Despite more “rational” explanations, as well as alleged debunkers suggesting the sighting was a hoax to attract visitors to an otherwise sleepy area of New Mexico, the apparent UFO landing witnessed by police officer, Lonnie Zamora remains one of the most credible encounters on record. And one that still holds much fascination with UFO researchers and investigators, even today over fifty years later.
There is certainly an abundance of information available on the case. Three separate agencies would investigate it, including the US Army and the FBI, as well as the US Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigators. In fact, such was, and still is, the mystery surrounding the incident, that one of the Blue Book investigators and previously skeptical of such reports, J Allen Hynek would completely alter his thinking on the issue.
To many UFO researchers, the Zamora incident is not only one of the most credible, but it could prove to be one of the most important. Both in terms of the details available at the scene itself. And in how the various groups and organizations would react in the aftermath of the encounter.
When we compare it with other similar cases, it might ultimately offer a clue into just what the agenda and the end goal of the UFO phenomena really is. As well as how important it is that we pay attention to such incidents and the clues and messages they contain.
High Speed Chase Turns Into An Otherworldly Encounter
At a little after 5:45 pm on the evening of 24th April 1964, police officer, Sergeant Lonnie Zamora was speeding down the highway that cut through the sandy terrain of Socorro, New Mexico, in pursuit of another vehicle traveling much faster than the speed limit.
Then, with the speeding car still a considerable distance in front of him, he heard “a roar and saw a flame” in the sky between half a mile and a mile away.
Wondering whether an aircraft had come to the ground, or even if a storage shack of dynamite might have exploded, Zamora would abandon his pursuit of the speeding vehicle and make his way to the sound of the explosion. As he did, he could see a “bluish-orange” flame descending, calmly to the ground.
He would further describe the flame as “funnel-like” but as he was driving at the time, his full attention was divided between the bizarre landing object and the oncoming road ever-rushing towards him. As he was heading towards the scene, he realized that the noise was still audible. That it was “a roar” as opposed to a blast.
This noise would last around ten more seconds and would change from a high pitch to low.
As the object came lower, Zamora approached a steep hill which his vehicle struggled to negotiate. So much so, in fact, that it took the officer three attempts to overcome the climb. By this time, the speeding vehicle was long gone in the distance. The noise had also now stopped. He would continue on at an urgent but leisurely pace for several more seconds.
Then, he saw a shiny object to the side of the road around 200 yards ahead of him.
“They Were Small Adults Or Large Kids!”
At first, Zamora believed the object in front was an overturned car. He could see “two people” stood next to it as if examining the vehicle and their surroundings. One of the people appeared to notice his approaching vehicle. Each of them had on white coveralls. He didn’t notice anything strange at the time other than their size.
He would state later, “they were (either) small adults or large kids”. As he continued to approach, a little slower now, he began to get the feeling the car wasn’t an overturned car at all. He would later describe it as an “O” shape or “like an egg” and of a whitish aluminum color.
He further noticed a strange marking or insignia on the side of the craft. We will come to this seemingly strange logo of sorts later. It would appear it is of certain importance.
He would radio a quick report of his location and situation to the dispatch desk. Then, he brought the police car to a stop and began to exit the vehicle. Almost as soon as he had left the car, the roar returned and at the same time a blue flame shot out of the underside of the craft.
He at first feared an explosion and he flung himself to the ground. He would make his way to the back of his patrol car, all the while keeping the scene in front of him in sight.
The roar began to grow louder and louder, rising in frequency at the same time. Then, the object began to rise into the air directly upwards. As it began to ascend, he could once again see the blue flame with the orange tinge to it on the underside of the craft.
As the craft continued to rise, Zamora could clearly see it was “oval in shape”. What’s more, he could still clearly see red colored insignia or symbol on the side of the craft. The exterior had the look of something remarkable smooth and there was no visible doors or windows.
