The Mariana UFO Film Incident

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
June 17, 2019
Last Updated
October 13, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
9 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Cover-Ups

The summer of 1950 in Great Falls, Montana would bring with it what many UFO researchers consider to be the first UFO footage intentionally committed to film. And like many other such encounters, filmed or otherwise, the incident is surrounded by controversy and conspiracy.

What’s more, the incident remains so to this day almost 70 years after the capturing of the footage. Perhaps not least because of allegations of “stolen footage” which would have all but proven not only the account but the realities of the UFO phenomena.

Still frame of the Mariana Film

Still frame of the Mariana Film

As we will examine, there are perhaps legitimate reasons to doubt some of the details as much as there are to believe them unreservedly. The footage, though, would appear to speak for itself. Especially as we have the luxury of looking at the sighting with the benefit and knowledge of the seven decades that have passed since in the back of our minds.

It is a sighting that remains very relevant, both inside and outside of the UFO community due to the fact that it has not been proven or dismissed to anywhere close to a satisfactory level. And while the footage itself, as mesmerizing as it is, is largely mundane in nature, it remains compelling viewing for most and essential viewing for UFO researchers and enthusiasts.

The sheer volume of unanswered questions and speculative theories, both regarding the sighting, and the circumstances in which it occurred keep the Mariana Incident relevant and intriguing.

Two Bright Silver Objects Over An Empty Montana Ball Park

The morning of 15th August 1950 would bring with it a life-changing event for the manager of the minor league baseball team representing Great Falls Electrics (and a “farm club” of the more well-known Brooklyn Dodgers), Nick Mariana.

On this particular morning, just before 11:30 am, he and his secretary, 19-year-old Virginia Raunig, were walking around Legion Field inspecting the facility in anticipation of their next game.

It was as they were carrying out this standard inspection that a bright flash suddenly captured Mariana’s attention. To his amazement, two shining, silver objects were speeding across the skies over Great Falls at breath-taking speed.

Hardly believing what was unfolding in front of his eyes, he would rush to his car to grab his 16mm camera. He immediately switched it on and captured 16 seconds of color video footage before the objects would move out of sight.

All the while, Raunig kept her eyes on the bizarre aerial scene, able to corroborate Mariana’s version of events. It is, however, unlikely that local residents wouldn’t have believed him such was his good standing in the community.

In fact, it was the wider community’s eagerness to hear more of Mariana’s account that ultimately led to the story falling into the hands of the local newspapers, specifically The Great Falls Tribune.

Mariana would later recall of the strange craft:

The discs appeared to be spinning like a top and were about 50 feet across and about 50 yards apart! [1]

And from there, the account, and the video footage that accompanied it would go nationwide. While only a matter of seconds long, the sighting would spark an official investigation. The short video below features the sighting only.

Journalist Puts Mariana On The US Air Force Radar!

Following the article by The Great Falls Tribune other newspapers and media platforms took an interest in the account. And Mariana’s film. And the baseball coach was more than happy to speak to individuals or whole groups at a time.

In fact, it was a journalist with the Tribune who would inform the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in nearby Ohio. Following the report, an interview with Mariana was arranged by Captain John Brynildsen at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Cascade County.

It was during this meeting, which was also attended by Raunig, that the witnesses divulged that they had also seen two military jets fly over the baseball field in the same direction as the two objects. This would seemingly provide Brynildsen with an opportunity to “explain” the sighting.

There were records of jets in the vicinity at roughly the same time. However, it is important to note that the witnesses didn’t see two objects that they mistook for jets. They witnessed two unknown objects and then two military jets shortly after.

Aerial view of a local baseball ground

The Mariana film was the work of a baseball coach

What is perhaps interesting are the comments from Edward Ruppelt, who would claim that, at the time, the Air Force had “no interest” in UFOs. Consequently, they simply took a quick look at Mariana’s film and then assumed the objects to be their own military jets as they were “unable to find anything identifiable of an unusual nature”.

The film itself is of particular interest. When Mariana first handed it over to Brynildsen, the Captain would claim to the media that the witness had supplied “eight feet of film”. However, in his official message to his base at Wright-Patterson, he would claim to have almost double the amount of film, stating clearly he was sending “15 feet” for analysis.

Thirty-Five Missing Frames Of Film That Clearly Showed “Rotating Discs!”

