The Hudson Valley UFO Mystery
Today we're going to travel up the Hudson River Valley in New York, and back in time to the summers of 1983 and 1984. On many occasions, on clear summer nights, something terrifying and unexpected appeared in the sky. It was a gigantic craft, black as the sky, rimmed with bright lights in white, red, or green. It would drift over towns with a steady hum, witnessed by many. Police phone lines lit up every time it appeared, and the newspapers were choked with reports. It's called the Hudson Valley UFO, and it's one of the mainstays of evidence for those who believe we are not alone.
My friend Joe Miale is the director of the sci-fi movie Revolt (2017), and as it happened, the Hudson Valley UFO played as a big a role in his growth as all of my books on Bigfoots and ghosts did in mine. I asked Joe to tell his story:
The case became legend, driven primarily by the 1987 book Night Siege: The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings by UFOlogists Philip J. Imbrogno and Bob Pratt, with credit also given to UFOlogy legend J. Allen Hynek who died before the book was finished. A number of other books were published about it too. Even a 1992 episode of the TV show Unsolved Mysteries dramatized the case and interviewed many of the people who were there, including a number of police officers who witnessed the object.
By all reports, hundreds of people saw the UFO on many occasions during the summers of 1983 and 1984, and some sources even list a few reports from other years. Always, the descriptions were the same.
It's the kind of case where I always wish someone would jump in their car and follow this UFO to see where it goes. And luckily, that's exactly what happened in this case. In August of 1984, just as the second summer of the Hudson Valley UFO was winding down, Jeffrey Schmalz of the New York Times ground the leads down as far as he could and reported this:
Airplanes flying in formation! Well did he arrest them, I hope?
Schmalz took that to the FAA to verify it.
Of course none of this was any surprise to people who were in general aviation in the area. A year before, in the summer of 1983, Tony Capaldi was a local air traffic controller, and here's what he told Unsolved Mysteries:
And just to be clear, there's no evidence that these pilots ever intended a UFO hoax. As Discover magazine put it in a 1984 article:
What about reports of the UFO lights suddenly all going off at once? Discover continued:
And the colored lights, white, red and green, are of course the color of aircraft navigation lights, changing depending on what angle you see them from. Although Unsolved Mysteries focused its interviews on police officers who didn't accept the airplane identification, this wasn't true for most of them. William Wolf Jr. was a police dispatcher when the police first starting seeing the Martians:
If the whole Hudson Valley UFO episode was so easily explained, as indeed it appears to be, then why would these authors write the 1987 book Night Siege and so passionately promote the idea that it's unsolved or that it must be an alien spacecraft? Much has to do with who they are. These were not journalists or objective reporters. They were all UFO authors who made their careers out of sensationalizing these little stories they found by keeping an eye on the newspapers. None had any serious academic credibility.
Here is where author Imbrogno lost me in this story. There is a clip of decent video of the UFO, shot by local resident Bob Pozzuoli (sometimes spelled Pasouli) in July of 1984. It shows probably six light clusters — it's a bit blurry and grainy to tell for sure — roughly in a circle. The ones on the left hold their position pretty well, but the ones on the right aren't even close, moving in and out and greatly disrupting the circle. Watching that video, Imbrogno says:
If by "photographic expert" he means a photographer, then he means one who can't tell a circle from a square from a rhombus with its top torn off, and who doesn't even think to do a simple frame comparison to see that the lights are not holding formation very well at all.
Believers in the Hudson Valley UFO, Imbrogno included, have acknowledged that the Martians were flying around, but have repeatedly argued that there was also a UFO, and that witnesses could tell which one they were looking at. This raises an important question. This alleged UFO only existed at a time and place where the Martians were doing their nighttime formation flying. The UFO looked the same, behaved the same, it flew in the same way and in the same place. Would that not be a staggering coincidence? Isn't it more likely that our human perceptual errors and confirmation bias and selective memory and all the other cognitive phenomena that shape our perceptions played some role here? Personally, I think it is.
Largely because I had an identical experience of my own. I was camped out in Death Valley one night with two friends, in the middle of nowhere. We were sitting outside looking for shooting stars and satellites, when we all noticed this massive object flying slowly overhead. It looked like it was at extremely high altitude and the size of a city, defined by lights around its perimeter, shaped like an arrowhead. It was perfectly silent and rock solid, and we marveled as we watched it drift all the way across the sky until it went out of view. Like Joe Miale's neighbors we used pretty colorful language wondering aloud what it could be. I clearly remember the rush I felt, I was Mr. Skeptoid, and here was something incredible that absolutely defied explanation. Half an hour later, it came overhead again. For some reason, this time we quickly figured it out. It was a group of F-18s out of nearby China Lake doing aerial refueling behind a KC-10 tanker, holding steady in formation. When I got home I researched and got the details.
If it hadn't flown overhead that second time, I might well today still believe that I saw something unexplained. One of our guys, however, was not convinced that's what it was, even after I showed him what I found out from talking to China Lake, and he still won't accept it.
Officer Andi Sadoff of the New Castle police department felt the same way:
Our little group in Death Valley was a perfect microcosm of what happened in the Hudson River Valley. Planes flying in formation, looking more than anything like a giant spacecraft, some believing the explanation, and some rejecting it to their dying day. Most have their minds closed to any explanation except their preferred one — exactly like Bigfoot and Elvis eyewitnesses. Try as we might, we're unlikely to dislodge this tale from the shelves of urban legendry.
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