UFO … or Clouds?
Pilot Luis Monroy says, "I've never seen anything like that cloud. That thing (is) putting off heat, maybe. Something is going on. It's doing something to make those clouds open and swirl around. I've never seen this before."
When he saw the photo of the tiny blue ball coming though the hole in the cloud cover, crew member Gene Roberts said, "What's in that picture is no helicopter and it's not an airplane or weather balloon…Whatever that is—it's not something the general public knows about. I've seen some photos of military jets blowing small holes in clouds when they broke the sound barrier. But those photos don't compare with (this). That hole is huge and that's no jet!"
Monroy agrees. "That's not any helicopter or airplane we know about. Whatever that is, it's got tremendous power to do what it's doing to those clouds. Maybe the military has something new they're testing around here."
Bruce Thoren of the National Weather Service says, "I really don't think a weather balloon is what you're dealing with. Our balloons only go straight up, explode and then come down.”
Mystery surrounds photos of Mt. Herman UFO
By J.D. Cash - December 29, 2002
Veteran pilot Luis Monroy’s stare was a mixture of disbelief and curiosity. At his shoulder, senior helicopter mechanic and Weyerhaeuser flight-crew member, Gene Roberts, smiled as the first photo was brought up on the computer screen. Outside the Jeep near Eagletown, three men stared through rain-soaked windows at the mysterious image on display.
I found the team working in the mountains near Broken Bow Lake, operating from a makeshift heliport owned and managed by the Weyerhaeuser Company.
It was a miserable afternoon to be flying. Low clouds and a steady drizzle were closing down visibility when I pulled into the remote camp.
In spite of this nasty weather the crew was slogging through mud – intent on putting in a full day spreading thousands of pounds of fertilizer on carefully marked sections of pine plantation.
The fertilizer spreader was a sleek multimillion-dollar Bell Jet Ranger helicopter.
Earlier a radio call from the crew’s headquarters at De Queen, Ark., let the team know I was coming with some photographs to look at and some questions to ask. If there was a sensible explanation for the unusual images stored in the computer, I felt these men would have it.
Weyerhaeuser flight crews are regularly in the air over the corporation’s 500,000-acre Oklahoma investment. Surely this experienced group could explain away the apparent evidence that a so-called UFO had been operating in a remote section of McCurtain County. After all, everyone knows there’s no such thing as alien spaceships.
Just as I pulled up to the team’s ground support equipment, the green and white chopper turned back to the clearing and settled in.
As soon as the rotors stopped, the pilot emerged and headed over with the rest of his crew in tow.
With the first photograph displayed on the laptop computer, I began explaining the origins of the photos, but didn’t get far.
Monroy spoke as he pointed at the screen, "I’ve never seen anything like that cloud." Then in a slow, deliberate voice the pilot surmised, "That thing … it’s putting off heat, maybe. Something is going on. It’s doing something to make those clouds open and swirl around. I’ve never seen this before."
Then came the question I’d been waiting to ask: Could that blue ball be a helicopter coming though that hole in the cloud cover?
Roberts broke in while Monroy shook his head, "Oh no, of course not. What’s in that picture is no helicopter and it’s not an airplane or weather balloon."
With 20 years experience flying and repairing military and civilian helicopters, Roberts added cryptically, "Whatever that is – it’s not something the general public knows about. I’ve seen some photos of military jets blowing small holes in clouds when they broke the sound barrier. But those photos don’t compare with what you have. That hole is huge and that’s no jet!"
Monroy nodded agreement. "That’s not any helicopter or airplane we know about. Whatever that is, it’s got tremendous power to do what it’s doing to those clouds. Maybe the military has something new they’re testing around here."
After reviewing the second photo in the series, Roberts commented on the remarkable picture of a mysterious object being trailed by clouds of bright blue vapors: "That’s right out of a Stephen Spielberg movie," he said.
The last photo – appearing to show the blue object racing back into the hole in the clouds – only brought stunned silence from the spellbound audience.
After an hour discussing the photos in the collection, the team agreed: In all their years of flying and working in these mountains, none of the men had seen anything that might explain the cloud anomaly or blue object in the photographs.
And they weren’t alone.
For the past several weeks, I have been trying to determine what the blue object in three consecutive photographs was, and what caused the strange hole in the clouds over Mt. Herman that morning.
Satellite photographs of this region place the approximate location of the cloud anomaly quite close to the McCurtain County Wilderness Area – a 23-square-mile, heavily wooded and rugged mountain region, about six miles east of U.S. 259.
Set aside for conservation purposes by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1918, much of the vast wilderness area is on the east side of the Mountain Fork River and strictly off limits to the public without special written permission from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
While curiosity seekers do sneak in and wander around the fringes of the wilderness area from time to time, a more remote location in the southern U.S. would be hard to find.
