Leslie Kean and Stan Gordon surveying the Kecksburg area (Image from Jerry Pippin's website)

Science Fiction versus Science fact

ŠTim Printy July 2006

Back into the woods

By 2003, Stan Gordon and others managed to get some people at the Sci-Fi channel interested in this UFO case. The Sci-Fi channel had already produced a program regarding Roswell, where they tried to employ some science at the Brazel debris field. Despite some spinning of the results, it turned out that nothing of importance was found there that could not be explained. Now the Sci-Fi channel turned their attention to "The Roswell of the east" because it was a more recent case. It might be possible to find some real evidence if they looked hard enough.

Most of the show revolved around telling the story from the new Kecksburg legend point of view. When local witnesses were shown stating that nothing had happened, the Sci-Fi channel tried to minimize their impact. Instead the more glamorous stories were told. This included eyewitnesses demonstrating how guns were pointed at them by soldiers. Probably the most interesting part of the program was where some scientists examined the woods where the UFO supposedly plowed into the ground and destroyed trees.

According to Leslie Kean these scientists came up with the "smoking gun" for Kecksburg:

Perhaps the most important breakthrough since I became involved in the case took place back in the Kecksburg woods, at the crash site that Romansky and Bulebush had independently shown to Stan Gordon years earlier. In the spring of 2003, the Sci Fi Channel brought geomorphologist and geoarcheologist J. Steven Kite and Professor of Forestry Ray R. Hicks, both of West Virginia University, to the site. Kite conducted an investigation with two archeologists from the Department of Geology and Geography to search for "physical evidence of landscape disturbance or artifacts that might be associated with the 1965 event," supplemented by a magnetometer and radiation survey.

Kite did not find any relevant surface disturbance or artifacts associated with the incident and could offer no confirmation that anything exceptional occurred at the site in 1965. "The evidence was either so meager as to be easily overlooked, or was subsequently obliterated or obscured by natural or artificial processes," he stated. He noted that the methods of his team "would have been sufficient to discern any digging, bulldozing, or burial done to cover-up. the evidence of the 1965 event. In fact, a cover-up would be easier for trained geomorphologists to identify than the evidence of a low-energy impact event." Gordon and others have noted that since the object landed in a stream bed with water running through it intermittently, erosion would make detection of soil disturbance extremely difficult after all these years. In any case, Kite pointed out that no past event can be ruled out based on negative evidence.

However, Kite went on to make another important observation based on his study. "The obvious lack of widespread destruction from the 1965 impact allows one possible explanation to be eliminated as a cause of the December 1965 observations: high-velocity impact by a large, intact satellite or meteorite. At least one account related an object 'about the size of a Volkswagon' being hauled away from the site during the night after the event. If such an object, especially a dense meteorite, impacted the earth at high velocity, the impact would have created havoc for the surrounding forest vegetation and left a pronounced impact crater." He notes that the vegetation and landscape he studied "record neither such a high-velocity impact nor the major reclamation effort that would be required to cover up the evidence of such an event." (Kean 30)

It is interesting how Kean spins Kite's findings. Kite indicates there is no evidence for an impact and there was no evidence for covering up a gouge in the ground. This implies that nothing came to earth at all. However, Kean uses saucer logic to state that this eliminates the Kosmos-96 and meteorite explanations but does not eliminate the crashed UFO scenario. This is odd since the primary witnesses of Bulebush and Romansky state that the UFO was buried into the ground due to the force of impact! In order to explain this she quotes only one expert to indicate that possibly a small stream (the exact size is unknown but from the program video it seemed very small) had hidden the evidence. This expert is, of course, Stan Gordon, who has no training or expertise in this area. The real expert, Kite, seemed to have missed this possibility or was never asked if this could explain his findings. By using Gordon as an expert she can explain away the lack of a gouge and move onto her centerpiece of evidence for a crashed UFO.

Kean's bombshell is what the Sci-Fi channel had trumpeted as the key evidence of a UFO crash:

Ray Hicks, on the other hand, made a significant discovery through his study of the trees, providing solid physical evidence that something came down. With the help of witness John Hayes, who lived next to the location in 1965 and observed tree damage at the time, Hicks was able to find the damaged trees which matched photographs of large broken branches taken by Gordon at the same location in the mid-1980s. The falling object is believed to have made this damage.

