Breaking story: Famous Socorro UFO sighting by Cop a student prank?

By | September 25, 2009

I spoke to Anthony Bragalia on the phone several months ago. Besides being personable, he is a truly formidable researcher.  I appreciate his mix of careful critical thinking and open mindedness.  Anthony is the most knowledgeable and intelligent Roswell UFO researcher with whom I’ve spoken. This is noteworthy because he believes the alien explanation for Roswell.

I lean toward the military hypothesis (not necessarily ours), but only because there is not solid enough evidence to support the extraordinary claim of aliens. Show me the real alien autopsy footage, the real crashed disk and I’ll switch over to the ET hypothesis. (Or perhaps some dinosaurs evolved into an intelligent species which now lives underground and is about 10,000 years more advanced than we are.)

The following article shows that Anthony is definitely not an Extraterrestrial Hypothesis pusher. His report on the Socorro UFO shows that he follows the facts, even when there are no aliens at the end of the rainbow.

Some details are missing. Those commenting point out that a rear screen projector in day light would not be likely to fool a cop.

THE SOCORRO UFO HOAX EXPOSED! (Famous 1964 sighting was a college prank) by Anthony Bragalia

socorroNM.jpgAfter 45 years the truth is now revealed- one of the most famous UFO sightings in history was a hoax. The recent confession of an elderly College President -and a newly discovered document- indicate that the 1964 sighting of a landed UFO by Socorro, NM policeman Lonnie Zamora was the result of an elaborate school prank. This incredible story is publicly recounted for the first time ever by individuals who have held the secret of Socorro for decades.


Socorro Policeman Lonnie Zamora was performing his town patrol duties on Friday, April 24, 1964. But this would be unlike any other patrol Sgt. Zamora had ever experienced. At about 5:50 PM Sgt. Zamora started pursuit of a speeding car. But the chase was broken off when Zamora heard a loud explosion. He thought perhaps it came from a dynamite shack nearby. He then observed a cone of flame traveling over a hill. LonnieZamora.jpgOnce over the hill, Zamora stopped his car about 100 feet away from what he reported as a strange landed, 20 foot “aluminum-white” oval object resting on structured “legs.” The ovoid had a red insignia about two feet wide on its surface. Though the artistic rendition of the UFO above depicts an opening- Zamora had reported the object as smooth, without any windows or doors. Zamora also noticed what appeared to be two figures “the size of small adults or large kids” and “normal in shape” wearing “white coveralls” walking around the object.

As Zamora started to approach the object on foot, the figures jumped away from his view. As Zamora left his car, he bumped it and his glasses fell off. He reports that a flame from the underside of the craft then appeared and the object roared away. Zamora heard a high-pitched whine and then silence. The object traveled very fast over him, and then just three feet above a nearby shack- and finally out of view over another hill. Left at the site were four “landing impressions” as well as areas of burnt creosote bush near where the object has rested.

Zamora, shocked, then radioed to another officer what he had just observed. When the officer asked Zamora “What does it look like?” Zamora responded, “It looks like a balloon.” Zamora would later state that he did not know exactly what it was -it could have been a secret military experiment or even ET. Zamora has remained reluctant to offer his opinion on the specific nature or origin of the craft. He says it was strange and frightening. But he leaves the analysis to others- and only indicates that he was sincere in reporting what he had observed. And Zamora was sincere. And he was extremely cooperative with investigators. But he was also hoodwinked. INCRIMINATING DOCUMENT

A former New Mexico Tech President affirmed in the 1960s in a letter to renowned scientist Dr. Linus Pauling that the Socorro UFO was a hoax.

A letter from Dr. Linus Pauling located within the Special Collections of Oregon State University (where the Pauling papers are archived) provides insight into the true nature of the Socorro sighting. In a 1968 letter to Dr. Stirling Colgate -the President of New Mexico Tech- Pauling inquires about the Socorro sighting. Colgate replied to Pauling by sending back Pauling’s letter with a handwritten notation at the bottom. Dr. Colgate writes: “I have a good indication of the student who engineered the hoax. Student has left. Cheers, Stirling.”

Dr. Pauling (a multiple Nobel-Prize winner) was very interested in the UFO phenomena. An earlier article by this author details Pauling’s secret UFO studies. He was researching the Socorro-Zamora landing case and decided to write to his friend, Stirling Colgate, President at New Mexico Tech to see what he might have known about the incident. Dr. Colgate’s blunt reply leaves little doubt that tricksters were involved. But to allay any further doubt, I contacted Colgate.


