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Columbia River UFO 3/17/1981

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 What Was That Light and Sound Over the Columbia River?
 by Greg Long
 It was misty and very cold in the early morning hours of March 17, 1981,
 as Sergeant Russell Yokum of the Saint Helens, Oregon, Police Department
 drove on patrol on Highway 30 west of the Columbia River. Saint Helens
 is a small mill town about 20 miles northwest of Portland.
 At 4:03 a.m., Yokum's attention was drawn to a bright light that was
 moving upriver, easterly, toward the Portland Airport 20 miles away.
 Aircraft passed over here regularly on their way to the airport. But
 this light was extraordinarily bright, lighting up the river like
 daylight. Yokum was immediately convinced that the light was not from an
 aircraft. He radioed headquarters, and drove on to Saint Helens to look
 at the light from the county courthouse on the banks of the Columbia
 River, which afforded a clear view.
 Other law enforcement officers, Ricky Cade and Tom McCartney of the
 Oregon State Police, and a few citizens, met Yokum at the county
 courthouse. By this time, Yokum was in radio contact with Donald Askins,
 who bore the CB handle "Lucky 13." Askins, who was located in a house
 across the river in Washington state in Ridgefield, southeast of Saint
 Helens, had picked up the police radio traffic. He said that he, too,
 had seen the light, and was seeing it now. The light was stationary over
 the river turning the whole area into daylight.
 There was initial confusion as the officers in Saint Helens described
 the light to Askins. They claimed it was bobbing up and down. Askins
 insisted that the light he saw was stationary. Later, it was proved that
 the light the officers saw during the first moments of the sighting from
 the courthouse was a manmade light on Sauvie Island across the river.
 Fog, variable that night, had created the bobbing effect. Finally,
 understanding their confusion, the officers turned and looked to the
 south. There was the light Askins was watching! It was low and standing
 out starkly over the river where there were few, and only then, faint
 Askins had heard the light emitting an eerie, extremely loud sound, and
 the officers set up a portable tape recorder 18 inches from their police
 radio to record their conversation and the sound, should it recur.
 Askins volunteered to dangle his CB microphone out of the window of the
 rented house he was in so that he could transmit the sound to the
 officers. The police drove to a nearby high bluff that gave them an
 excellent view. The ensuing 30 minutes, recorded on tape, and presented
 to the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) for analysis,
 presents a fascinating, real-life drama of puzzled human beings
 attempting to understand the unknown. The tape does not indicate who was
 speaking, but the excitement is palpable. Listen to this sequence --
 looking at the light -- in one of these sound formats (780K each).
 (Real Audio 3.0, AU, Wave, AIFF)
 "Hey, Lucky! We've got a tape recorder sitting here by our radio
 whenever you're ready. We'll keep her running. If it starts up again,
 just key up and we'll record a little bit of it."
 "Oakey doak."
 "I just don't want you to think we had a screw loose."
 "Sometimes I wonder."
 "Oh, go to bed!"
 "Now all it is is just an orange glow. That's all I can see."
 "It's like the sun is just coming up."
 "It better not be. It's awfully early."
 "Awfully early for the sun. I don't think the sun would just be in that
 one spot."
 And then at approximately 4:29 a.m., the light emitted the sound. What
 you are about to hear is the actual sound of an Unidentified Flying
 Object, only one of a few that are known to the public. Listen to this
 sequence -- it contains the UFO sound -- in one of these sound formats
 (800K each).  (Real Audio 3.0, AU, Wave, AIFF)
 "I think it's moving out, you guys?"
 "Well, we're watching. We've moved to a higher vantage point. So you
 tell us what it does."
 "Well, listen."
 Sound of the UFO begins on tape now!
 "It sounds like it's revving up its engines."
 "Can you hear it?"
 "I hope. Because it sure is cold out here."
 "I hope you're taping this, you guys."
 "Yes, we are."
 "It sounds like a power plant diesel motor and a screeching noise in
 between it there, or with it."
 After the light "powered down," one officer heard it quietly humming.
 For another 14 minutes the officers, citizens, and Lucky 13 watched the
 hovering light. Then at 4:43 a.m., the light went out. One officer said
 that the light made a "funny whistling sound before it went out."
 "We heard whatever it was go off, or quit doing whatever it was doing
 "The Coast Guard confirmed they did have it on radar and it did go
 "OK. Are they coming to check it out?"
 "I don't know. OSP [Oregon State Police] is still talking to them."
 "I definitely seen it disappear, and all of a sudden there was a big
 funny noise."
 "OK. 10-4."
 What was that light and sound over the Columbia River? Investigators
 from CUFOS interviewed the officers (Askins couldn't be found). Yokum
 and Cade said the light was spherical, showing no structure. Cade said
 it was orange-red in color; Yokum, light orange. The round light had
 hovered 80 to 100 feet above the river, reflecting light off the water.
 The estimated size of the light was 30 feet in diameter. Investigators
 ruled out the moon (wrong direction); a dope smuggling boat
 (implausible; why light up the area?); a balloon; or an hallucination
 (too many observers.)
 CUFOS analyzed the sound recording. The sound displays two strong peaks,
 or fundamentals, at about 1000 and 3000 hertz (cycles per second), with
 no even harmonics in the sound. When the tape is played backwards, the
 data does not change. Both Askins and Yokum heard the sound change
 pitch, like a turbine winding down, before it vanished at 4:43 a.m. It
 was then that the UFO blinked out of existence.
 What was it? Where did it go? This sighting caused a buzz in the local
 media, but then as no answer was forthcoming, as is usual with UFO
 sightings, the story died away. We are left these many years later with
 an audio record of the event, and the testimony of multiple witnesses.
 Such unexplained spheres of light are not uncommon in the world of UFOs.
 Such balls of light had been seen for 10 years on the Yakima Indian
 Reservation (see December 1995 column). Was this glowing, screeching
 sphere a natural phenomenon, generated by an unusual energy source,
 perhaps terrestrial in nature? Or something from another place, another
 world -- extraterrestrial?
 NOTE: Thanks go the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies for their help
 in this story.
 Next, look for another Tale from the Secret Study in just two weeks:
 We've heard of the Flying Dutchman, but a flying chunk of rock weighing
 three tons?
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