Sunday, October 12, 2003

UFO study defended

HALIFAX — Pop culture and crackpots have hijacked the scientific study of UFOs, turning it into a running joke, says UFO researcher Chris Styles.

Best known for his work on the 1967 case of a suspected UFO crash in Shag Harbour, N.S., Styles was expected to be among five experts speaking this weekend in Halifax at an international symposium on unidentified flying objects.

For him, proof that UFOs exist can be found in an unlikely place: Canadian government documents.

Through federal access requests, he’s found detailed reports from RCMP officers and Defence Department officials chronicling decades of strange sightings in our skies.

“A lot of what goes on nowadays really isn’t ufology, it’s what I call alienology,” says Styles, co-author of Dark Object, a book about the Shag Harbour incident.

“Everybody’s already got their answers and they’re just trying to make the data fit the answers they want to believe in. I don’t know what UFOs are and I think that’s where you have to start from.”

The official reports about what happened at Shag Harbour offer detailed accounts from police officers and an Air Canada pilot who witnessed a strange object in the sky.

The reports suggest that a large object crashed into the waters off southwestern Nova Scotia on Oct. 4, 1967, leaving behind a trail of yellow foam and bewildered fishermen who sailed to the area to search for survivors.

Though navy divers mounted an extensive search and RCMP officers talked to many witnesses, nothing was found.

“If there was a police investigation and follow-ups and reports filed to defence headquarters, you know there was probably something there,” says Styles, who was 12 when he saw the orange object above his home in Dartmouth, N.S., before it crashed into the ocean.

But he says scientists, pilots and other people in high-ranking positions are afraid to speak out because they don’t want to be “tarred with the kook brush.”

“In the 1950s, it was a simpler scenario: you either believed or you didn’t believe,” Styles says. “But nowadays many of the harshest critics say, ‘Yes there’s life, it just hasn’t been here.’ The differences are more subtle. The landscape is more confused.”

Michael MacDonald, a Nova Scotia-based filmmaker and co-creator of the symposium, says Canada has a wealth of flying saucer information it can share with the world.

Unlike U.S. officials, who “hoard and hide” their UFO reports, Ottawa shuffles information from department to department, unsure of where to file it, he says.

“Rather than have a ‘secret agenda’, they just pass it on,” MacDonald explains.