As well as having been NM Tech’s President, Dr. Stirling Colgate was a world-famous astrophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Considered a science visionary, he specialized in plasma and atmospheric physics. His discoveries in these fields are acknowledged as monumental. His associates included such luminaries as Oppenheimer and Pauling. Colgate still maintains an office at Los Alamos at age 84! This author emailed Colgate to see what his thoughts are today on the Socorro UFO and to see if he would shed additional light on the event. In my email to Colgate I attached the Pauling letter from 1968 with Colgate’s handwritten notes on the Socorro UFO.

Colgate took several days to reply to me. In his email, Colgate answered very cryptically and sparingly:

– To the question, “Do you still know this to be a hoax? His reply was simple: “Yes.”
– When asked, “Today, decades later, can you expand on what you wrote to Pauling about the event?” He wrote: “I will ask a friend, but he and other students did not want their cover blown.”
– He offered that the hoax, “was a no-brainer.”
– When asked “Specifically how did they do it?” He just answered, “Will ask.”
– When queried, “Have you ever publicly commented on this?” he replied “Of course not.”

It has been some time now, and I have never heard back from Stirling Colgate. He indicated that he would “make some inquiries” to see what more could be detailed on the event.

Dr. Frank T. Etscorn was a Psychology Professor at New Mexico Tech from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s. Dr. Etscorn is famously known for being the inventor of the Nicotine Patch. A wing of the College was dedicated to Etscorn in 1993. Etscorn had known about the Socorro UFO event from the decade before he began work at the College- and it had always intrigued him. This author had learned of his interest and contacted Dr Etscorn to see if he had ever found out anything about the sighting and what had really happened. In a recent telephone conversation, Dr. Etscorn related:

“As a project, a former student of mine had examined the case in the mid 1980s. Using yearbooks and networking, she began calling alumni who were at Tech in 1964. She somehow located one of the former students believed to have been involved. He would not expand on the hoax or have his name used- but she found out it was a hoax. My memory of her investigation is spotty- it was 25 years ago. But I remember that she found also found out through records that coincidentally a rear projection device was stolen from the campus the day of the UFO sighting.”

Etcorn was a noted psychologist. He said that the psychology of these Techies was such that they liked to fool those who they thought were foolish.

We discussed how the pranksters may have incorporated 1) a large helium balloon resting on the desert floor to appear “landed” and then released up into the air on cue. Perhaps it was a reflective white colored balloon or a balloon fitted over with glossy-white craft paper- with added “landing struts” and a red insignia drawn on its side 2) “roaring” or “whining” explosives, pyrotechnics, model rockets, thrown flares or a flame device 3) smaller students dressed in white lab coats acting as the “aliens” and 4) the digging out of “landing depressions” and burning of nearby bushes. Soil or rock in the area may have been “salted” with silicon or trinitite from the school’s Geology Lab. And perhaps it was intentional that Zamora was led to the landed craft by a speeding car. One of the students may have purposely engaged Lonnie in a car chase to lure him to where the hoax was staged. Zamora reports that he “broke the chase” to investigate the UFO- just as the students knew that he would.

Though these ideas about how the hoax may have been accomplished are strictly speculative, Dr. Etscorn reminded me of an important fact: Nothing that was reported was beyond the abilities of “smart Techies” to create.

… Perhaps the Socorro UFO hoaxers continue to get a “big laugh” over the whole thing and revel in their prank done decades ago. But it is more likely that the New Mexico Tech pranksters -who perhaps became famous scientists- are today oldsters in retirement struggling with what they did. They played a trick on a community, a nation and the world. They are keenly aware that they had involved the Air Force, media, scientists and many others. They know that Zamora’s life was made difficult by the event. He was made a spectacle and suffered hugely from the unwanted attention. They must ponder their youthful folly- and how much time, effort and money was expended in the prank’s long aftermath. It was “a prank gone wild.” It had escalated beyond what they could ever have imagined. Often pulling off a brilliant prank “traps” the pranksters. They create the illusion, but they never receive the “credit.” And no credit was ever sought by those who engineered one of the greatest hoaxes in UFO history.

This is an excerpt. Read the entire article on UFOcon.blogspot.

Anthony had this rebuttal to some critics of the story:

The College President in the 1960’s at NM Tech in Socorro has confessed that he that knew it was a hoax- and who the student hoaxers were! He told this pri-vately to Dr. Linus Pauling in the
1960s- and he told it to me 40 years later! Why would a world-acclaimed astrophysicist lie? And not just lie- but to his friend, Nobel-Prize winner Pauling? And what Dr. Colgate maintains is affirmed by other scientist-employees.

