Although differences of opinion exist on the specifics, there is a tentative consensus among researchers that an extraterrestrial space vehicle crashed on a ranch located about 60 miles north of Roswell, New Mexico, during the time period July 2–4, 1947.
Major Jesse Marcel, recipient of five air combat medals awarded in World War II (1939–45), intelligence officer for the 509th Bomb Group, was ordered to handpick a topsecurity team and go to the ranch to salvage the debris of the unknown aircraft that rancher Mac Brazel had discovered on his spread. The strange, weightless material discovered by the 509th Bomber team was difficult to describe. The pieces varied in length from four or five inches to three or four feet. Some fragments had markings that resembled hieroglyphics. Although the material seemed to be unbreakable, the military investigators thought that it looked more like wood than metal. Marcel put his cigarette lighter to one of the rectangular fragments, but it would not burn. Major Marcel and his crew brought as many pieces of the crashed UFO back to Roswell Army Air Field Base as they could gather.
One of the first civilians who claimed to arrive on the scene following the crash was Barney Barnett, a civil engineer from Socorro, New Mexico, who was employed by the federal government. Barnett later told friends that he had seen alien bodies on the ground and inside the spaceship. He described them as small, hairless beings with large heads and round, oddly spaced eyes. According to Barnett, a military unit arrived on the scene and an officer had ordered him off the site with the stern admonition that it was his patriotic duty to remain silent about what he had seen. Although reports of retrieved alien bodies never made it into any military release in July of 1947, accounts of civilian eyewitnesses having seen between two and five nonhuman corpses soon entered the UFO literature.
On July 8, 1947, Walter Haut, public affairs officer at Roswell, issued the famous press release stating that the army had discovered the debris of a crashed flying saucer. The news that the army had a downed saucer in its possession created a sensation around the world. However, after the flying saucer fragments were shipped to Brigadier General Roger Ramey at the 8th Air Force at Fort Worth, Texas, the story of the discovery of the bits and pieces of an extraterrestrial craft was officially transformed into the scraps of a collapsed high-altitude weather balloon.
While General Ramey is said to have been the one who decided to silence the story of the air force collecting flying saucer fragments, retired general Thomas DuBose, who at the time of the Roswell incident was a colonel and a chief of staff to Ramey, later told quite a different story. According to DuBose, the military investigators had no idea what Major Marcel had sent them, but then the order came down from air force headquarters that the story was to be "contained."
DuBose said that the men came up with the weather balloon story. A balloon such as the one commonly in use at the time was dropped from a couple of hundred feet and they used its pieces for the official debunking photograph.
Lewis Rickert, who in 1947 was a master sergeant and counterintelligence agent stationed at Roswell air field, was among those military personnel who had actually been present at the crash site, and he agreed with General DuBose in 1994 that the fragments collected from the air force had not come from any weather balloon. He recalled that the jagged, flexible fragments were no more than six or seven inches long and up to eight to ten inches wide, and they could not be broken.
In the 1980s, Kevin Randle, a former captain in U.S. Air Force intelligence, together with Don Schmitt, director of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, decided to renew an investigation of the Roswell crash. In their opinion, the Roswell incident, with its much-maligned and hashed-over stories of an alleged flying saucer and alien bodies, still bore many elements of truth. "If all this fuss was simply about a bunch of ranchers and townspeople finding the debris from a balloon, why did the military seek out those witnesses and threaten to silence them?" Randle asked pointedly. "There is no question that members of the Army were ordered never to talk about what they had seen. And there seems to be substantial evidence to support the claims that military representatives visited
Randle believes that he and Schmitt have found new evidence indicating that the crash occurred on July 4, 1947, rather than July 2, as is commonly stated. It was on July 5, according to Schmitt and Randle, that Mac Brazel visited Sheriff George Wilcox and informed him of the peculiar discovery he had made near his ranch the day before. The military unit under the command of Major Jesse Marcel retrieved the crash debris and alien bodies on July 5. On July 8, Walter Haut, the public affairs officer at Roswell, issued the press release that the army had captured a flying saucer. Almost immediately thereafter, the official cover story of a collapsed weather balloon falling to Earth in the desert was heavily promoted by the military.
During an interview with a granddaughter of Sheriff George Wilcox in March 1991, Schmitt and Randle were told that not only did the sheriff see the debris of a UFO, he also saw "little space beings." According to the woman, her grandfather had described the entities as having gray complexions and large heads. They were dressed in suits of a silklike material. Later, military men visited the sheriff and his wife and warned them that they would be killed if they ever told anyone what Wilcox saw at the crash site. And not only would they be killed, but their children and grandchildren would also be eliminated.
The persistent investigations of Randle and Schmitt located a Ms. Frankie Rowe, who had been 12 years old at the time of the mysterious occurrences outside of Roswell. Her father, a lieutenant with the fire department,
Schmitt and Randle also located Glenn Dennis, who had been the Roswell mortician in 1947. Dennis told them that he, too, had been threatened by representatives of the military concerning his knowledge of the presence of alien bodies. Dennis said that he had "blundered" into the Roswell Army Air Field hospital on the evening that the alien bodies had been recovered. According to Dennis, a "nasty red-haired officer" confronted him and warned him that if he ever told anyone about the crash or the alien bodies, "they will be picking your bones from the sand."
