen crossing North Wales on the night in question was timed at 9.58, more than an hour after the explosion. (7)

Confused? So am I. But there’s more. Tony Dodd (one of Britain’s most active UFO investigators) hasrecently published on article covering much the same ground as covered by Jenny Randles. (8) But he goes on to reveal that a witness, described as a retired Army officer, has come forward to claim that alien bodies were retrieved from the scene. This man claimed that he was ordered to drive to Llandderfel (near the area in question), with four other soldiers, where they loaded ‘two large oblong boxes’ into their vehicle and were ordered to take them directly to the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire. When they got there, the boxes were opened in their presence to reveal the bodies of alien beings. Other soldiers had also transported aliens to Porton Down, but these were alive.

The ex-soldier claimed to have arrived in North Wales on 20 January 1974 and the bodies were delivered to Porton Down some time the next day. But, wait a minute. Dodd gives us the time of the explosion – 8.39 p.m. – as well as the year and the month, but for some reason he omits the date. I wonder why? Perhaps it is because of the difficulty of resolving the paradox of the aliens arriving at Porton Down on 21 January, two days before their saucer crashed on 23 January.

Anyway, we have no reason to believe this ridiculous tale. For instance, if soldiers were delivering some secret cargo and it was not considered necessary or desirable to tell them what it was while they were transporting it, is it even conceivable that it would be revealed to them when they had safely delivered it and their task was completed? Of course not. It is a pack of lies, but it is an important part of the crash retrieval myth: crashed saucers usually have aliens in them.Another point. As one of the principal witnesses claimed to have seen an apparently undamaged saucer on the ground and others have claimed to have seen one take off, there must have been at least two involved. There must also be wreckage and I eagerly await the inevitable yarns about the people who picked up chunks of it only to have it confiscated by military authorities just as they were about to have it analysed. It is inevitable – well, almost inevitable – because it is one of the more important motifs of the developing myth.
The Varginha 'alien' as depicted on the cover of the Brazilian magazine 'UFO'
The caption reads 'Alien captured alive in Minas Gerais'

It is all very unsatisfactory. If only we had a crash retrieval which took place recently in a place where there were lots of people around to see what occurred. Then the Truth would surely be revealed. How about a suburb of a large town? Well, it’s actually happened, that is if you can believe the reports. In Brazil, arguably the most saucer-infested country on earth.
On 20 January 1996, at about 3.30 p.m. three girls walking home through Jardim Andere, a suburb of Varginha (9) saw a strange creature, humanoid in appearance, with brown skin. It was about 1.6 metres tall, had three humps on its head and large bright red eyes. It was naked and apparently had no genitals, nipples or navel. The girls were terrified and ran to the home of two of them, where they told their mother. The story spread rapidly and when ufologists Vitorio Pacaccini and Ubirajara Franca Rodrigues began to investigate they found that witnesses spoke of there being at least two aliens, both of which were captured by the local fire service, the army, or both together. These beings were allegedly taken to a local hospital, but did not survive and their bodies were later moved elsewhere.

During the previous night there had been a sighting of a submarine-shaped UFO, about the size of a small bus, flying at about 5 metres above the ground and emitting smoke or vapour, at a farm about 10 km from Jardim Andere. The witnesses had been alerted by noises from the farm animals.

The first detailed account of the case which I saw was an article by Graham Birdsall, based on information he had received when he went to a UFO conference in Curitiba, Brazil in June and met Pacaccini and Rodrigues. (10) I have also read many reports and comments which have been published on the Internet. (11) With so many witnesses and such intensive investigation by experienced ufologists one would have expected a coherent story to have emerged by now, nearly a year after the events.

The reports are a confusing mixture of eyewitness testimony, rumour and speculation. The army, police, fire service and hospital authorities allegedly involved in the capture and removal of the aliens deny everything.

It is said that one of the bodies was taken to the University of Campinas, where an autopsy was carried out by Dr Fortunate Badan Palhares (who is apparently famous for having carried out the autopsy on the Nazi, Mengele). Dr Palhares denies this, of course. According to another report eight aliens were captured. One was dead, two were injured and one later died, and five were uninjured. Another report alleges that the six living aliens were flown from Campinas Airport in a Brazilian air force plane to Sao Paulo, There they were ‘marched aboard’ (!) a US Air Force transport plane and flown to Albrook Air Force Base in Panama.

The Brazilian ufologists insist that the confusion is caused by a great international cover-up operation but that in the case of Varginha they arrived on the scene too quickly for it to be fully effective as it usually is. Authorities involved are ordered to deny that anything unusual hashappened, and witnesses are silenced by threats or bribes.

For those who want to believe in crash retrievals there are a number of serious logical problems. The most important one is this; if there are only a handful of cases, this would seem highly unlikely to most people, but not impossible. However, if it is thought that UFO crashes are by no means rare, then it would be impossible to conceal the truth for very long. It is also hard to imagine aliens flying around in such unreliable craft. Or do they crash them deliberately?