Zamora began to back away slightly, keeping the car between himself and the rising craft. Then, at around an altitude of twenty feet, the craft stopped its upwards progression and hovered for several seconds.
Panic began to rise in Zamora. Fearing another roar of sound, or even flames, he temporarily covered his face with his arms for several seconds. When he looked again, the craft was again moving in a straight line, away from him. This time, much faster. He would later state that:
(The object was) possibly 10 to 15 feet from the ground. And it cleared the dynamite shack by about three feet… (It was) traveling very fast. It seemed to rise up and take off immediately across country!
Coming back to his senses, Zamora rushed back to the car and radioed a message to the operator at the police desk, Nep Lopez. He told him to “look out of the window” to see if could “see an object” overhead. He kept the rapidly decreasing craft in sight as it moved over the Six Mile Canyon Mountain region.
Almost as soon as the craft was no longer in view, another police officer who had heard Zamora’s radio calls, Sergeant Sam Chavez arrived at the location. He would comment how his colleague looked as “white as a plate”. However, by the time he examined the area where Zamora claimed the strange object was, he was intrigued with the strange markings, to say the least.
The Press! The UFO Organizations! And The US Military!
Both Zamora and Chavez would go to investigate the area that was now “burning brush”. Smoke was rising from the apparent burning area. However, there were no flames, nor any materials that appeared to be on fire.
Chavez also spotted what appeared to be eight distinct imprints. Four of the indentions were larger and rectangular, while the remaining four were smaller and round in shape. Zamora later claimed he had noticed any legs at the time the object was on the ground.
The incident would take only a matter of hours to reach the press. It would take only days for the previously sleepy town of Socorro to become the center of the attention for the UFO world. UFO researchers and investigators would descend on the area. As would various reporters from such news agencies as United Press International and Associated Press.
Furthermore, groups such as APRO (Aerial Phenomena Research Organization) and NICAP (National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena) would also send teams to the area. Further still, the US Air Force would send representatives of their Project Blue Book to perform an “official” investigation.
One of the first at the location was NICAP investigator, Ray Stanford. Perhaps because of this, Stanford would appear to have spoken to several corroborating witnesses before the story truly exploded.
He would discover a potential witness who happened to be driving through the state at the time of the sighting (who we will come to shortly), as well as unearthing a report made to a television station in Albuquerque, which perhaps began to help for a timeline of sorts.
At 5:30 pm, the Albuquerque resident rang to state that an “oval object”, flying a very low altitude and relative slowly for its size, was heading towards the town of Socorro.
More Witnesses, And A Second Landing!
There were also several witnesses who claimed to clearly remember hearing a “loud roar” at around the same time that Zamora claimed. Several of them would even state to hearing the second roar that Zamora claimed occurred as he left his car.
Stanford would also learn from the Socorro police records that three separate members of the public had made reports to the dispatch desk of a bright glowing object rising in the sky. These reports would have been received before the incident had received any publicity.
Perhaps one of the most interesting was a report from the La Madera region of New Mexico. And what’s more, the FBI would see fit to investigate. On the same day as the Zamora incident a UFO was reported in the region, with military aircraft ruled out, the object remained a mystery.
Then, two days later on the 26th April at just after 1 am, a local resident would go out to see what was disturbing his horses when he witnessed something “shaped like a butane tank” landing on the ground nearby.
When it eventually took off again, the witness recalled seeing a “blue-white” flame on the underside of the craft. He would also discover for large indentions on the ground, along with several smaller, rounder ones. Furthermore, a burned circular patch of ground clearly marked the landing site for some time afterward.
You can view a copy of that report below.
Obvious That Something Was There!
It was obvious to all officers at the scene that the indentions were freshly made and not a preexisting mark. Furthermore, they were made as though an object of significant weight had landed in the area at an angle.
Although Zamora was the only police officer to witness the actual craft itself, several others – including Chavez – could more than testify to the authenticity of the situation. As well as, in Chavez’ case, to Zamora himself, who would claim that his fellow officer was in “a state of shock”.
