Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Socorro Student Hoax Confirmed?

Alleged UFO landing at Socorro, NM, 1964
On September 23, 2009, UFO investigator Anthony Bragalia wrote a Blog entry that generated huge controversy within UFOlogy. I wrote about it in my Psychic Vibrations column of March/April, 2010. I wrote:
The famous Socorro “UFO landing” case of April 24, 1964, has been proclaimed by leading UFOlogists, such as Jacques  Vallee and the late J. Allen Hynek, as among the best ever recorded. Policeman Lonnie Zamora allegedly witnessed two humanoids standing outside a landed craft, which then flew away with a loud roar. The object’s landing pads allegedly left behind four indentations in the ground, and nearby vegetation was scorched and burning. Could this classic UFO incident have been a hoax perpetrated by students at the New Mexico Institute of Technology? That’s exactly what UFOlogist Anthony Bragalia, who usually argues the pro side of UFO discussions, claims.... 
Officer Lonnie Zamora
In a September 23, 2009, blog entry, Bragalia wrote, “The Socorro UFO Hoax Exposed! (Famous 1964 sighting was a college prank).” The principal support for this conclusion was found in a scribbled reply to a letter by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling to Stirling Colgate, a noted physicist who also served as president of New Mexico Tech. The 1968 letter recently discovered in Pauling’s papers has Pauling asking Colgate, purely as an aside from other matters, about the famous UFO incident that occurred in Socorro, just a short distance from his campus. Colgate’s brief and enigmatic reply was, “I have a good indication of the student who engineered the hoax. Student has left. Cheers, Stirling” 

While there were a few others in the New Mexico Tech community who also hinted at knowledge of a hoax, the matter was never proven, and how such a hoax might be pulled off was, unfortunately, never explained. The noted UFO skeptic, the late Philip J. Klass, visited Socorro in 1966 and interviewed Zamora and others who had first-hand knowledge of the incident. Klass was puzzled by how little interest there was among the scientists at New Mexico Tech in what might be the first genuine alien encounter in recorded history, occurring literally in their backyard. Klass wrote, “When I pressed one member of the community to explain his apparent indifference, he suggested that I ‘nose around a bit,’” and he went on to explain that the town was seeking to attract tourists to strengthen its economy. Klass also noted the curious lack of symmetry in the “pad prints” supposedly left behind, illustrating how unsuitable such an unstable design would be for any craft. Klass concluded that the incident was a hoax to 'put Socorro on the map,' a collusion probably involving Zamora, the mayor, and a few others. If that is the case, Socorro has not been nearly as successful at milking UFO notoriety as another New Mexico town named Roswell. The assumption that the incident was a student hoax instead of one perpetrated by publicity-seeking town leaders changes Zamora from an 'active participant' to 'victim of the hoax,' which frankly seems more plausible.

Stirling Colgate
Now Bragalia has written, The Ultimate Secret of  Socorro Finally Told. He says that Dr. Colgate, now age 86,  has very recently provided additional information:
“It was a prank and I was very concerned for Officer Zamora.”
“No one would come forward on this, they were all embarrassed.”
“So many things were pressuring me and still are about this.”
“I did not feel that I could add anything by pressuring the students, and recognized it as a prank.”
“The students were embarrassed about the possible harm that could have come to Zamora (from the prank.)”
 But how exactly was it done? Bragalia writes,

Beauty is often found in simplicity. And so it is with Socorro. For all of the speculations about the hoax involving such things as tethers, remote control and flame throwers - it needn't be and wasn't. In the August 8th email from Stirling Colgate, he opened up even a bit further about how the students had hoaxed Lonnie. I had of course always wanted to know from him just exactly how the deed was done.  How did the students do it?
I stated to Colgate that he must know how they did it- and directly asked of him:
 “How did they do it? What was the craft made of?”
His short but telling reply:
“A candle in a balloon. Not sophisticated.”
I also asked of Stirling how many were “in on the hoax?” Again, a short reply received:
“I’d say about 3-6”
Two students standing in white lab suits - the "aliens" - and one driving the speeding car to lure Zamora, the intended victim of the hoax, to the spot where the hoaxers needed him to be. If you want more details, read Bragalia's piece.

Is this proof that the incident was a student hoax? Not yet, but we're getting closer. To me a guy like Dr. Colgate has a lot of credibility in "telling it like it was." Now that almost 50 years have passed since the incident, and Zamora has passed away, it is time for those involved to step forward and proudly confess their role in one of the greatest hoaxes in the history of UFOs.


  1. I discussed this in SUNlite 1-4 and I still have the same opinion about his theory after reading this piece. I am not sold on this being a hoax (at least as Bragalia described). I am also very concerned about the way Bragalia interviewed Dr. Colgate and I think an independent individual needs to ask him if he was quoted accurately. Two years ago, when he wrote his orginal article, Dr. Colgate told Patrick Gross that Bragalia had abused their private e-mails. He also told Dave Thomas that all he had heard were rumors and really had nothing more than that. Are we led to believe that Dr. Colgate lied to Thomas and Gross or that Bragalia finally got him to confess? Until Bragalia releases the full exchange instead of his selected texts, I will wonder if he hasn't misquoted Dr. Colgate out of context.