"I utilized the photographs as a primary source of information and based on the tree species, as recognized from the photos and the crown architecture, I was able to find the exact trees pictured in one photograph," Hicks explained in a written statement. He presented his findings following the airing of a November 2003 Sci Fi Channel documentary making the new discoveries public for the first time. He writes:

The trees were approximately 70 years of age, which would make them approximately 40 years old in 1965. The growth pattern was determined for the trees by observing the width of annual rings. One of the trees in the photo was a black cherry which had it's top broken out (presumably after being struck by the object). Unfortunately this tree was now hollow from decay that was probably a result of the wound. This made it impossible to look at the growth rings of this tree. But an adjacent undamaged black walnut tree, also pictured in the photo, did display a slight increase in growth for a few years following 1965. This would be consistent with the fact that the adjacent black cherry tree was broken in 1965, since it would provide additional growing space for the undamaged walnut tree.

Hicks attempted to reconstruct the most likely trajectory path of the object using plastic flagging. He states:

One of the trees (a white ash) along this path displayed a forked and crooked stem at a height that would be consistent with the assumed trajectory. We obtained an increment core from the tree and again looked at the growth pattern of the rings. There was a dramatic reduction in growth of this tree that appeared to begin in 1967 or 1968 and lasted for about 20 years. If I missed one or two rings in the count, it would put the year of reduced growth at 1966. This would be consistent with this tree being damaged in 1965. An adjacent ash of similar age and size, but outside the assumed trajectory was cored and it did not display the dramatic growth reduction of the ash that was in the path. This would suggest that the reason for the dramatic growth reduction of the tree in the path was not due to a climatic event, such as drought, but was probably due to some specific injury to the tree.

Standing in the woods at the time, and speaking to the producers of the documentary, Steven Kite spontaneously commented on the significance of his colleague's discovery. "The damage that Ray [Hicks] identified formed a pattern. It formed a clear trajectory. It is a reasonable trajectory from some of the other observations that were made. And the real nice thing about it, it has a date to it: 1965. And since there is obvious, visible damage, that is a smoking gun so to speak, as to what caused the decrease in growth of that individual tree."

The Air Force stance that nothing came down is now even more untenable. Trees do not tell tall tales or engage in group hallucinations. The saying has it that we often can.t see the forest for the trees, but in this case, its the trees that show us the true nature of the forest. (Kean 30-31)

At first glance, this evidence does look impressive but it seems incomplete. How many trees were actually tested and what were the results? Were these results consistent with this trajectory? We are left grasping at straws since whatever study was done has been kept secret from the public. Instead, we have snippets of information from Kean that support her conclusions. Additionally, what is the comment about Hicks being off by one or two rings? This tree ring analysis is being presented as something of an exact science but now it appears that the some of the testing indicated something in 1967 or 1968! Of course, the Sci-Fi channel now presents it's own cover-up. None of these reports have been publicly released for review!

What is most interesting is how the same Ray Hicks felt about the results when he was interviewed by AP reporter Joe Mandak:

Forestry professor Ray Hicks counted tree rings and determined that trees in the area were damaged in 1965. Hicks, however, said the trees were likely damaged by ice, and then snapped off by the wind. He says his findings don't support Kean's claim that "something physically landed" at the site. (Mandak)

I am not sure why there are conflicting reports from Hicks. Perhaps Hicks initially concluded that a crash could have caused the damage and later determined that the more likely possibility was that weather was the cause. In science, one sample is not enough to draw a conclusion and one needs multiple tests and analysis by other individuals to confirm the findings. Kean and the Sci-Fi channel seemed to have "cherry-picked" the right analysis and comment that supported their case. Since they failed to present all the tests that were conducted in such a way that others could examine the work, then it really wasn't science at all.


