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President’s Message:
Pardon My Side Trip into the Vast Unknown

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When I wrote a weekly column years ago for a newspaper in Fairbanks, Alaska, I indulged myself occasionally. After dutifully crafting four or five columns about local people and issues, I felt entitled–as a reward for my diligence–to go with something off the wall…you know, to see if readers were paying attention.

This explains why I am going to share a few UFO stories with you. I promise there is a tie-in to publishing. Be patient!

I confess to being interested in the search for extraterrestrial life. As of this writing, I had contributed 18,651 hours of personal computer processing time to the SETI data-analysis program at the University of California Berkeley. (Visit www.setiathome.berkeley.edu.) I am fascinated by the Drake Formula, named after the astronomer who devised a formula for estimating the number of technological civilizations in our galaxy. But I am puzzled by the Fermi Paradox, which basically asks, if life exists out there, why have we not seen any of it? Well, apparently not seen it.

My favorite UFO story is about the JAL 747 freighter with a crew of three that had a close encounter with something in November 1986 while flying French wine over the Pole from Paris to Tokyo. By the captain’s account, a claim verified by radar, the jumbo jet was stalked by an unknown second craft over the vast emptiness of northern Alaska an hour or so from Anchorage, a refueling stop.

Trying to shake its stalker, the 747 made a series of turns, each matched by the UFO. At other times, the second craft moved below, above, and at one point directly in front of the Boeing freighter, thae crew reported being illuminated by a beam of light. “The inside cockpit shined brightly and I felt warm in the face,” the captain reported later.

Alarmed, the JAL captain reported the situation to Anchorage air traffic control, and a United Air Lines jet was asked to divert from its flight path to take a look. It saw nothing. The mysterious craft was gone.

Pilots commonly see UFOs, but for selfish reasons they rarely go public with them. Such reports are bad for a pilot’s career, as in this case. Belatedly, the JAL pilot’s report was leaked to the news media, creating an international media feeding frenzy on the juicy elements of this story, which included the unexplained loss of U.S. Air Force radar tapes. Years later it was disclosed that the CIA had asked local military authorities to “misplace” the tapes.

A Publishing Partner Meets a Circle of Light

A more private incident was reported by B.G. Olson, a retired college professor, former military intelligence officer, and one of my partners in Epicenter Press Inc. B.G. had an unnerving encounter on a September night in the 1960s driving alone on a gravel and dirt road 125 miles to Fairbanks from Manley Hot Springs, where he and his wife had a second home. This part of interior Alaska was quiet and remote before construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline.

About halfway home, as B.G. slowed for a switchback, he became aware of something above him, moving at the same rate of speed. Suddenly a powerful beam appeared, creating a circle of light around the vehicle. The craft was strangely silent. For that reason, B.G. insists it was not a helicopter. When he accelerated, so did the craft overhead. When he slowed, it did, too.

This went on for several miles of hilly, winding road until all at once B.G., by then thoroughly rattled, stomped on the brakes, skidded to an abrupt stop in the middle of the road, and grabbed a loaded revolver from the glove box as he scrambled out of the truck.

In the instant that B.G. looked up, the craft streaked away silently, leaving for a second or two a pinpoint of light on the horizon.

Other Authors Have Stories to Tell Too

Former Alaska governor and bush pilot Jay Hammond, whose memoir we published, saw something odd off the Alaska coast that defied explanation. A trapper was frightened by something he saw in the sky along the southern foothills of the Brooks Range, north of the Arctic Circle. A broadcaster who once worked at a remote mountaintop radar site heard classified military radio chatter describing objects streaking across the sky much faster than any known aircraft could travel. A commercial fishing crew told of an enormous disc-shaped shadow that crossed overhead, for a time absorbing all light and turning a moonlit, starry night into absolute blackness far out in the Bering Sea.

A NASA scientist who investigated UFO reports for fun once told me that he figured about 90 percent of UFOs can be explained. Often, they turn out to be commercial and military aircraft, weather balloons, orbiting satellites, meteors and fireballs, freak lighting conditions, unusual weather patterns, static electricity in the atmosphere, you name it.

What does all this have to do with book publishing? Just this: I am about to publish notices in Alaska newspapers soliciting UFO stories for a book project. Knowing Alaskans, I suspect I will hear from a few practical jokers. How does one distinguish a UFO sighting from a tall tale? That will be the challenge.

I welcome your UFO stories and your comments and suggestions for PMA. Please contact me at gksturgis@earthlink.net.

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