Here’s the rest of the story
The morning the digital photographs were made, Veterans Day, Nov. 11, I’d left my cabin around 9:30 a.m. and was on the way to do a couple of interviews for upcoming articles.
Before that day was over, I would cover about 100 miles and shoot loads of pictures with a Kodak digital camera. The first three photos proved the most unusual and certainly the most controversial.
Outside the window of the car that morning there was a layer of stratocumulus clouds highlighted by a bright mid-morning sun. The leaves on the trees lining the highway glistened with autumn colors.
Employees of Beavers Bend Resort Park had just finished putting on the big weekend fall festival and the timing for the event had been perfect. The Kiamichi Mountains were draped in peak colors and thousands of tourists had shown up to enjoy the spectacle. By Monday morning, most had gone home and U.S. 259 was abandoned.
Only about one mile north of the Mt. Herman Store, I noticed a very large gap in the clouds on the east side of the highway.
Looking closer, it appeared a cookie cutter had sliced a half-mile elliptical hole from the blanket of clouds. Above this gap in the cloud layer the morning sun was bright and beaming straight down. Inside the hole I could see wisps of clouds being drawn toward the center of the anomaly. The total effect was pure science fiction and completely foreign to me.
Just a few years ago I owned a cabin class twin-engine Cessna 421B (NIDX). The plane was purchased as an investment and put in charter service. When it wasn’t hauling paying clients, I traveled extensively in One Delta X-Ray. Not once that I can remember, though, had I seen clouds like those outside the window of the car that morning. With a camera on the seat next to me, I pulled over to take a few pictures.
Looking through the viewer, I realized the sun was so bright and so near the subject to be photographed, it was doubtful any photos would turn out well. But in the span of about 30 seconds, three pictures were taken and I went on.
The next day I pulled the camera out to look for a photograph. In the viewer was the first of those three Mt. Herman pictures.
As suspected, the sun was too bright. I started to erase all three shots, but paused long enough to put the diskette in a reader to get a better look before the images were forever lost.
When the first photo came up on the screen, my attention went to a bright object underneath the hole in the cloud cover. In the next picture, the object had dropped hundreds of feet and was putting off what appeared to be a blue gas. The final picture was probably the most startling.
Staring at a close-up of a brilliant blue ball, I remembered that I’d hit the zoom for this last shot and put the camera dead-center on the cloud anomaly. By pure luck the object was caught just as it rocketed straight up through the large gap in the cloud cover. As it raced into the heavens, long slivers of clouds appeared to be drawn toward the brilliant blue object.
What was on the computer screen came as a complete surprise. When I was standing outside the car taking photos the previous morning, I never noticed the blue object captured in the photographs. Possibly the reason I didn’t notice the object was that the sun was shining in my eyes.
During the course of trying to learn more about what was caught in the photos, Sharon Huff at the Mt. Herman Store gave me a lead on a potential eyewitness account of another sighting.
Customer Roy Patrick learned I’d been to the Mt. Herman Store with pictures of the strange object and told Huff his children saw something quite similar the same day.
During a subsequent interview, Patrick’s wife, Sally, said on the evening of Nov. 11, two of her teen-age children came running into the living room screaming there was a UFO outside.
"My husband and I just laughed," she said. "I had dinner to put on and we just ignored them," Mrs. Patrick recalled.
Interviewed separately, 19-year-old Ricky Johnson said he was driving Dakota Patrick, 11; Kandie Johnson, 16; and Brandie Johnson, 13; back from the Bethel Store when they spotted a bright round ball on the horizon.
Kandie Johnson recalled the event.
"We were pulling in the drive and way up there was a bright reddish-orange ball. It was moving slowly. I think it went down and then up. We all started pointing and screaming. It was big, kind of like a basketball."
The group recalled the sun had just gone down and the object was sitting over the western horizon – glowing a bright reddish-orange, as if reflecting off the setting sun.
Brandie Johnson said she ran inside the house and tried to get others to come out, but the adults laughed and stayed in.
"The next day we went to school and told our friends," Brandie said.
Mrs. Patrick said, "Dakota stayed out in the yard most of the evening, waiting for it to come back. Eventually we went out to see what had them all excited, but it was gone."
Bruce Thoren at the National Weather Service in Norman was contacted and he said this: "Weather balloons are normally only released from stations we operate. In your area that would be Dallas, Shreveport and Fort Smith." Adding, "We don’t have a weather station at Mt. Herman or anywhere else within 100 or so miles."
The meteorologist also said the balloons the service releases start out very small, about five feet in diameter, and go straight up to about 100,000 feet – expanding until they explode. The duration of each mission is only about 75 minutes. After the balloon explodes, the equipment comes back down, tethered to a small yellow parachute.
Thoren explained further, "I really don’t think a weather balloon is what you’re dealing with. Our balloons only go straight up, explode and then come down. And we don’t release them from the Broken Bow Lake area. Sorry...."
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