As part of the Sci-Fi channels continuing investigation, Leslie Kean also had several space experts analyze the Kosmos-96 data and determine if it was possible that this could have landed in Kecksburg. Of course, it was already known by this point that Kosmos-96 was not a source by most interested in the case and even James Oberg had his doubts. Because of this and the tree data previously discussed, Kean now declares, "These two developments demolish the two preferred explanations used by the skeptics that the object was either a meteor (the Air Force explanation) or a Russian satellite." (Kean 3). Kean seems to have a problem differentiating between a meteor and a meteorite. Additionally, Kean's statement about the meteor explanation is based on what she believes the tree data indicates. Apparently, she did not really follow up with Hicks after he performed further analysis. As shown in his discussion with Joe Mandak, Hicks now seems to have the opinion that the trees were probably damaged by weather. Therefore, she has not eliminated the likely explanation of the event being caused by a meteor that did not land in Kecksburg.

Additionally, FOIA requests for NASA documents regarding Kecksburg were submitted. NASA released what they had and suggested that any records regarding Kecksburg would have been in their Fragology files. These are records of material that had been examined after reentering the earth's atmosphere. Unfortunately, the boxes of these records had been missing since 1987 but there was a summary sheet of what was included in the boxes. The summary sheet of these records did not even list Kecksburg but it may or may not be complete since there are numbers missing. UFOlogists suggest that the records aren't listed since the classification would have been higher than Confidential. Of course, NASA could easily have stated they had no records on Kecksburg because they did not . Since they were open in explaining what they had lost, UFOlogists cry conspiracy.

To further complicate matters, a NASA spokesman, Dave Steitz, was quoted as saying the following regarding the request:

As a rule, we don't track UFOs. What we could do, and what we apparently did as experts in spacecraft in the 1960s, was to take a look at whatever it was and give our expert opinion," Steitz said. "We did that, we boxed (the case) up and that was the end of it. Unfortunately, the documents supporting those findings were misplaced. (Mandak)

UFOlogists have leaped onto this statement as an admission that NASA did retrieve something that evening. The truth is that Steitz suggested this was possible since the discussion was about the Fragology files that were missing. Steitz was not present in 1965 and was not involved in the Fragology effort. It was not an open admission that NASA did recover debris that night. It only suggested that IF they had done such an operation, then they would have and it would have been in the Fragology files. There is no evidence that suggests that they did.

Another possible reason for the confusion on this may have to do with the James Easton inquiries back in 1998 to Dr. David Williams of the National Space science data center. Easton managed to get Dr. Williams to update the record on Kosmos-96 and indicate that it could not be ruled out as the source of the fireball that evening. Couple this with James Oberg's writings on the matter and it is easy to understand why a public affairs official might get the impression that a Russian satellite may have crashed at Kecksburg that evening.

Despite the lack of any real records regarding Kecksburg, the Sci-Fi Channel's organization continued to press NASA and the US government for document regarding the case. To date, they have been unsuccessful in their efforts and continuously cry cover-up to give the case credibility.

Because of the Sci-Fi channel's expose', more UFOlogists seemed willing to give credence to the new Kecksburg legend. However, in order to do this, it was important to destroy the key evidence presented by skeptics that the events had been precipitated by nothing more than a bright fireball over Lake Erie. It would be only a matter of time before some of UFOlogy's "finest" decided they could turn science upside down to support their beliefs.

They blinded us...with SCIENCE!

One of UFOlogy's leading crashed UFO conspiracy proponents, David Rudiak, led the charge on trying to make astronomers look inept so as to convince everyone that the fireball actually did head towards Kecksburg that evening and not towards Canada. David Rudiak, has gone to great lengths to try and dispute the analysis of 1966 concerning the photographs and eyewitness reports by Chamberlain and Krause. Rudiak revealed his motivations back in 2005:

Despite the natterings of the Kecksburg skeptibunkers who cite the Chamberlain/Krause paper as gospel, the true direction of the fireball in the Detroit area is still very much an open question. That's why I consider eyewitness testimony to the fireball critical. Just the fact that numerous people in western Pennsylvania reported a sonic boom is a good indication that the fireball event continued on into western Pennsylvania, instead of ending in a thud near Detroit. (In fact, it was assumed as much in most of the newspaper articles at the time, in part citing the opinions of various astronomers.) (Rudiak Re: Leslie)

