Zamora (September 7, 1933 November 2, 2009) was a
New Mexico police officer who reported a UFO sighting while
on duty on Friday, April 24, 1964, near Socorro, New Mexico.
account received considerable coverage in the mass media,
and is sometimes regarded as one of the best documented,
yet most perplexing UFO reports. It was one of the accounts
that helped persuade astronomer J. Allen Hynek, who was
one of the primary investigators for the Air Force, that
some UFO reports represented an intriguing mystery.
in his patrol car, Sergeant Lonnie Zamora was chasing
a speeding car due south of Socorro, New Mexico on April
24, 1964, at about 5:45 p.m., when he "heard a
roar and saw a flame in the sky to southwest some distance
away possibly a 1/2 mile or a mile." Thinking
a local dynamite shack might have exploded, Zamora broke
off the chase and went to investigate.
Zamora says he did not pay much attention to the flame,
that the sun was "to west and did not help vision",
and he was wearing green sunglasses over prescription
glasses. In interviews with Air Force investigators for
Project Blue Book, he goes to some lengths to describe
the long, narrow, funnel-shaped "bluish orange"
flame. He thought there might be some dust at the bottom,
and attributed it to the windy day. The weather was "Clear,
sunny sky otherwise just a few clouds scattered
describes the noise as "a roar, not a blast. Not
like a jet. Changed from high frequency to low frequency
and then stopped. Roar lasted possibly 10 seconds"
as he approached on a gravel road. "Saw flame
about as long as heard the sound. Flame same color as
best I can recall. Sound distinctly from high to low until
it disappeared." He explains that his car windows
were down. Zamora notes no other possible witnesses except
possibly the car in front, which he estimates might have
heard the noise but not seen the flame because it would
be behind the brow of the hill from their viewpoint.
struggled to get his car up the steep hill. Successful
on the third attempt, he noted no further noise. For the
next 1015 seconds, he proceeded west, looking for
the shack whose precise location he did not recall. It
was then that he noticed a shiny object, "to south
about 150 to 200 yards", that at first he took
to be an "overturned white car ... up on radiator
or on trunk", with two people standing close
to it, one of whom seemed to notice him with some surprise
and gave a start. The shiny object was "like aluminum
it was whitish against the mesa background, but
not chrome", and shaped like a letter "O".
Having stopped for a couple of seconds, Zamora approached
in his car meaning to help.
only caught a brief sight of the two people in white coveralls
beside the "car". He recalls nothing
special about them. "I don't recall noting any
particular shape or possibly any hats, or headgear. These
persons appeared normal in shape but possibly they
were small adults or large kids."
drove towards the scene, radioing his dispatcher to say
he would be out of his car "checking the car in
the arroyo." He stopped his car, got out, and
attended to the radio mic, which he had dropped, then
he started to approach the object. According to Zamora,
turned around from car, when heard roar (was not exactly
a blast), very loud roar at that close was real
loud. Not like a jet knows what jets sound like.
Started low frequency quickly, then roar rose in frequency
(higher tone) and in loudness from loud to very
loud. At same time as roar saw flame. Flame was under
the object. Object was starting to go straight up
slowly up. Object slowly rose straight up. Flame was light
blue and at bottom was sort of orange color From this
angle, saw the side of object (not end, as first noted).
Difficult to describe flame. Thought, from roar, it might
blow up. Flame might have come from underside of object,
at middle, possibly a four feet area very rough
guess. Cannot describe flame further except blue and orange.
No smoke, except dust in immediate area."
the object in view, he ran behind his car, bumping his
leg on the rear fender and dropping his glasses, and continued
running northwards away from the object, which was still
near the ground. He now gives a more detailed description
of the object. "Oval in shape ... smooth
no windows or doors ... Noted red lettering of some type.
Insignia was about 2½' high and about 2' wide I
guess. Was in middle of object ... Object still like aluminum-white."