  2. Tim-

    This is wholly untrue. What is true (and many do not know this) is that Dave Thomas approached me to request my assistance in privately appealing to NMIT alumni. In fact Tim, Dave established a special website for this where comments were left and where others emailed Dave about what they knew about Zamora and about the event. I have no idea where you come off saying that Dave was told by Colgate that "these were only rumors." Thought Colgate was cryptic with me - he was specific. He was not "guessing." He knows at least one perp that he remains in communication with, they were and remain embarrassed, he knows how many were involved and how they did it. What are you talking about, Tim?

    And these are direct quotes, Tim. There are from emails that were received by me from Colgate in response to me questions. Colgate is very cryptic because he wishes to maintain the confidence of those who entrusted him, those he still knows.

    I have in no way added to or embellished in any way Colgate's replies, if that is what you are insinuating. Call him yourself. You have my email Tim, I'll give you his direct phone number. Oh, I forgot. You admitted to me you do not make such calls nor do you ever interview witnesses. You just denigrate the work of others.


  3. Back in 2009, Dave Thomas approached you because of Dr. Colgate's lack of interest in your research. One would think if he knew the truth then, he would have told Thomas. Instead Thomas offerred to contact various alumni and attempt to get the pranksters to confess. This obviously never happened and, based on what Thomas told me, he had no leads from ths inquiry. This leaves Dr. Colgate as the only source of information. I only ask you to present the unedited e-mails for all to see so everyone can see EXACTLY what Dr. Colgate said to your questions.

  4. I did get an announcement in the NM Tech Alumni newsletter, the Gold Pan, at the end of 2009, asking any alumni who remembered anything about the incident to come forward. I made a blog that allowed anonymous comments, so that alumni could comment without being identified if that would have prevented them from coming forth.

    It was only advertised in the alumni newsletter of December 2009, and was not put out on the web (and so the comments there, from early 2010, are indeed genuine NMT alumni, even if anonymous).

    It's all online, and I guess this is a good time as any to show the world what was said. There were some very interesting comments, and many references to numerous famous student pranks of that era, but the general consensus was that is was NOT a student hoax.

    Here is the blog and the comments. One former student hinted at a particular kind of footplate being a candidate for the footprints, but certainly nothing about candles in balloons (which would *not* have worked at 5:00 in the afternoon in late April, IMO!).

    The URL:

    I will try to verify with Stirling these new comments (I go by his lab every day on the way to lunch), but he is out this week, and not available. On a recent visit, Stir charged me with helping him find out about methane plumes in Siberia, which I did, prompting his co-workers to ask me how I liked my new job.

    When I talked about the 1964 incident with Stirling in 2009, he really did not remember anything other than what was in the letter to Pauling, and certainly didn't say anything about candles and balloons. Where these new recollections are coming from, I will have to check.

    More later (if possible), Dave

  5. Tim, Anthony, Dave,

    Thanks to all of you for your comments. On the one hand, what Colgate says sounds very credible. On the other hand, after reading what Dave has posted, and former students' comments, it certainly does seem to me that if a few students had done this, given the small size of the campus and the huge size of the news story, word would have gotten around very quickly. Other students would surely have seen something of the preparations. The "student hoax" story may have actually sprung up as an Urban Legend, like "this is the sort of thing we might do, so we must have done it." And perhaps Colgate and others heard the legend, and assumed it must be true?

    The claim that the Socorro sighting was 'independently confirmed by tourists' was examined by Phil Klass, who found a number of reasons why it was not plausible. I scanned that Klassic "White Paper" and put it on my Debunker site at

  6. Dave, nice to hear from you.

    You have explained to me in the past that Stirling himself was "cryptic" with you as well. It took me three years, but he most certainly has re-affirmed his personal knowledge of a hoax, who did it and how. We either question his ability to make these conclusions and question his powers of discernment, or we call him a liar or we accept what he is saying. What camp do you fall in Dave? Please tell us.

    And Dr. Colgate certainly is not the only one to affirm the hoax. Talk to Dr. Etscorn and Dave Collis, you know where who they are. Privately I will share w/ you others...and you have some leads along these very hoax lines too Dave, from people that were there at the time, or so you stated to me in emails.

    And there were people on the blog and who responded who did believe it likely a hoax! And several spoke to Lonnie's love of libation...Email me for the names of these individuals and their comments on that if you cannot find them.


  7. Tim Printy-

    Your insinuations insult. What I wrote, Stirling said. There is nothing more nor nothing less of what he said than has been reported. Supportive of this is the way in which Colgate responded 45 years ago to his friend Pauling- a note that was short and cryptic. He has not changed. Ask Dave Thomas.