As a result, Rudiak began his own analysis of the photograph triangulation for potential errors that could change the flight path's direction towards Kecksburg as well as passing over the areas where individuals reported fires and debris supposedly being caused by the fireball's passage. Of course, he was able to create such a path and then presents it as a more accurate representation of the fireball's trajectory. This new projection shows a straight-line on the azimuth of 124 degrees from point A on the original track proposed by Chamberlain and Krause. He even seems to endorse the Sanderson calculations over those performed by the astronomers. Rudiak and Sanderson, who had little or no experience in computing fireball paths/trajectories/orbits, shun the expert analysis because it disagrees with the Kecksburg legend.

On his webpage, Rudiak spends a great deal of space explaining why the astronomers were probably wrong in their analysis. His argument is essentially based on three major points:

  1. That there is no error analysis and that a potential 0.7 degree error in computing the azimuth for the meteors endpoint could shift the computed path towards
  2. Kecksburg. That Chamberlain and Krause failed to notice or, apparently, lied about the "drift" caused by the winds between the Wright and Champine photographs. This drift could be the source of errors in their computations that would lead to a faulty solution.
  3. That the apparent angular size of the dust train was not uniform across the length of the trail indicating the debris trail pointed away from the photographers and towards Kecksburg. Rudiak explains that,

If the JRASC trajectory were correct, one would expect the smoke trail to be of about even thickness between points A and B, since the fireball would be moving sideways to the camera and maintaining about an equal distance at all times. Instead, the trail near A is noticeably thicker than most of the trail approaching B (except in the "puff" at B where the trail ends). A simple explanation of this would be that the trail near A is much closer to the camera than the trail at B. In other words, the trail would again be steeply slanted away from the camera (the fireball was moving off into the distance) instead of being at nearly right angles, as the JRASC article has it. (Rudiak Preliminary)

Rudiak's 0.7 degree error is interesting because what he apparently wants is the "A" point to remain the same and the new "B" point to shift in the favor of Kecksburg. One would think if there were errors in azimuth computations and aligning the photographs with the local terrain, it would have been somewhat uniform and the A point would have errors in it as well. Additionally, the actual length of the dust trail between "A" and "B" was between 5 and 6 degrees. To incur a 0.7 degree shift on one point and not the other would require a significant change in the position measured that would not be missed by individuals performing the crosschecks. Despite proclaiming the 0.7 degree error would shift the trajectory towards Kecksburg, Rudiak does not even demonstrate that such an error even exists!

In his second major point, Rudiak makes a big deal about being able to measure drift due to high altitude winds and questioning the statements by Chamberlain and Krause that minimal drift was visible in the photographs. Rudiak's "major drift" has not to do with points A and B, which were used for the trajectory computation, but to the rest of the components of the trail. When one looks at points A and B on Rudiak's trail composite image for image 1B and 2, there is very little shift in position of these points in relation to his lateral yellow line (Rudiak scaled the images so that A and B were the same distance apart). I pasted the two images together to demonstrate this using Rudiak's own images. Note that red lines that show the drift he is talking about. However, both A and B points are at almost the same identical points in the lateral direction.

Champine and Wright images overlapped using Rudiaks scaled images at http://www.roswellproof.com/Kecksburg_triangulation_error.html

Chamberlain and Krause were correct in their assessment that there was minimal drift present because of the close match of the key points used for triangulation. Rudiak also fails to even mention that the authors had noted that the disintegration of the dust trail was evident in the photographs, which Rudiak seems to trumpet as his own discovery. Rudiak's claims of excessive drift causing a potential error are just another method of trying to question the certainty of the positions computed and to give credence to his new projected path..

Rudiak's third gem about the angular size across the length of the train is faulty because it apparently assumes a constant width of the dust trail. It does not take into account how the dust trail was formed. As the meteoroid disintegrates, it leaves debris that forms the dust trail, which is different than a fireball ion train or an airplane contrail. As the meteoroid travels into the atmosphere, it's dimensions and shape vary and, as a result, the amount of debris left behind varies. One can just as reasonably argue that the dust trail's changes in dimension has more to do with the meteoroid interacted with the atmosphere than with a change in perspective.

