Blue Book Unknown: Multiple-Witness UFO Sightings in Oregon and Washington on July 4, 1947

One of the first multiple-witness sighting cases investigated by the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book, and determined to be an “unknown,” began with sightings by police officers in Oregon and Washington on July 4, 1947. The case was broken up into multiple incidents, even though they were all lumped together into one Blue Book case file. The Blue Book report included an article from the Oregon Journal that detailed the sightings, and included testimony of several other witnesses.

Portland Police cruiser. Police officers were the primary witnesses in this case. (Credit: M.O. Stevens)

Incident #5: Portland, Oregon

The sightings began at approximately 1:05 p.m. on July 4, 1947.  It was a clear, warm day with very few clouds. City of Portland police officer Kenneth McDowell was feeding pigeons in the parking lot in the back of the police precinct when the pigeons began to get excited about something and flew off. He looked around to see what was going on and spotted five large flying discs in the sky east of Portland. Two were flying south, and the other three were heading east. He said that he could not make out their color, but that they were flying very fast and “dipping up and down in an oscillating motion.” He was unsure of the objects’ speed or altitude; they moved so quickly that they were out of sight within a few seconds. He immediately notified police dispatch, and they sent out an alert.

Incident #6:  Milwaukie, Oregon

At the same time as Kenneth McDowell’s sighting, Oregon State Police Sergeant Claude Cross said he also saw three discs following each other and moving very quickly over the skies of Milwaukie, Oregon, which is just south of Portland.

Incident #7: Portland, Oregon

Portland police patrolman Earl Patterson, a former air corps pilot, heard a radio alert about the object and stopped to take a look. He also spotted one of the objects, which was moving very fast. The Blue Book report noted that the object was moving “[f]aster than any speed witness had ever seen.” It moved southeast over Portland and made a ninety degree turn without difficulty. Patterson suspected it was a remote-controlled object and described the object as an aluminum disc or possibly having an eggshell white color.  He also said that the object didn’t reflect any light. He estimated the object was flying at 30,000 feet in altitude.

Portland, Oregon. (Credit: Bob Heims/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Incident #8: Portland, Oregon

At the same time as Patterson’s sighting, City of Portland Police patrolmen Walter Lissy and Robert Ellis had stopped their car and spotted three flat, round, white discs flying at approximately 40,000 feet and moving very quickly. Lissy said the objects were in a “straight line formation except the last disc fluttered very rapidly in a sideways arc.” The Blue Book report noted that both Lissy and Ellis were WWII veterans, private pilots, and considered highly dependable and trustworthy.  The Oregon Journal indicated this may have been the first sighting of the 1947 Oregon/Washington events, but the Blue Book report listed the Patterson sighting as the first.

Incident #12: Vancouver, Washington

In nearby Vancouver, Washington, Clark County Sherriff’s deputies John Sullivan, Clarence McKay, and Fred Krives heard the report from the Portland police over the radio and ran outside to look at the sky. They say they saw twenty to thirty objects in a V-shaped formation, five miles away over Portland. Sullivan said they looked like a flight of geese, but that he heard a low humming sound.

A page from the Blue Book file. (Credit: U.S. Air Force)

The Oregon Journal Witnesses

The article in the Oregon Journal included more witnesses to the UFOs seen on that day. The article identified members of the harbor patrol who heard the police alert and also stepped out to take a look. They also saw the objects moving at a great speed and said they seemed to be flashing, which hampered the witnesses’ ability to make out their shapes. According to the article, harbor pilot captain K.A. Prahn said, “The disks would oscillate and sometimes we would see a full disk, then a half-moon shape, then nothing at all. The objects looked more like shiny chrome hub caps off a car which wobbled, disappeared and reappeared.”

The harbor patrol witnesses said they saw an airplane in the sky at the same time, but they were adamant that these other objects were not planes.

The Oregon Journal also mentioned similar objects spotted by the crew of a United Airlines flight over Boise, Idaho later the same day. The article said that the pilot told United Press that the objects were “thin and smooth on the bottom and rough appearing on the top.” He said that the crew saw the objects clearly at around 8 p.m. They followed the objects for 45 miles before they disappeared.

Another witness, Seattle-based U.S. Coast Guard officer Frank Ryman, also spoke with United Press and said he took a photograph of one of the objects. Ryman saw the object from the porch of his home and described it as a “white saucer” flying over the north end of Seattle’s Lake Washington. His photograph was analyzed, but all that could be seen was a tiny white dot.

The last witness was an amusement park employee. He claimed he saw several objects that looked “like spinning disks.” He said that several people had seen the object along with him, including a female pilot.

Blue Book Evaluation

Dr. J. Allen Hynek

The Blue Book report noted, “There is no astronomical explanation for this incident, nor for numerous others which occurred in and near Portland on the Fourth of July, 1947.” It also recognized the similarities in the reports, such as the “terrific” speed of the craft, their round shape, abrupt movements, and quick disappearance.

Although the investigator said he could not offer any definitive hypothesis as to what the objects were, he noted that because it was the Fourth of July it is possible that small pieces of aluminum-looking objects were dropped by a plane in a celebration. If that was the case, the investigator wrote, the pieces of aluminum would appear to flutter and give the illusion of being a fast moving disc. Still, he commented, “The above is not to be regarded as a very likely explanation but only a possibility.”

Even though the U.S. Air Force officially labeled this case an “unknown,” consulting scientist, J. Allen Hynek did not agree. He seemed to be partial to the investigator’s speculation. He listed this case in his file of “non-astronomical” incidents, specifically associating the events with possible rockets, flares, or falling bodies.

See the entire Project Blue Book file on this case here.

This article originally appeared in Open Minds Magazine Issue 26 June/July 2014.

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