Many people have seen strange things in the sky they could not explain.
Whether or not they told anyone about it is another matter.
Dan Nims wants people to report what they see. Nims is the chief investigator in Washington for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), the largest UFO organization in the world. The volunteer-run group investigates UFO phenomena around the globe.
When Nims talks to the public about UFOs, he often begins by asking how many people in the audience think they may have encountered one. Usually 80 to 90 percent of hands go up, he said.
When he asks how many people reported the event, only a couple of hands go up.
MUFON receives 5,000 to 6,000 reports a year via its website, he said. For every one of those, there are far more that are never reported.
“People just don’t realize how common these cases are,” said Nims, who is based in Walla Walla.
Washington often ranks in the top five states for UFO activity, Nims said. He supervises all MUFON investigations in the state, about 150 to 200 reports a year. He said it shouldn’t be a surprise that Washington finds itself at the top of the list since it’s where the term “flying saucers” was born in 1947 when Idaho pilot Kenneth Arnold told a reporter about nine objects he saw flying past Mount Rainier at speeds he estimated to be 1,200 mph.
“It’s not just one or two drunks on a Friday night making these reports,” Nims said. “These are test pilots, like me; astronauts; airline pilots; astronomers; guys running instruments on test ranges — these things are documented by some of the most credible observers you could ask.”
Nims is retired from a career in the U.S. Air Force. He didn’t join MUFON because of a personal experience with a UFO but because his interest was piqued by a talk about sightings in the Antelope Valley near Edwards Air Force Base in California where he was a test pilot. As he read more about the subject, he became interested in bringing more information to the light. Friday in Pullman, he’ll speak about UFO sightings in eastern Washington and the alleged government cover-up of activity.
Inland 360 asked him some questions about his work.
How does MUFON investigate alleged sightings?
MUFON has a place on its website to file a report. It asks people to fill in a form, let us know how to contact them and describe what they saw. I assign the case to an investigator. We check with the meteor society for falls, check airplane movements in the area, check the weather, study astronomical charts, talk to police and try to find out if there’s some other reasonable explanation. We look for natural and man-made phenomenon. If we can’t attribute what they saw to anything known, we call it unknown. … I would say that 35 percent to 50 percent of cases that come in end up in the unknown category.
We are one of two major reporting centers for UFO activity. The other is the National UFO Reporting Center in central Washington run by Peter Davenport.
Do MUFON members have theories on why Washington is often one of the top five states for UFO reports?
We have often conjectured about that. It’s not one of the biggest states geographically and not one of biggest states numerically. The top states for sightings are Florida, Texas and California, big states physically with big populations.The weather is good. Sky viewing is easy. They tend to be warm and where people are outside more.
Washington is usually in the top five, sometimes outranked by Pennsylvania or Colorado. Why?
Across the UFO community there is some sense there are some areas where there is more activity. It’s fairly well noted that UFOs tend to be seen around nuclear facilities. Southeast Washington has Hanford, the site of numerous UFO sightings starting clear back in World War II, before UFOs were a big thing.
Is Hanford the main area where UFOs are reported in Eastern Washington?
Not necessarily. We get sightings from all over. There was a case of a guy in northern Walla Walla County fishing on the Snake River. He had a UFO flying across at very low altitude above his head, about 30 feet. It was brightly lit underneath. He had spent time in the military in an air defense unit. He said this wasn’t an airplane. Thirty feet in the air, I guarantee it wasn’t an airplane. We list that as an Unknown Air Vehicle.
What about reports of crop circles?
On the Palouse, with the wheat fields, you’d think you’d see a lot. I haven’t seen any crop circle incidents come through recently. They were a big deal in England for awhile. They have occured in the Northwest, but they aren’t common.
Cattle mutilations were big news several decades ago but we don’t seem to hear about them as much these days.
Cattle mutilations is one of those things that hasn’t gone by the wayside in occurrence, but they do not attract attention from the press like they once did. MUFON still gets reports. I’ve not had any in Washington. It’s usually California, Arizona and New Mexico. We raise a lot of cattle in Washington, but not as much as they do in that area.
What is the most common type of sighting you receive?
The most common type of sighting anywhere is lights in the sky. Daytime sightings are relatively uncommon. I have had a few. I had one in Clarkston in December (below is the video submitted to MUFON as part of the report).
What about people who claim to encounter aliens?
We investigate on two levels. There are field investigators who go out and talk to people, and then there’s an entire second section of investigators, the experience and research team, for those rare occasions when people say they may have had an encounter with an unidentifiable entity. It’s a 14-member team. We have two in Washington, and they stay pretty busy, I tell you.
How common are reports of encounters with unidentifiable entities?
I’d say 12 to 20 out of 200 reports a year. Like regular cases, some turn out to be nothing.
You’d think that we’d have more photo evidence of UFOs now that everyone pretty much carries a camera at all times.
Cellphone cameras are great for taking pictures of grandma across the table. They’re very poor at taking pictures outdoors of something far away you can see clearly with your eye. It comes out as a blurry dot crossing the sky.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “UFOs in Eastern Washington”
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 22
WHERE: Quality Inn Paradise Creek, SE 1400 Bishop Blvd., Pullman
COST: Free; refreshments will be served.