Is there a “missing” or mystery seven feet of film somewhere? Was it purely an error on the captain’s part? This would only serve to add another layer of mystery.

However, Mariana would certainly claim this was the case. He would state specifically shortly after the film was returned to him that 35 complete frames were missing. These frames, he claimed, demonstrated the rotating nature of the objects and clearly showed them to be discs. Not only that but so clear was this now missing footage that a “band” was also visible along the sides of the discs.

A still frame from the Mariana film

Were some of the frames of the Mariana film stolen?

What’s more, many of the local people in and around the Great Falls area who had seen the footage before it was volunteered to the Air Force would corroborate Mariana’s claims. For their part, the US Air Force would claim that only one frame was removed by them. And this was because of damage during the analysis. Given their alleged behavior only three years previously at Roswell, and how they would seemingly handle such cases in the future, there has to be considerable doubt on the Air Force’s official stance. And their part in the missing frames of film.

Was there a genuine disinterest on the behalf of the United States Air Force as far as UFO sightings were concerned? And did this disinterest extend to the government and the intelligence agencies? And why did a “journalist” take it upon themselves to contact the United States Air Force and so set in motion the apparent tampering with and removal of evidence?

Incidentally, the whereabouts of the missing frames remains unknown. We will come back to the subsequent investigations of the Mariana Film shortly. First, however, we will turn our attention to another incident that took place in nearby Dutton.

A Connection To The 1953 Montana UFO Crash?

On the morning of 13th October 1953, Cecil Tenny was driving home from the flower shop he owned in the Great Falls area of Montana. As he made his way along a road just past Dutton he witnessed a huge cigar-shaped object hovering near the mountainous terrain along the roadside. He would estimate it was no more than 200 feet from the ground.

What intrigued Tenny about the sighting even more than the surreal nature of it, was the previous day he had witnessed thick smoke rising into the air from a similar area, which he thought at the time was likely a forest fire. Now, however, confronted with this bizarre and otherworldly craft seemingly scanning the area below, he wondered if the smoke might have been the result of something a little more extraordinary.

A depiction of a UFO emerging from clouds over a lonely road

Might other UFO sightings in the 1950s be connected?

Tenny would pull over and watch the strange and otherworldly craft for just over five minutes before it suddenly disappeared at an acceleration he had not seen before. After gathering his thoughts Tenny would set off again but only until he came to the next place with a phone – a local bar – where he would make a report to Montana police. He would also speak openly to those already in the bar when he arrived.

Following the incident, he would continue on his journey home as planned. However, a little later in the evening, Tenny’s house phone would burst into life. When he answered, a voice on the line informed him they were calling from Malmstrom Air Force Base. What’s more, he was “asked” to drive to the base. Immediately.

An Interrogation-Like Interview

Upon arriving at the military facility, he was taken to a building that was completely separate from the rest of the complex. Tenny would notice that there were no windows and the high fencing made it appear more prison-like than anything else.

Once inside, he would face what was akin to an interrogation which would last around half an hour. Within minutes of the “interview” finishing, he was handed a typed copy and asked to sign the statement.

It was as he was being escorted from the facility that he witnessed the wreckage of what he presumed was the crashed UFO. He would later describe it as “disc-shaped” and around 50 feet in diameter. It appeared as though there had been an explosion on board as one side of the craft was quite obviously blackened from such a blast.

Even more bizarre for Tenny was the sight of two soldiers carrying large white sacks into the outbuilding as he was leaving. As he passed them, one of the soldiers – who was quite obviously struggling due to the weight of the sack’s contents – dropped to the floor. As he did so, Tenny could clearly see the shape of larger than normal humanoid body. Before he could take in any more, he was physically pushed out of the building.

More Evidence Of A “Nordic Alien” Presence?

Incidentally, the apparent UFO crash in Montana in October 1953 was investigated by Leonard Stringfield. The UFO investigator would, if we are to believe his sources, reveal some remarkable information about the apparent crash.

A depiction of a UFO in a cloudy sky

A depiction of a UFO in a cloudy sky

The two bodies witnessed by Tenny were indeed seemingly the two crew members. Both of which appeared to have died in the explosion or the impact. The description of the crew is very similar to an apparent race of aliens labeled the Nordics by researchers over the years. And if the accounts are correct, this alien race was seemingly visiting Earth regularly. Specifically in the years before and after the 1953 Montana crash.