All would claim how the ground, in places, was still hot and smoldering when they arrived. Even the FBI report would note how there were “four irregularly shaped smoldering areas” at the location Zamora claimed the incident took place.
Chavez would also perform an immediate and thorough search of the area. He could find no tire tracks, aside from the ones left by Zamora’s vehicle. Nor were there any other tracks leading to the landing site.
Before we move on to look at the official military investigation, let’s go back to one of the “out-of-town tourists” who were driving in the area that Stanford identified upon arriving in the area.
The Mystery Tourists – “The Aircraft Fly Low Around Here!”
The owner of Whitting Brothers Service Station near to the location of the apparent landing, Opel Grinder, would go on the record as part of the US Air Force investigation. While he didn’t witness the incident himself, he did know of a pair of gentlemen who were passing through the state who did.
He would claim that the vehicle had pulled up just after the loud boom. The gentleman who came to pay for their goods would quip to Grinder of how low the aircraft “fly around here”. At the time Grinder uninterestingly replied that a lot of helicopters regularly flew in the area. The gentleman would state back that “it was a funny looking helicopter – if that’s what it was”.
Furthermore, it would appear that the mystery vehicle had passed Zamora’s police car, even commentating to Grinder about it.
Follow-up investigation would eventually reveal the mystery men to be Larry Kratzner, who had spoken to Grinder, and his friend, Paul Kies. Both were from Dubuque, Iowa, which is where they were returning to at the time.
UFO researcher, Ralph DeGraw would conduct interviews with the two men in 1978. And while he noticed some discrepancies compared to the account of Zamora, and even with each other’s statements – after all, it was fourteen years previously and an event they were heading away from – there were also some intriguing close matching offerings.
Kratzner, for example, would state:
(I saw) a cloud of black smoke coming from the ground ahead of them and to the right…(I could see) a round saucer or egg-shaped object ascending vertically from the black smoke!
He would claim also that he could see several “windows” in the side of the object. Perhaps most interestingly, though, was the “red Z” marked on the side facing him.
The Military Investigation (And Cover-Up?) Begins
The United States military first officially arrived to interview Zamora on the 25th April when Army Captain Richard T. Holder, who was at the time the most senior officer available at the nearby White Sands base, arrived along with Arthur Byrnes of the FBI.
During the course of the interview, Zamora would state his belief that he had witnessed a secret experimental craft. Holder, however, would quickly dismiss this notion. In fact, he would seemingly go out of his way to state to the press the military had “no object that would compare to the object described” by Zamora.
Almost immediately following the interview, in the dark and using flashlights, no less, Holder and Byrnes would make their way to the alleged landing location. They would quickly cordon the area off while taking samples and examining the blackened areas of the brush.
While there is no proof, in his 1968 book Fight for UFO Science, researcher, James E. McDonald, would claim that a sample of “fused sand” was discreetly removed by the military. He would claim that a contact with the Las Vegas Public Health Service (some sources name her as Mary Mayes) who works as a radiological chemist, was also involved at the Socorro site that evening.
During her work, on behalf of the US military she discovered the solid glass-like area “right under the landing site”. Most of the samples she would take would prove to be sap. However, there were several unidentified and unknown organic materials.
Ultimately, he writes:
Shortly after she finished her work, Air Force personnel came and took all her notes and materials and told her she wasn’t to talk about it anymore!
They also, removed any remaining evidence of the heat-induced sand-glass. Interestingly or not, these analysis reports remain classified.
Allen Hynek – “The Air Force Doesn’t Know What Science Is!”
The main investigator of Project Blue Book – whether purposely or not on the part of the Pentagon – would not arrive in Socorro until four days after the incident on the 28th April. He would quickly realize there was an apparent conflict of interests between discovering the truth of the affair, and the Air Force’s angle of investigation.
