The 1979 Elk River UFO Crash – The Grays Harbor Incident

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
June 28, 2019
Last Updated
October 13, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
7 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Cover-Ups

An apparent crash of an otherworldly object in the winter of 1979 in the state of Washington in the upper northwest of the United States is another incident that has multiple witnesses, of which many would, in turn, witness a significant military presence in the area, which has since been denied by the United States forces, and essentially has all the hallmarks of a cover-up.

Indeed, as we will examine, many in the area consider it the Evergreen State’s very own Roswell incident. As well they might, for it certainly would appear that something crashed into an area near the Elk River near Westport. What that something might have been, however, is what the real question is.

A depiction of a crashing UFO into a river

Did a UFO crash into the Elk River in 1979?

It is a case that today, four decades later, remains unsolved. Furthermore, and perhaps of more significance, and suspicion based on the ample number of witnesses, it is one that the United States military and authorities officially do not recognize as having taken place. And while there is always the chance of further information surfacing, the Elk River Crash – sometimes referred to as The Grays Harbor Incident – may indeed remain unsolved for eternity. Certainly for our lifetimes.

MUFON Investigator, James Clarkson would reexamine the case several years after the events. What we know of the incident today is largely from his research, as well as a collection of stories in The Daily World newspaper.

Just what did the witnesses to the events – none of whom had anything to gain from their reports at the time and their statements years later – see that evening? And why is there such ambiguity from authorities regarding the incident? Is the incident over the Elk River, indeed, as important and potentially world-changing as the crash at Roswell over thirty years before it?

“I Think I’ve Just Seen A UFO!”

According to reports, around 11 pm on the evening of 25th November 1979, the phone lines at the sheriff’s office near Westport in the state of Washington began to ring. And what’s more the calls would keep coming. [1] The first came from a Westport resident who claimed to have witnessed a “low-flying object with a fiery glow” that had exploded over Elk River. Another would come from a witness in Aberdeen who was driving their vehicle near the town of Elma. They would report witnessing a bizarre “green and white flash” above them which came out of nowhere.

A map of where the sighting took place

A map of where the sighting took place

Yet another report would come from a resident in Hoquiam of a plane that “appeared to be on fire”. Another witness, who was watching television at home at the time of the incident, would tell The Daily World newspaper the following day that they:

…(first) thought it was a plane crashing. It had big windows but no flashing lights (and) was traveling from the northwest to the southwest and was kind of falling! It was bright like mercury lights, but it wasn’t making a sound…I thought to myself, I think I’ve just seen a UFO!

One might imagine that with such an abundance of reports from the public, especially of what appeared to be a potentially fatal plane crash, that all efforts would be made to locate the wreckage and, if possible, survivors. And while there were searches conducted by the Sheriff’s Office, it would appear, especially in retrospect, that another UFO cover-up was underway. Right under the collective noses of the local population and law enforcement.

Common Knowledge Contained Within The Immediate Population?

What is perhaps interesting is the fact that at the time of the incident in November 1979, the previously mentioned James Clarkson was a serving police officer with the Aberdeen Police Department. However, it would not be until 1986 when he joined MUFON as a field investigator that he even became aware of the alleged crash.

Newspaper clipping of the incident

Newspaper clipping of the incident

Given the gravity of the apparent situation, one would imagine that such a happening would have been common knowledge among most police officers in the entire state, not least those departments on the location’s doorstep. Unless, of course, and as speculative as it is, there was an effort to wrap up the incident and contain the overall public awareness of it.

There was certainly an awareness of the incident among the UFO community, as well as among the immediate population. As Clarkson would recall he was “hearing it over and over in one version or another”.

When Clarkson began researching this seemingly untapped case, he came across the stories in The Daily World. One headline, in particular, would leap out at him:

UFO Wreckage In Elk River?

That question in black and white print was enough to set Clarkson in motion towards attempting to reconstruct the timeline of events following the initial surge of phone calls from concerned residents.

An Incident To “Remain A Mystery Indefinitely!”

Following the incident, the local sheriff’s office staff, as well as the Civil Air Patrol would conduct extensive searches of the area. It is not known if a full sweeping of Elk River was conducted. However, no wreckage, at least to the public’s knowledge was recovered.

All local and state airports were contacted, as were military bases and installations. None had any of their aircraft unaccounted for. Furthermore, the Federal Aviation Authority would offer a similar response. If something had crashed that night in November 1979, it didn’t appear to be an American aircraft. At least not one that was registered.

A depiction of a UFO hovering over water

A depiction of a UFO hovering over water

Three days after the incident on 28th November, all searches were simply called off. What’s more, there were no further plans to investigate or search again for the wreckage. Rather than even being left as unexplained, it would appear the case was simply being abandoned.

In their last story concerning the incident, The Daily World would state that the incident would likely “remain a mystery indefinitely”.  Indeed today, four decades later, that is very much the case.

Did something crash near Westport that evening? Is the wreckage still in Elk River? Or was the craft, as we will examine shortly, secretly retrieved? And perhaps above all else, what was it and where did it come from? Is it proof of visitors from somewhere in the deep reaches of space? Or might the craft, whatever it was, be the result of top-secret, military technology?

Something Was Out Of Control And Burning

Clarkson would track down as many people as possible who claimed to have witnessed the events of 25th November 1979. He would conduct multiple interviews and uncover some intriguing collective perceptions of the local populace.

For example, almost all of them would report of seeing an aerial vehicle that was “out of control and possibly burning”. Universally, all the witnesses had the sense of “something crashing” and of the need to alert emergency services. Such a response is certainly not that of mistaken sighting of strange lights in the sky.