A good example can be seen in the following image of the Tagish Lake Fireball dust trail taken from Atlin, British Columbia shortly after the fireball had passed.

Tagish lake Dust cloud (http://aquarid.physics.uwo.ca/~pbrown/tagish/dustcloud.html)

Note how the width of the trail varies along the length. Since the fireball was heading towards the photographer, one would expect, using Rudiak's logic, that the fireball trail would have been narrow at the origin point and very wide at the terminal point. This is obviously not the case since the debris trail is widest in the middle but tapers near the end of the path. This is another case of Rudiak trying desperately to make the fireball direction shift towards Kecksburg and away from Canada.

One other point raised by Rudiak in his UFO Updates posting but not mentioned in his trajectory errors web page, had to do with the sonic boom heard over the Great Lakes region. He fails to acknowledge the scientific data that was obtained from a seismograph run by the University of Michigan, which was mentioned by Chamberlain and Krause. Instead he exaggerates the eyewitness report of a "vibration/thump" in Kecksburg and downplays the reports collected of loud sonic booms/explosion noises in the Detroit area. The media at the time seemed to indicate there was a sonic boom heard only in western Pennsylvania but this was faulty reporting. As best I can tell this all came down to the one report by Ray Howard who mentioned a thump or vibration. Many of the storylines printed in the newspapers came from Pittsburgh, which seemed to have gotten all their information from Gatty's writings. They took the Howard statement that there was a sonic boom in the area. In reality, the sonic boom seems to have been confined to the area defined by Chamberlain and Krause, which did not include western Pennsylvania.

Area where sonic phenomena was reported is shown on left. (Chamberlain P.4)

If there were a really loud terminal explosion at the time of the event, one would think that seismographs in the area would have recorded it. There were seismographs that were apparently in operation at State College, Pennsylvania and John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio in 1965. Strangely, there is no evidence from these or other seismographs presented by Stan Gordon or Rudiak that shows that a large seismic event occurred in western Pennsylvania. The real scientific data from the seismograph points towards the computed path of Chamberlain and Krause and not towards Rudiak's desired trajectory.

It is obvious that Chamberlain and Krause were much more thorough in their analysis of the event than Rudiak suggests in his argument. Rudiak implies the astronomers were working in a vacuum and relied solely on the photographs, which is not the case. Recall that Chamberlain and Krause had written the following:

In response to news media requests, over 150 descriptions of the event were received. Standardized questionnaire forms were sent back to 107 individuals, of whom 66 returned completed forms.

A preliminary analysis of these data indicated that the meteorite had been moving in a generally north-easterly direction, disappearing at a point over land some 15 miles south-east of Windsor. (Chamberlain and Krause 184)

What they were doing was checking to see if they had made an accurate determination of the path. Had their path been off by a large amount, as Rudiak suggests, then the 66 eyewitness reports would have given reason to believe that they had made an error. Chamberlain explains that "As endpoints were plotted, the lines clearly indicated the fireball passed over Lake Erie from the southwest and disappeared over southwest Ontario" (Chamberlain 2). Recall that Rudiak put a lot of weight on the eyewitness testimony. The astronomers did too. However, Rudiak is referring to the decades old recollections of a few individuals in Kecksburg and not the dozens of actual observations recorded shortly after the event. Clearly, the data used by Chamberlain and Krause was far more accurate than that accepted by Rudiak.

Chamberlin and Krause were not the only ones involved in the research computing the fireball's path. Their calculated trajectory was further confirmed by members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) who were busy trying to locate potential meteorites. According to Dr. J. A. V. Douglas:

On-the-spot interviews of some seventy observers (now close to 100) were made by Mr. Henry Lee, President of the Windsor Centre of the RASC, and the writer during part of January. Reduction of this sighting data confirmed the general ground position of the end-point as was determined from the photographs by Mr. Chamberlain. Contacts with eyewitnesses were obtained through requests in a daily and four weekly newspapers, radio station CJSP, Leamington, and through area high schools. (Douglas)