Zamora and Chavez, according to Hynek “were very anti-Air Force”. This largely due to their apparent blunt accusations that the whole incident was a hoax. In fact, so angry was Zamora at this suggestion, he initially wouldn’t speak to Hynek.
It was around this stage that Hynek began to not only suspect that there might be something to the UFO phenomenon after all, but that the military and, ultimately, the Pentagon and the United States government, despite their public rhetoric, were not interested in finding out the truth. And even less interested in sharing it with the general public.
Perhaps most damning of all, and certainly an indication of Hynek’s feelings towards the Air Force’s attitude to facts and evidence, he would write in his notes that “the Air Force doesn’t know what science is”. Of the alleged landing in Socorro, Hynek would state:
I think this case may be the Rosetta Stone (of UFO cases) …There’s never been a strong case with so unimpeachable a witness!
The military, which perhaps indicates how sensitive they believed the incident to be, would attempt to offer that what Zamora had seen was merely an experimental government craft. However, with clear descriptions in the public domain, there was no (known) craft available. And besides, Holder had already stated as much publicly.
Again, in the words of Hynek, the Air Force were “in a bit of a spot” over the apparent UFO landing at Socorro.
“They Don’t Want Me To Say Anything About The Markings!”
We mentioned earlier that we would return to the claims of an insignia, logo, or symbol on the side of the craft. We know that Zamora quickly sketched this as the craft rose into the air.
Shortly after the encounter, Zamora would give numerous details to the press and media who had descended upon the area. One of these would take place on the following day on the 25th April to KSRC Radio in Socorro. In it he would state to Walter Shrode:
No sir I couldn’t tell you that (because) they don’t want me to say anything about the markings!
To this, Shrode would immediately state that:
If we run into an area that they don’t want you to talk about then you just say so!
Whereas there very well may be security reasons for such an order, it is a strange one, nonetheless. And furthermore, talk of such an insignia must have already been swirling in the background of the media rush for Shrode to question Zamora on it in the first place.
In fact, Zamora himself had mentioned them the previous day. And produced a sketch of them, to boot. He described it as:
…a crescent with a vertical arrow pointed upward inside the crescent and a horizontal bar beneath that!
Shrode would also clearly state during the 12-minute that many residents of Socorro were convinced that something had landed that day. And while Zamora would stop short of saying the object was “something from outer space” he was clear it was “something he had not seen before”.
You can see a copy of Zamora’s sketch of the mystery insignia below.
The Further Discreet Revelations Of Allen Hynek
Whether it is of consequence or not, the aforementioned Ray Stanford would speak with Louis Reidel, who was the publisher of the El Defensor Chieftain newspaper. Reidel would inform him of a strange set of tracks that were almost “hoof-like”.
Furthermore, they appeared to follow a pattern of walking. And further still, they appeared on the side of the craft that Zamora claimed to have witnessed the two white-clothed figures standing. Reidel, fully aware of how outlandish this statement was, would decide to leave it out of his newspaper’s report of the incident.
What is perhaps interesting, though, is that one of the main Project Blue Book investigators, Allen Hyneck, during an interview with Walter Shrode on KSRC Radio on 29th July 1964 – around three months after the incident – would elude to the tracks also.
He would assure the listeners that he appeared as an “independent investigator” and so would comment openly about the case. After stating his belief that Zamora had “a most interesting and significant experience” he would matter-of-factly state:
“I am particularly interested in the tracks that were left and the analysis of the samples of the materials of those tracks!”
Hynek would also go on to confirm the presence of the mysterious marking on the side of the craft. He would state that upon looking at the sketches Zamora produced of it, the insignia reminded them of a cattle-brand symbol.
Persistent Attempts To Write Off The Case As A Hoax!
Whether through legitimate debate or through other darker influential means, the accusations that the encounter was nothing more than a hoax would continue to surface. However, each accusation has either been refuted or deemed drastically unlikely by those most likely to know.
For example, respected Harvard astronomer, Donald Menzel would propose that Zamora himself was a victim of a hoax. He would claim that several high school students purposely wanted to trick Zamora, and so set up a “complex prank”.