Something, seemingly ablaze, crashed out of the sky toward the ground. What that something might be, however, is another story. And while there are several towns and cities across the world who claim to have their “very own Roswell”, according to Clarkson at least, the Elk River crash is perhaps Grays Harbor County’s.

James Clarkson

James Clarkson

Aside from the multiple witnesses who saw the object come out of the sky seemingly ablaze, Clarkson’s research suggests there was a substantial military presence [2] in the area in the immediate aftermath.

For example, Clarkson would speak to a local logging contractor who arrived for work, as normal, the day after the incident. He was denied access to his logging area by “military personnel”. Furthermore, there were reports from some locals of “military cargo helicopters” in the skies over the region in the days following.

Perhaps even more intriguing when we consider the source of the claims are an off-duty police officer (at the time of the incident). He would claim to have witnessed several heavy-duty army trucks heading towards Westport in the days after the apparent crash.

A Discreet Military Presence

It would appear, then, unless there is a conspiracy of the local population all stating they saw something they didn’t, that they witnessed something unusual crash to the ground late on the evening of 25th November 1979, and a discreet military presence was noticed in the area in the immediate aftermath.

If this is the case, as Clarkson would state in the early-2000s:

…then, we have a military cover-up!

Whether the object was an extraterrestrial craft from another world, an experimental aircraft of a black budget project, or even a missile test that drifted drastically off course, it appears the United States’ military made an early decision to suppress the incident and then deny all knowledge. Or, as Clarkson says:

…get in there quick, clean it up, get out, and pretend you were never there!

What’s more, there has never been a denial of a military presence. Either from the military, law enforcement, or the local population.

A depiction of a UFO

A depiction of a UFO

A military spokesman, Ralph Paduano, however, did state in the 14th December 1979 edition of The Daily World. He would claim the military was “not guarding anything in the Elk River”. This statement, though, was issued with the caveat of “(at least) that I know about!”

As Clarkson states, this is perhaps an example of leaving out the truth. If we believe the claims, whatever did come down to the ground was retrieved by the military. And so was no longer in Elk River. Its whereabouts, though, remains unknown.

The John’s River Lodge Witness – The “Other” Search Party

One witness who Clarkson spoke with had a particularly intriguing account to give. According to them, they were driving near John’s River Lodge several nights after the incident. During the journey, they would notice several people looking upward. Intrigued, he would pull his car to the roadside.

As he did so, his gaze followed that of the onlookers who had captured his attention. Above was a large light with several “trailing lights” behind it. The witness would liken their aerial appearance to a “mother duck and her ducklings”.

A depiction of a UFO

A depiction of a UFO

Suddenly, the hovering, trailing lights shot off in different directions with electrifying speed. The larger “mothership” would then move off in the direction of the ocean eventually disappearing from sight. Was this some kind of cosmic search and retrieval mission? Clarkson, for example, refers to this sighting as the “other” search party. As bizarre as it sounds, several accounts similar to this one mention similar sightings after the fact.

It would certainly appear the incident is a credible account. And, it would appear, one that has been successfully covered over by the powers that be.

A Craft From Elsewhere Or A Military Black Budget Project?

Whether the Elk River Crash will ever be satisfactorily explained, or even officially acknowledged only time will tell.

If there was a military cover-up that evening and in the days that followed, what exactly were they hiding? Was there an intelligently guided craft in their possession as a consequence of the evening’s events? Was this the first time such a retrieval had happened?

If the reports are correct about the substantial military presence in the Westport area in late-November 1979, in the immediate aftermath of the incident, this suggests the military was not at all caught off-guard by the events. Almost as if they had indeed carried out numerous such missions, perhaps in the far and near past.

And, if the object was a top-secret military vehicle, given the descriptions of the breathtaking maneuvers of such crafts, just where did this technology come from in the first place? Might the claims of reverse-engineering of extraterrestrial technology have some truth to them?

Maybe one of the Freedom of Information Acts filed concerning the case will come to fruition. Or maybe some leaked information or even a whistleblower will come forward. All remain possibilities. The incident, though, perhaps deserves a larger space on the collective UFO backburner. It just might prove to be of quiet importance. If not for the UFO and alien question, for the black budget projects of the United States military.

The video below features James Clarkson speaking about UFOs in a little more detail.


1 An Unidentified Anniversary – Elk River UFO Crash?, Mike Marsh, The Daily World, November 26th, 2009
2 UFO expert visits Elma, The Vidette, December 8th 2016

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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  • Kyle Strode says:

    My buddy jesse dasher just told me a wild story about this his grandpa was a communications guy for the military and when the crash happened he was the one they called to be first on scene jesses dad dan dasher was having a sleep over with his friend tuffy miller and jesses grandpa had them jump in the truck with him to go check it out he said his dad said it looked like a plain crashed and there was a big crater the next night very early in the morning men in black suits showed up at his house asking questions leaving him in a state of anxiety and he wouldn’t tell his wife who they were or what they wanted the next morning he was supposed to go on a fishing trip with his wife but he ended up leaving without her and later that day they found his boat doing circles on the bar and he was missing it definitely seems he was killed for what he knew and the rumor around town is tuffy Miller’s parents were paid hush money and not talk about it to anyone and that is how he funded his landscaping business jesse also claimed that his dad took him to the sight when he was younger and there are 3-6 acres of land up elk river that has a big fence around it and DoD signs saying its under surveillance he claims you can see it from google earth

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