He also noted that the object was still on the ground
when the roar started.
is artist interpretation of the sighting.
describes how the object took off:
fell by car and glasses fell off, kept running to north,
with car between me and object. Glanced back couple of
times. Noted object to rise to about level of car, about
20 to 25 feet guess took I guess about six seconds
when object started to rise and I glanced back. I ran
I guess about halfway to where I ducked down about
fifty feet from the car is where I ducked down, just over
edge of hill. I guess I had run about 25 feet when I glanced
back and saw the object level with the car and it appeared
about directly over the place where it rose from.
was still running and I jumped just over the hill
I stopped because I did not hear the roar. I was scared
of the roar, and I had planned to continue running down
the hill. I turned around toward the object and at same
time put my head toward ground, covering my face with
my arms. Being that there was no roar, I looked up, and
I saw the object going away from me. It did not come any
closer to me. It appeared to go in straight line and at
same height possibly 10 to 15 feet from ground,
and it cleared the dynamite shack by about three feet.
Shack about eight feet high. Object was travelling very
fast. It seemed to rise up, and take off immediately across
went back to his car and contacted the Sheriff's office
picked up my glasses (I left the sun glasses on ground),
got into the car, and radioed to Nep Lopez, radio operator,
to "look out of the window, to see if you could see
an object." He asked what is it? I answered "It
looks like a balloon." I don't know if he saw it.
If Nep looked out of his window, which faces north, he
couldn't have seen it. I did not tell him at the moment
which window to look out of."
watched the object fly away, swiftly but silently and
I was calling Nep, I could still see the object. The object
seemed to lift up slowly, and to "get small"
in the distance very fast. It seemed to just clear the
Box Canyon or Six Mile Canyon Mountain. It disappeared
as it went over the mountain. It had no flame whatsoever
as it was traveling over the ground, and no smoke or noise."
inspected the area and was soon joined by a colleague,
Sergeant Chavez, who did not see the object:
directions to Nep Lopez at radio and to Sergeant M.S.
Chavez to get there. Went down to where the object had
been and I noted the brush was burning in several places.
At that time I heard Sgt. Chavez (N.M. State Police at
Socorro) calling me on radio for my location, and I returned
to my car, told him he was looking at me. Then Sgt. Chavez
came up, asked me what the trouble was, because I was
sweating and he told me I was white, very pale. I asked
the Sgt. to see what I saw, and that was the burning brush.
Then Sgt. Chavez and I went to the spot, and Sgt. Chavez
pointed out the tracks."
says that he had noticed that the object had what looked
I first saw the object (when I thought it might be a car)
I saw what appeared to be four legs of some type from
the object to the ground. At the time, I didn't pay much
attention to what it was I thought it was an accident
I saw the two persons. I didn't pay any attention
to the four "legs?" The four "legs"
were at the bottom of the object, slanted outwards to
the ground. The object might have been about three and
a half feet from the ground at that time. I just glanced
tries to account for the disappearance of the two people:
tell how long [I] saw object second time (the "close"
time), possibly 20 seconds just a guess
from time got out of car, glanced at object, ran from
object, jumped over edge of hill, then got back to car
and radio as object disappeared. As my mic fell as I got
out of car, at scene area, I heard about two or three
loud "thumps," like someone possibly hammering
or shutting a door or doors hard. These "thumps"
were possibly a second or less apart. This was just before
the roar. The persons were not seen when I drove to the
scene area. Just before Sgt. Chavez got to scene, I got
my pen and drew a picture of the insignia on the object."
investigation and publicity
hours, word of Zamora's encounter had reached the news:
many people had heard the radio traffic, including a few
reporters. Within days, reporters from the Associated
Press and United Press International were in Socorro.
Members of civilian UFO study group APRO were on the scene
within two days, as were officers representing the U.S.
Air Force's Project Blue Book. NICAP investigators appeared
the following Tuesday. The first NICAP investigator was
Ray Stanford, who would later write a detailed book account
of his investigation).
independent witnesses reported either an "egg"-shaped
craft or a bluish flame at roughly the same time and in
the same area some of them within minutes of Zamora's
encounter, before word of it had spread.
wrote about a number of corroborating witnesses in his
book, including two tourists named Paul Kies and Larry
Kratzer, who were approaching Socorro in their car from
the southwest, less than a mile from the landing site.