Incidentally, when Hynek would suggest to many of the locals he spoke with, it was an idea that was universally dismissed. In fact, to most who knew Zamora and the general youth of Socorro at the time, the idea was preposterous.
Renowned UFO skeptic, Philip Klass would perhaps show his preconceived bias when he not once, but twice attempted to “debunk” Zamora.
Initially, he would state that Zamora had witnessed “ball lightning”. However, this itself was proven to be impossible in this instance. However, instead of looking at the sighting with a more open mind, Klass simply intensified his attack on the main witness.
He would state that, along with the mayor of Socorro at the time, Holm Bursum Jr., Zamora had invented the entire episode so as put Socorro on the map and to “attract tourism” to the area. He would even claim that Bursum was the owner of the land where the encounter took place. This was later proven to be entirely false.
The pair would state Klass’ claims to be “ridiculous”. What’s more, several other self-confessed skeptics, while still having their own explanations, would do likewise. Perhaps the final nail in the Klass hoax claims was the fact that a tourist attraction at the site never went ahead as Klass claimed it would.
Claims Of “Strong Winds” Don’t Hold Water!
There were further attempts to pass the incident off by some as a weather or hot air balloon that had become a victim of the wind. However, this certainly doesn’t explain the loud roars heard by Zamora and several residents of Socorro. Nor does it explain the flames that Zamora saw. Or the smoke that the “mystery tourists” would report.
Zamora had spoken of seeing what he thought was dust flying about near the object. He wasn’t sure if this was the wind or whether the dust was a consequence of the landing. Indeed, Zamora himself would recall that the winds were blowing particularly hard that evening.
However, research since the claims that wind might have been responsible for dragging a balloon has shown a key detail.
All reports would state that the object was moving into the west-southwest direction. However, this would mean the object would have been moving into the oncoming wind. Obviously, this would completely dismantle the notion that a light moving craft was simply at the mercy of the wind.
Furthermore, the object would, according to Zamora, rise straight upwards. And then, furthermore, would hover for several seconds in the air. Not movements at all consistent with an object that was relying on the strength of the wind for direction and, indeed power.
So, with all of these attempts to prove the case to be anything but a mysterious nuts-and-bolts craft we have to ask ourselves, why? What was so special about this case, at this time, that would evoke such a response? And furthermore, when the actions of the Air Force and their apparent transparent UFO investigative operation, Project Blue Book, would come to light, these attempts would look suspicious in the extreme.
A Tale Of Two Reports!
The Air Force, it would eventually come to light, would prepare two reports regarding the events in Socorro on 24th April 1964. The first, for public consumption, would suggest that the report highlighted obvious errors throughout the investigation. All of which, incidentally, were true. How discreetly purposeful those errors might have been, at least at a higher level of the Air Force is perhaps open to debate.
The report would state how there were several witnesses who were simply not spoken to. While inadequate documentation and photographs of the landing site was another obvious error. Ultimately, the Air Force could draw “no conclusion” from the report. Furthermore, the investigation would remain open.
However, a second report, prepared by Major Hector Quintanilla, the director of Project Blue Book, and held back from the public arena until well into the 2000s, would go to the CIA. And, as you might imagine, the language, content, tone, and even the facts, were at odds with the Air Force report given to the general populace.
For example, they would state that there was “no doubt” that Zamora witnessed something that evening. And furthermore, unlike what the public would hear, “there was no question” regarding his reliability as a witness. They would state:
He is puzzled by what he saw. And frankly, so are we!
This secretive report would go on to state that the incident in Socorro was the “best-documented case on record”. And what’s more, despite their best efforts, they had no idea what the vehicle was, or what exactly scare Zamora so much about the encounter.
Connections To The Gary Wilcox “Fertilizer Case”?