Another well-known scientist who was an NM Tech student in 1965 was told the year after the event by a trusted Professor at the College that it was a hoax. And a Professor at NM Tech who invented the Nicotine Patch was made aware of the school hoax in the mid-1980s by his grad student who investigated the incident as a credit project.

So we have three preeminent NM Tech scientists and employees that have independently told very similar stories about the college prank. None have anything to gain from this. In fact Colgate kept the secret from the public for decades until he was “caught” by me. He especially has no reason to
embellish. – ufocon

Another explanation by David E. Thomas:

The witness in the Socorro case is a well-respected policeman, Lonnie Zamora, who claimed in the report he filed (included in Project Blue Book, Brad Steiger, Ed., 1976) that he saw a flame in the sky, “bluish and sort of orange too…sort of motionless flame, slowly descending. … narrower at top than at bottom…Sun was to west and did not help vision. Had green sunglasses over prescription glasses. Could not see bottom of flame because it was behind the hill….noise was a roar, not a blast…” The policeman drove around the area trying to see the flame again, and said he suddenly came across “a shiny type object … oval in shape. It was smooth – no windows or doors. … seemed like O in shape and I at first glance took it to be overturned car.” He also described “two people in white coveralls…two persons…” Zamora said he saw the two people at a distance of 150 to 200 yards, and that “they appeared normal in shape… but possibly they were small adults or large kids.” He also noted “what appeared to be two legs of some type from the object to the ground…the two legs were at the bottom of the object, slanted outwards to the ground.” Zamora then got closer to the object, got out of his car, heard a loud roar, saw a flame, ran, bumped his leg, lost his glasses, and kept on going. He saw the object fly up, and move 10 to 15 feet above the ground, and then leave the area “travelling very fast.” He radioed his dispatcher to look out his window for “an object …. it looks like a balloon.” Nearby, the bushes were still smoldering. News reports in the local paper, El Defensor Chieftain, also mentioned “an unidentified tourist” who remarked about how “aircraft flew low around here,” and that the strange object was a “funny-looking helicopter, if that’s what it was.” …

There are numerous hypotheses, of course. Stanford thinks it’s another case of extraterrestrial visitors and government cover-up. Phil Klass, in UFOs Explained, makes a case that the whole thing was cooked up by the mayor to give Socorro some publicity. (Incidentally, Klass argues that the “unidentified tourist” could not possibly have seen both the craft and the police car.) Yet another hypothesis is that physics students with a little too much extra time played a trick on the town, but that rumor doesn’t have much credible support.

Now the prank hypothesis does seem to have credible support, but not yet an admission by the hoaxers or an explanation of how, exactly, they did it. continues:

Major Hector Quintanilla, the Blue Book investigator for the Air Force, looked into the possibility that the craft was a prototype of the Lunar Landing Module being developed for the Apollo moon program, but found that no lunar lander prototypes were operational in April of 1964.

… Yet another possible candidate has emerged in recent years, about the time of the identification of the source of the Roswell Incident to a specific program, New York University constant-level balloon launches from Alamogordo in the summer of 1947 [“The Roswell Incident and Project Mogul,” S/I July August 1995]. One of the participants in these launches, Charles B. Moore, stayed in Socorro and taught atmospheric physics at the college there, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (my Alma Mater). Moore, now retired, has had a very distinguished career, and received the prestigious American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Otto C.  Winzen Lifetime Achievement Award for his scientific exploits, which included flying a balloon to the very edge of space. He visited the Socorro “landing” site in 1966, and thinks that Lonnie Zamora is sincere, and that he really did see something strange on that day in 1964. In 1995, a colleague of Moore’s who ran the Skyhook Balloon program at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, Bernard “Duke” Gildenberg, learned from Capt. James McAndrew, the AF’s point man on Roswell, that on April 24, 1964, there were special tests being conducted at the north end of the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) involving a helicopter used to carry a Lunar Surveyor around for some tests. A portion of the WSMR Range Log obtained by McAndrew appears below. Surveyor was a three-legged, unmanned probe, which was used to learn about the moon before the Apollo program got there. In fact, the Apollo 12 astronauts paid a visit to Surveyor 3 almost three years after it had landed on the moon. This new angle on the old Socorro story was first mentioned publicly in a brief piece in the July 15th, 2000 edition of James Moseley’s Saucer Smear. – nmsr

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