One way of getting around this problem is to say or imply that there are very few UFO crashes, This is the approach taken by Kevin D. Randle, who devotes a book to listing UFO crash reports, labelling all but a few of them as hoaxes. (12) The alternative is to say that governments are in collusion with the aliens, and that the aliens are operating in such a way as to enable them to continue concealing the truth from the public. However, this does not deal with the problem of the crashes.

All this does not mean that UFO crash retrieval reports are based on nothing at all. Normally there is some unusual event which somehow sets in motion a process of rumour and speculation. The crashed UFO myth has by now received so much publicity that it is readily available to provide a framework for the elaboration of such reports. Pathological liars and publicity seekers are always available to provide further amazing information. The myth can be broken down into motifs, which can then be modified and reassembled to provide the details of different crash retrieval stories. I here present a tentative list of the usual motifs, in the hope that others will develop it more fully, so that we end up with a model for a typical crash retrieval and thus know what to look for in future reports.

The crash retrieval report usually seems to develop from some central event, to which the above motifs are added as investigation and discussion get under way. In the Roswell Case this was the finding of wreckage on his ranch by Mac Brazel. In the North Wales case it was the sound of a violent explosion, followed by an earth tremor. In the Varginha case, it was the sighting of something which they took to be ‘the devil’ which frightened three girls walking home through a suburban street. It is quite likely that there is no connection between these three cases, but the myth took over and the stories were built up from the motifs by a pick-and-mix process.

All of this is not to decry the hard work put into investigations by many ufologists. It is not their investigations that are at fault but their absurd theory of clapped-out saucers full of helpless aliens. 

Crash-Retrieval Motifs:
  • The precursor; e.g. something seen in the sky, an explosion heard, or mysterious object tracked by radar
  • Crashed UFO; almost always in a remote placeAliens, dead or alive, in or near crashed UFO
  • Arrival of military
  • Civilians expelled from crash area
  • Aliens cruelly treated by military
  • Aliens helpless and unarmed, and apparently not very intelligent
  • Military personnel sworn to secrecy
  • Civilian witnesses threatened or bribed to keep silent
  • Authorities give unconvincing cover story to media
  • Authorities remove all wreckage from crash site, usually on a flat truck covered with a tarpaulin
  • Witnesses pick up bits of wreckage but authorities always recover all of it from them
  • US Air Force nearly always get involved, sometimes allegedly by putting pressure on government of country where crash occurs
  • Long after event, persons contact ufologists to claim they were involved in recovery operation
  • Such persons claim to have seen alien bodies or worked on UFO wreckage.
  • Official photographs, films or videos of aliens which are never made available or are obvious fakes

  1. Edwards, Frank. Flying Saucers – Serious Business, New York, Bantam Books, 1966.
  2. A good summary of this story and the reasons for disbelieving it are given in: Randles, Kevin D. History of UFO Crashes, New York, Avon Books, 1995, p.28-58
  3. Randles, Jenny. UFO Retrievals, London, Blandford, 1995, p. 112-121
  4. A high proportion of the people in that area speak Welsh. I believe that a Welsh-speaking investigator would have been able to obtain more information from them.
  5. Randles, op. cit.
  6. Randles, Jenny. ‘Britain’s Roswell?’, Sightings, 1,3, (1966), pp.10-15
  7. If any readers have any information as to the truth or accuracy of these timings, would they kindly let us know.
  8. Dodd, Tony, ‘UFO Crash in North Wales?’, UFO Magazine, Sept/Oct 1996, pp.34-37. (This is the British UFO Magazine, not to be confused with at least two others with the same title).
  9. Varginha is located at 210, 33″S, 450 25″W.
  10. Birdsall, Graham W. ‘Incident at Varginha’, UFO Magazine, op.cit. 8-13, 57-59, 66.
  11. I am grateful to Mark Pilkington for obtaining these reports.
  12. Randle, Kevin D., op.cit.


In the most recent number of Northern UFO News (157, Autumn 1996), Jenny Randles returns to the subject of the 1974 Llandrillo incident. She considers the possibility that the original incident may have been caused by the crash of an RAF plane carrying a nuclear weapon, and the UFO connection was introduced as deliberate ‘disinformation’.

‘Disinformation’ is a popular recourse by ufologists when they find that their cherished cases are fasting apart in their hands. The idea that military authorities have deliberately used and promoted UFO rumours to discourage journalists has been put forward to explain aspects of the Roswell and Rendlesham cases which do not fit conveniently in the crashed spaceship theory. In both cases a supposed nuclear accident has been suggested as the root of the story.

When asked by US and German TV companies for her views on the `recovered bodies’ at Llandrillo, Randles replied “I told all of the TV companies … that I was not about to help the government cover up the truth about this incident by acting as a disinformation agent on their behalf.” — John Rimmer.