They apparently witnessed either the landing or takeoff
and reported seeing the flame and brownish dust being
kicked up. Their story was reported in the Dubuque, Iowa
Telegraph-Herald a few days later after their return.
family of five tourists from Colorado headed north also
saw the oval object as it approached Socorro at a very
low altitude, going east to west just south of town. It
passed directly over their car only a few feet above it.
After the encounter, the tourists stopped for gas in Socorro.
Their identity was never discovered, but the story was
learned from the service station operator, Opal Grinder,
who reported the incident at the time and later signed
an affidavit in 1967. According to Grinder, the husband
told him "Your aircraft sure fly low around here!"
and that the object almost took the roof off their car.
The man thought it was in trouble since it came down west
of the highways instead of the nearby airport to the south.
He saw the police car headed up the hill towards it, he
thought to render assistance.
to Stanford, another witness called an Albuquerque television
station around 5:30 p.m. to report an oval object at low
altitude traveling slowly south towards Socorro. Several
other stories appeared in New Mexico newspapers in succeeding
days of other sightings of oval-shaped objects, including
another landing case with burned soil near La Madera in
northern N.M. Also similar to the Socorro incident, the
FBI report on the La Madera case further noted the witness
reporting a blue-white flame associated with the object,
four rectangular, V-shaped landing marks, and several
circular marks about 4 inches in diameter.
also noted that there were a large number of aural witnesses
to the object's loud roar during takeoff and landing.
One member of the Socorro sheriff's office told him that
"hundreds of persons" on the south side of town
had heard it. Stanford said he personally spoke to two
women who heard the roar just before 6 p.m. They said
that there were two distinct roars, maybe a minute or
addition to the above witnesses, Stanford said there were
three other persons who called the police dispatcher immediately
following the incident, before it was ever publicized,
reporting a bright flame. In October 2009, Stanford first
publicly revealed that Sgt. Chavez, the first policeman
to provide backup for Zamora, had privately confided to
fellow police officers that he too had seen the object
rapidly departing to the west over the mountains as he
approached the site. However, in public statements, Chavez
was firm that he arrived too late to see the object. When
Chavez first arrived at the scene within a minute or two
after the object had departed, he also noted that burnt
bushes were still smoldering and Zamora appeared to be
in a state of shock.
policemen arrived soon after to help investigate, including
Ted Jordan and James Luckie. All noted fresh burning at
the site. Luckie and Chavez were quoted in the Socorro
newspaper saying that clumps of grass and burned greasewood
bushes were "still hot" when they arrived. Chavez
was also quoted saying that dry grass was still "smouldering"
as were the greasewood plants. Jordan later filled out
a sworn statement saying, "When I arrived, greasewood
branches were still smoking." Zamora was likewise
quoted about the green bush "burned bare by exhaust
heat" and that it was "still smoking
several minutes after the craft's departure."
The FBI report written by the agent on the scene within
two hours similarly reported that all first responders
noted "four irregularly shaped smouldering areas."
was again quoted in an Air Force report written two days
later about smoking brush. [Chavez] then went to
the area were the craft or thing was supposedly sighted
and found four fresh indentations in the ground and several
charred or burned bushes. Smoke appeared to come from
the bush and he assumed it was burning, however no coals
were visible and the charred portions of the bush were
cold to the touch.
was further reported securing the area and scouring the
ground looking for the presence of other human activity.
He could find no other tire tracks besides Zamora's and
was "adamant" that there was no other
"track activity" (footprints or other
marks) in the area. In addition, Chavez was also quoted
in the report saying that the indentations appeared to
be new: "He stated that the marks were definitely
'fresh', and the dirt showed evidence of 'dew' or moisture."
several policeman later told Stanford the whatever had
produced the rectangular, wedge-shaped landing traces
appeared to have penetrated into the moist subsoil, as
the bottoms of the traces were moist for several hours,
suggesting that the traces were freshly made. Hynek also
commented on the freshness of the soil impressions in
a letter to astronomer Donald
Menzel: "I have the word of nine witnesses
who saw the marks within hours of the incident, who tell
me the center of the marks were moist as though the topsoil
had been freshly pushed aside."