Chamberlain and Krause mention the participation of these individuals in their paper. Additionally, there seems to have been a preliminary analysis of the early reports by Dr. George Wetherilo, a University of California geophysicist, that was independent of that conducted by Chamberlain and Krause. According to the Lima News:

He said that in all probability a small part of it crashed into the lake northeast of Toledo. Wetherilo said an analysis of the many reports on the fireball indicated the meteor disintegrated in the earth's atmosphere with portions falling into the lake. He discounted a theory that the fireball might have been debris from a satellite. "The object was traveling too fast and the angle of entry into the atmosphere was wrong," he said.(Scientist)

The endpoint being over Lake Erie is consistent with the endpoint of Chamberlain and Krause being in Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie. The fact that Dr. Douglas and others performed an analysis of the eyewitness reports demonstrates that the eyewitness reports agreed with the photographic analysis. In 1965, these scientists did not have any preconception of where the fireball went and they wanted to retrieve any meteorites that may have reached the earth. They had good reason to make sure their measurements were accurate. They all agreed that the data indicated that the meteor's path was towards Canada and not Pennsylvania.

In conducting his analysis, David Rudiak apparently did not even bother to contact Chamberlain, who is retired living in Utah and has an email address. When I contacted Dr. Chamberlain, he was very kind and replied to my email. His observation of Rudiak's analysis was that he ignored all the scientific data gathered by hard work and investigation that confirmed the triangulation from the photographs. Apparently, Rudiak chose deliberately to not even note the eyewitness reports or the seismographic data that verified the computed trajectory. He did this despite his loud proclamations that the eyewitness testimony to the fireball was critical and that he is interested in scientifically investigating the matter. Instead he seems more willing to accept the vague references of Sanderson towards eyewitness reports suggesting that the path was different and the decades old recollections by eyewitnesses dug up by Stan Gordon. All that Rudiak has done is work backwards in his analysis and attempt to discredit the work done in 1965-66 to give credence to the Kecksburg legend. So he creates a scenario that best fits his goal and parades it around as some sort of proven fact that Chamberlain and Krause were wrong. Rudiak can "natter" all he wants but he hasn't proven anything. Pseudoscience forty years later is no substitute for the real science that was done in 1965-66.

It's another classic!

It seems that this UFO case has renewed life thanks to the Sci-Fi channel and efforts by a few UFOlogists willing to ignore scientific investigations. Kecksburg has now attained a "classic case" status and, therefore, is accepted by many as a bonafide UFO case that has withstood serious scrutiny. Those who have staked a claim to the case are usually those most willing to take the defense of the case to extremes. However, exactly how good is this case when examined critically?

Works Cited

Chamberlain, Von Del. Bulletin 5: Meteorites of Michigan. Michigan Department of Conservation. Speaker-Hines and Thomas, Inc. Lansing, MI 1968.

Chamberlain, Von Del and David J. Krause. "The fireball of December 9, 1965 - Part I". Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Journal 61.184-190

Mandak, Joe. "Researcher featured on Sci Fi Channel wants NASA 'UFO' records" Times Leader Wilkes-Barre, PA.December 8, 2005. Available on line http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2005/dec/m09-011.shtml

Douglas, J. A. V. . "The fireball of December 9, 1965, Essex County, Ontario". Proceedings of the Tenth Meeting of the Associate Committee on Meteorites. Appendix 1. Council Chambers of the National Research Laboratories, Ottawa. 18 April 1966.

Kean, Leslie. "Forty years of secrecy: NASA, the military, and the 1965 Kecksburg crash". International UFO Reporter. Spring 2005. pp.3-9, 28-31.

"Scientist Agrees Ohio's Fireball Probably Meteor". The Lima News. Lima, Ohio. 15 December, 1965. p. 2

Rudiak, David. "Re: Leslie Kean Pressing NASA For 'UFO' Files" 17 December 2005.UFO Updates Mailing list. On line posting. Available WWW: http://www.virtuallystrange.net/ufo/updates/2005/dec/m17-006.shtml

-. A preliminary analysis of the "Kecksburg UFO" fireball trajectory and possible error.Available WWW: http://www.roswellproof.com/Kecksburg_triangulation_error.html


Chapter 7: Crash or crock?

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