Recently we examined the encounter of Gary Wilcox and ‘The Fertilizer Case’ that took place on the same day as the Zamora incident but on the other side of the country in Newark Valley, New York. What’s more, the details offered by Wilcox, both of the craft and the occupants are almost identical.
Although he didn’t recall an insignia, the description of the craft was the same oval shape as that witnessed by Zamora. As were the descriptions and activities of the two occupants, who on this occasion would obtain fertilizer from the witness.
Many people were skeptical of the Wilcox incident. However, he would turn down several large sums of money to tell his story. Certainly not the aspirations of a hoaxer. And furthermore, he would report his encounter almost immediately after it occurred.
While it perhaps can’t be proven that he didn’t know of the Zamora incident, it is highly unlikely that he did. Or that he planned to emulate it in his description. For example, would he not include the insignia if his goal was to match the craft Zamora described?
One further interesting detail that Wilcox described was how a circular patch of land remained behind following the departure of the UFO from his farm. This circular patch would test higher than normal for radiation. And what’s more, nothing would grow there for years after.
These details can be found in numerous landing cases, even down to the apparent collecting of organic samples. If we accept there is likely a connection between the Wilcox case and the Zamora incident, then how many other landing cases might also share connections? And what is the purpose of these landings? For the most part, they would at least appear to be non-confrontational.
A West Coast Wave In April 1964?
While the Fertilizer case shares obvious and direct links to the Zamora incident, not least they occurred within hours of each other, there were several other noticeable sightings in the western states of the United States in the weeks leading up to and after the apparent landing in Socorro.
For example, shortly before noon on the 10th April in Merced, California NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) would pick up “between 6 and 12” anomalous objects overhead. Radar would confirm that a dozen objects were indeed airborne over Merced at altitudes between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. F-106 jets were scrambles from Castle Air Force Base. However, no successful intercepts were achieved.
A week later, this time at just after 7:20 am at Fallon Air Force Base in Nevada, their radar would pick up two strange objects, seemingly flying in stacked formation. They remained visible for just over an hour before disappearing.
Only two days following the Zamora in Las Vegas, Nevada witnessed around twelve bright, sliver objects moving through the sky in a southern direction. However, after thirty seconds or so, the objects changed course in unison and began to move towards the north.
At noon on the 28th April, back in New Mexico, in Albuquerque, 10-year-old, Sharon Stull and 8-year-old Robin Stull witnessed an “egg-shaped object” hovering near their school, Lowell Elementary. Bizarrely, while Robin ran away, Sharon remained and witnessed the object “bounce up and down” in the sky several times before leaving.
She would later receive medical attention for “infra-red” burns to her face. The physician who treated her would claim that he believed Sharon’s story to be authentic. And what’s more, he believed her burns to be a result of the UFO.
“Why In The World Were They So Interested?”
It would appear that something of significance occurred on the 24th April 1964. Whether that significance was merely that Zamora’s encounter attracted such widespread and unwanted attention is perhaps open to debate.
Was there some kind of organic reconnaissance mission taking place throughout the United States in the opening months of 1964? And if so, by who, and for what purpose? And just what did the military and the Pentagon know of this speculative alien operation? Was their interest an indirect one? Or might they have had more active involvement with these mystery visitors?
It would certainly appear that some very high-ranking, and perhaps shadowy figures in the United States government placed the incident in Socorro at the top of their immediate priority list.
Even the US Army representative, Captain Holder, who remember was a young man at the time and only sent there as other higher-ranking officers were simply away from the White Sands base, appears to have known little as to what the situation was.
Following his investigation, for example, he was shocked and nervous of having to give his report to an extremely high-ranking Colonel at the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the people who advise the President of the United States. And what’s more, rather than prepare the report in writing, he had to give it immediately over a secured phone line.
Perhaps the question Holder would ask himself often over the years is one we should all ask. Considering their high-ranking position, and considering the official government stance that UFOs were the product of overactive imaginations, “why in the world were they so interested?”
Check out the video below. It looks at the Zamora incident in a little further.
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