FBI investigator also observed that the rectangular marks
"seemed to have been made by an object going into
the earth at an angle from a center line" pushing
"some earth to the far side." Also observed
were "three circular marks in the earth which were
small, approximately four inches in diameter and penetrated
in the sandy earth approximately one-eighth of an inch."
Speculation in Stanford's book was that these were ladder
indentations for the crew to exit and enter the craft.
evening of the encounter, Army Captain Richard T. Holder
(then the senior officer at White Sands, as the higher-ranking
officers had gone home for the weekend) and FBI agent
Arthur Byrnes, Jr. together interviewed Zamora. However,
for reasons that remain unclear, the FBI asked that their
presence at the scene be kept quiet. Zamora speculated
that the object was some kind of newly-developed craft
being tested at White Sands Missile Range or at nearby
Holloman Air Force Base. Holder shot down this idea, and
was later quoted in a Socorro newspaper as saying, that
there was in military custody "no object that would
compare to the object described ... There was no known
firing mission in progress at the time of the occurrence
that would produce the conditions reported."
interviewing Zamora, Holder and several military police
officers went to the scene. Using flashlights, they cordoned
off the site, took measurements and took samples of the
sand and the scorched bushes. The claim of "fused
sand" being recovered from the landing site was for
some time unsubstantiated; even Hynek said he had not
heard such rumors during his investigations.
next morning, a Sunday, Holder took a telephone call from
a Colonel at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As a young Captain,
Holder was surprised and nervous to be speaking to such
an important, high-ranking officer. At the Colonel's command,
Holder gave a report of his investigation over a secure
scrambled line. Even years later, Holder would wonder
about such important U.S. military officials, "why
in the world were they so interested?"
J. Allen Hynek (Blue Book's consultant)
arrived in Socorro on Tuesday, April 28. He met with Zamora
and Chavez, and interviewed them about the encounter.
Hynek and Air Force Major Hector Quintanilla initially
thought the sighting might be explained as a test of a
Lunar Excursion Module, though after some investigation,
Hynek determined that this could be definitely ruled out
as an explanation for what Zamora saw. In a memorandum
Hynek wrote that "Zamora & Chavez were very anti-AF
[Air Force]". The Air Force was suggesting that the
affair was a hoax, but Zamora was "pretty sore
at being regarded as a romancer" and it took
over half an hour for Hynek to "thaw him out"
and hear the account from the only eyewitness.
also wrote that "The AF is in a spot over Socorro:"
they were also suggesting that the encounter could be
attributed to Zamora having seen an unidentified military
craft, though no craft could be matched to Zamora's report.
Hynek agreed with many others that this explanation "won't
go down" as plausible.
further wrote "I think this case may be the 'Rosetta
Stone' ... There's never been a strong case with so unimpeachable
a witness." Also noting his growing frustration
with Blue Book, Hynek wrote, "The AF doesn't know
what science is."
1968, physicist and UFO researcher James E. McDonald located
Mary G. Mayes, who asserted that when she was a University
of Arizona doctoral student in radiation biology, she
had been asked "to analyze plant material from the
Socorro site. Afterwards, she was to turn in all records
and samples, and heard no more about it."
interviewed by McDonald, Mayes reported that she and two
others had worked on studying physical evidence from the
Socorro site, but she could not remember the names of
the others. According to Mayes, she had examined the site
the day after the event, and had gathered plant samples
for analysis. Mayes later determined that the plants which
had allegedly been burnt by the UFO's flames were, unusually,
"completely dried out". Mayes also found no
evidence of radiation, but found "two organic substances"
she was unable to identify.
also reported to McDonald an area of apparently "fused
sand", where the sand had taken on a glassy appearance,
near where the object had allegedly landed and then departed.