In Randle's opinion, the results of their research prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that aliens exist. And while he and Schmitt do not know conclusively whether or not one of the alien crew survived the crash outside of Roswell, "there is no doubt that something crashed and that it held a crew." Randle also insists that "there is no doubt that the crew was not human."
Nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman firmly believes that a UFO exploded in the area in early July 1947 and that the retrieved pieces were shipped off to Wright Field (now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) in Dayton, Ohio. He denies the official pronouncement that Major Marcel and his crew found only a downed weather balloon at the crash site. He also dismisses the theory that the debris was that of a crashed Japanese Fugo balloon bomb. It is Friedman's contention that Walter Haut, on direct orders from base commander Colonel William Blanchard, prepared the official press release that initiated the military conspiracy to conceal the truth of a crashed UFO from the public. Friedman argues that an experienced officer such as Major Marcel would have been very familiar with all kinds of weather or military balloons and that he would not have mistaken such ordinary debris for that of a downed alien spaceship. Nor would any of the military personnel have mistaken alien bodies for those of diminutive human remains.
After the wreckage was properly identified as extraterrestrial in nature, Friedman contends, the official cover-up was instigated at both the Roswell base and at the headquarters of the Eighth Air Force in Fort Worth, Texas, by Eighth Air Force Commander Roger Ramey on direct orders from General Clements McMullen at SAC headquarters in Washington, D.C. Friedman has said that he and author-researcher William Moore interviewed at least 130 individuals who have firsthand knowledge of the UFO crash at Roswell.
Veteran UFO researcher John A. Keel completely discounts the allegations that an alien craft crashed near Roswell in July 1947. In his opinion rancher Mac Brazel found the remains of a Japanese Fugo balloon. The strange "metal fragments," Keel asserts, were bits of polished rice paper. The strange alien "hieroglyphics" were simple Japanese instructions, such as "insert in slot B." Remains of the more than 9,000 Fugo balloons launched by the Japanese during the closing days of World War II were found in more than 300 sites throughout the western states from 1945 onward through the next 20 years. According to Keel, Major Jesse Marcel would have had no trouble identifying the debris as anything other than the pieces of a Japanese balloon bomb.
The United States Air Force chose June 24, 1997—the 50th anniversary of Kenneth Arnold's sighting in Washington State—to conduct a special Pentagon briefing to announce the release of its answer to the Roswell disturbance, The Roswell Report— Case Closed. In its explanation of the mystery, the air force claimed that the alleged flying saucer fragments were pieces of a balloon that was used in Project Mogul, a highly classified intelligence-gathering operation that had been instituted immediately after the end of World War II to spy on the Soviets and to monitor their efforts to build nuclear weapons. According to the air force report, the alleged alien bodies seen near the Roswell crash site were actually artifacts from an air force project begun in 1953 during which dummies were dropped from high altitudes in order to test parachute effectiveness. Civilian witnesses saw air force personnel collecting the dummies and mistakenly believed that they were seeing military units retrieving alien corpses. The six-year discrepancy between the Roswell event and the dummy dropping was officially explained as "time compression"; that is, the witnesses became confused about the actual time reference and compressed their memory of the Roswell UFO crash in 1947 and their recollection of the smashed dummies in 1953 into the same scenario.
In his memoirs, Leap of Faith: An Astronaut's Journey into the Unknown, United States Air Force Colonel L. Gordon Cooper (Ret.; 1927– ) provides his readers with the astonishing revelation that he once chased UFOs over Germany in his F-86. Cooper also claims that when he was a captain stationed at Edwards Air Force Base on May 3, 1957, he learned of a metallic saucer-shaped object that had landed and was filmed by a technical film crew that had been on assignment some 50 yards away. Although the UFO had zoomed out of sight when the startled photographers attempted to move closer for a better camera angle, Cooper was ordered by Pentagon officials to have all the film developed—but not printed—and to ship it off to the appropriate officials at once. Cooper writes that he obeyed orders, but he also admits that he peeked at some of the negatives and confirmed that the film crew had most certainly captured a flying saucer on celluloid.
Cooper goes on to tell of an air force master sergeant friend of his who was assigned to a recovery team to retrieve a crashed UFO in a canyon in the Pacific Southwest. According to his friend, they found two human-looking beings sitting atop a metallic, disk-shaped wreckage, smiling at them. The alien pilots were hustled away, and Cooper's friend told him that he never found out what had happened to them.
On October 25, 1998, Cooper's fellow astronaut, Dr. Edgar Mitchell, astonished both UFO believers and skeptics alike when he proclaimed, "Make no mistake, Roswell [the alleged crash site of an alien craft in July 1947] happened. I've seen secret files which show the government knew about it, but decided not to tell the public" (The People, London).