According to Stringfield, or more specifically his inside source, the two humanoids were around 7 feet tall. Each also had long, strikingly yellow hair. Their skin was pale and their foreheads were seemingly higher and broader than a human’s. The eyes were slightly elongated while the nose, mouth, and lips were all noticeably smaller.

The bodies were first studied and “logged” at Malmstrom Air Force Base. Then, they would travel discreetly to a university in Chicago. They then traveled back to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The same base that would ultimately contact Mariana regarding his UFO sighting three years previously.

The Split Findings Of Various Investigations

Two years after Mariana’s sighting in 1952 Project Blue Book would open. The footage would once again be subject to analysis and investigation. And while the ultimate conclusion was “unidentified and unknown” it openly dismissed the notion that the objects were fighter jets.

Over a decade later in 1966, the footage would become part of the Condon Committee investigation. Dr. Roy Craig and Dr. David Saunders would study the footage, which would lead to a further dividing of opinions.

A still frame from the Mariana Film

A still frame from the Mariana Film

Dr. Craig, for example, would bluntly accuse Mariana of being a conman. As well as of manufacturing the footage. And the account himself, purely for publicity. Craig would point to an apparent discrepancy regarding the dating of the footage. Stating that the baseball team had no scheduled home-games at the time of the sighting. Essentially, Craig would use this potential discrepancy as a way of calling into question Mariana’s overall character and credibility.

However, on the other hand, what if the date was incorrect? Whether intentionally or not on Mariana’s part. Where does that leave the initial claim? That the objects were merely “military jets” which records show were in the area on the 15th August?

Dr. Saunders, on the other hand, was steadfastly convinced that the footage he viewed was most definitely authentic. Furthermore, it was proof, he claimed, of the reality of alien visitation. He would state:

…(It) was the one sighting of all time that did more than any other case to convince me that there is something to the UFO problem!

Needless to say, the Mariana case remained as unresolved and as divisive among UFO researchers and investigators as ever.

Discrepancy Rife For Speculation

Incidentally, further research does show that there was indeed no home game for the Electrics. At least not between 9th August and 18th August. And consequently, no reason for Mariana to check the ground. It was still likely, however, that the sighting did occur on this date. Not least due to the report of the military jets.

It would appear, then, given the apparent good name of Mariana as well as the multiple people who vouched for the missing frames of his film, that he was indeed a credible witness. And most likely, all things taken into consideration was very truthful regarding the sighting. As well as the footage and the missing frames.

That he was at the ground on the day he was would appear to be the point in question. Might he have been checking the grounds early? Standard procedure would appear to be to do such checks no earlier than the day before.

Might he have been there for some “other” reason? His secretary – the only person with him – would call him a “promoter”, a word that Dr. Craig would immediately pick up and which obviously influenced his final decision that Mariana was exactly that. Might, though, Mariana have been at the ground for other reasons? Ones both he and Raunig wished to keep out of the public arena?

Might these reasons have revolved around securing some kind of competitive advantage for the next game? This was certainly not unheard of in professional sports – especially before the huge money of the modern era. Or might they have been more personal to them?

An Authentic Account In Search Of Solid Proof?

Barring the recovery of, or a satisfactory explanation to the missing 35 frames of film – which we should remember, several members of the Great Falls community would claim to have seen for themselves – it is very likely that the authenticity of the Mariana Film will continue for years, if not decades to come.

What we know for certain is the skies over the United States, much like elsewhere in the world, were seemingly becoming increasingly full of aerial anomalies and strange lights. We should also consider that the “UFO craze” had not fully taken hold, culturally. Certainly not like it would by the midway point of the decade.

In 1950, “chatter” of flying saucers certainly was not uncommon. The subject of UFOs, however, was still a little way from the levels of mass popularity it would enjoy.

These last points certainly don’t improve Mariana’s credibility any more than they detract from it. However, on balance, and considering the plethora of reports that would come from the American public alone in the coming years, combined with the fact that no solid argument has been made to dismiss the footage, we should perhaps keep the Mariana Film very firmly in the undetermined but very likely authentic section of the UFO backburner.

You can check out the video below. It is a short compilation of the documentary “U.F.O.” from 1956. It features once more footage of the Mariana Film. However, it also features several minutes of discussion and analysis. A breakdown of what may be the first “clear” and intentionally captured footage of alien visitors from another world.


1 The Great Falls (Montana) UFO Color Film, Kevin D. Randle, NICAP

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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