The area of glassy sand was roughly triangular, measuring
about 25 to 30 inches (760 mm) at its widest, though it
gradually tapered down to about 1 inch wide; it seemed
about a quarter of an inch thick. Mayes thought the glassy
areas looked as if a "hot jet hit it."
said she would investigate to determine the other people
who investigated the site, but McDonald's files give no
indication she ever contacted him about the subject.
speed and acceleration
to reconstructions of the event from Zamora's account,
the time was probably no more than 20 seconds from when
the object went to silent operation, rapidly accelerated,
and then faded from view near Box Canyon, a distance of
about 6 miles (9.7 km). Assuming constant acceleration,
these numbers can be used to estimate the object's acceleration,
average speed, and final speed. The acceleration would
be given by 2d/t^2, where d is the distance of 6 miles
(9.7 km) or about 9600 meters, and t is the time of 20
seconds. The final speed would be 2d/t and the average
speed d/2. This works out to a final speed of 2160 miles/hour,
an average speed of 1080 miles/hour, and an acceleration
of 48 meters/sec^2, or almost 5 times Earth gravity of
high values rule out many conventional explanations, such
as a helicopter or balloon. A high-performance jet aircraft
or rocket propulsion could conceivably produce the accelerations
and supersonic speeds, but neither forms of propulsion
are silent. The Air Force report on the incident also
said that they analysed the soil and found no evidence
of chemical propellants, as might be expected from a jet
or most rocket engines. Further, no contemporary craft
was capable of vertical take-off and such high speeds.
The oval object described by Zamora also lacked any wings
or other external structures that might have provided
became so tired of the subject that he eventually avoided
both ufologists and the Air Force, taking a job managing
a gasoline station. He died on November 2, 2009 in Socorro
from a heart attack.
claims and rebuttals
debunkers suggested that the affair was a hoax. Harvard
Menzel first suggested that Zamora had
been the victim of a complex prank engineered by high
school students who "planned the whole business to
'get' Zamora." (Hynek suggested this to some Socorro
citizens, who discounted the idea). Years later, Menzel
argued that Zamora had misidentified a dust devil.
and prominent UFO skeptic, Philip
J. Klass first suggested that the Zamora
sighting was due to misidentified ball lightning. When
this debunking was itself debunked (notably by atmospheric
James E. McDonald), Klass switched gears
and suggested the Zamora sighting was part of a scheme
Zamora had invented with Socorro's then mayor, Holm Bursum,
Jr., to attract tourism, claiming Bursum owned the land
where Zamora's encounter occurred. Klass claimed that
Bursum hoped Zamora's "fabricated" UFO story
would lure tourists to Socorro, and Bursum could then
develop the UFO landing site into a tourist attraction.
Both Bursum and Zamora consistently denied these accusations
as ridiculous, and even after Zamora's sighting gained
national publicity the landing site was never developed.
In fact, Bursum didn't even own the property as Klass
of 2009, the landing site reportedly remains much as it
was in 1964.
Air Force issued their formal report on June 8, 1964.
Jerome Clark suggested that the report was "riddled
with errors," including the claim that there
were no other witnesses (several reported their sightings
within minutes of Zamora's encounter), and the claim that
there were no disturbances to the soil (manifestly false,
based on Jordan's photos of the scene taken less than
an hour after the encounter). Noting that they made no
conclusion as to the object's origin (other than to rule
out the extraterrestrial hypothesis), the "Air
Force was continuing its investigation, and the case is
in a secret report prepared for the CIA, Project Blue
Book's director, Major Hector Quintanilla offered further
details regarding the Zamora case, "There is no
doubt that Lonnie Zamora saw an object which left quite
an impression on him. There is also no question about
Zamora's reliability. He is a serious police officer,
a pillar of his church, and a man well versed in recognizing
airborne vehicles in his area. He is puzzled by what he
saw and frankly, so are we. This is the best-documented
case on record, and still we have been unable, in spite
of thorough investigation, to find the vehicle or other
stimulus that scared Zamora to the point of panic."