    And ask Dave Thomas to ask "Stir" if what I have reported that "Stir" said in all my articles on this are not accurate and true.

    And where are you coming up with all of this "inside info" about what Colgate feels about me or what I have written? He was very pissed at me for having found the Pauling document 45 years later- and he thought mistakenly that I was "an historian" when I explained that I was "conducting historical research." He has obviously since come around in his willingness to expand with me on the hoax, some three years later. Perhaps in the winter of his life he recognizes his obligation to do so.

    Nonetheless, despite you awful insinuations, Tim, I have done more than anyone, including Dave Thomas, to extract the truth for history on the Socorro hoax. In you heart Tim you know it was a hoax. More importantly, in you head you know it to be. You just cannot and will not ever in any way compliment my work or agree in any way with it. It is compulsive. You are a rabid skeptic even on debunking pieces that I do! It is irrational.


  8. The "inside info" can be traced back to what Patrick Gross mentioned in his email with Dr. Colgate back in 2009 and what Dave Thomas mentioned to me in e-mails back in 2009. I don't ever recall seeing him mention that he was "pissed at you" about finding the document though. About the only thing I read was how he felt you abused his communications with you, that you represented yourself as a "bonafide historian" (implying you gave him some sort of reference/credentials), and that your original article was too full of speculation, it was non-professional, and that it was designed to cause a reaction. Perhaps you can provide evidence of him being pissed at you discovering the letter.

    Based on this information about your interpretation the first time around, I would like to see more information regarding your exchange than the tidbits of information you have given out. If you don't want to reveal the context, then I must assume there is a reason for it. As I wrote in SUNlite 1-4,

    "When some really good evidence arises that gives us a source for this UFO story, I will gladly accept it. Unfortunately, the evidence presented by Mr. Bragalia isn’t much better than the evidence presented by Klass. Wake me up when the students come forward with how they did it."

  9. I am not going to continue to belabor this: Ciolgate said what he said.

    I beseech you to ask of Dave Thomas to take the article/s I wrote that quote Colgate to Colgate himself -right now- and ask of Colgate did not say these things to me exactly and precisely as I have reported. I am waiting, Tim. And I mean it.

    And what about who you ignore: Dr. Frank Etscorn, inventor of the Nicotine Patch, multi-millionaire philanthropist (who donated a wing to NMIT, as Dave Thomas knows.) And BTW, why do you repeatedly ignore the several others at NMIT who swear it a hoax like Etscorn? Why?

    And why would they implicate their own? You fail utterly to answer this.

    Why did the skeptic you literally worship (Klass) not get much of a reaction (and was surprised at the real lack of interest) from the NMIT faculty at the time? I can tell you why.

    And I never at any time whatsoever misrepresented myself in any way to Colgate. He assumed it. I said I was an author and was conducting historical research. Period.

    And now it does not matter. You cannot escape it Tim:

    Colgate re-affirms on his legacy it was a hoax. He is not guessing, it is abundantly clear.

    Either call Drrs. Colgate and Etscorn liars or do not...and do it now.


    1. Etscorn? His name is really "Frank ET Scorn"?

      Hahaha! Sounds like a name from a sci-fi B-movie.

  10. Nobody is calling anybody a liar. Memories are funny things and just because you remember things a certain way, does not mean that it how it happened. I was exchanging sea stories the other day and it was amazing how I remembered certain events and others remembered them differently. It wasn't until I broke out my photographs of the event was the truth revealed.
    What I am doing is questioning the sources accuracy, which is important in this sort of thing. We still have yet to hear any names and, unless you are stating Etscorn and Colgate were in on the hoax, their statements are considered hearsay evidence. They weren't there and are repeating what they heard from another source. That source does not sound like was one of the participants, which makes it third hand or greater information. Exactly how accurate can this be? This is why the context in which Colgate answered your questions are important. I have no doubt that you are quoting Colgate's words but what were the quesitons and what was the context? Did you leave anything out that was important? Without the actual transcripts, we don't know if there isn't another interpretation. This is why I keep asking but you seem to not want to reveal the full transcripts.
    Anyway, I will not bother Dr. Colgate as his e-mail box is probably full to overflowing at this point, which is why I asked Dave Thomas to check up with him on this the instant I saw your article. If Dr. Colgate says you took him out of context or explains himself differently to Dave, will you call him a liar? If he says he was quoted accurately, we are still dealing with hearsay evidence. Without the culprits confessing it involves a lot of recollections that may not be 100% accurate.

  11. Dr. Colgate is not around this week. I will ask him about all this the next time I see him. Meanwhile, it's time for a bit more patience, K? The story has been 48 years in the making -- what's another week or two?
    Cheers, Dave

  12. Reading this exchange in the comments, I have to say that one participant seems intent on sounding just a mite too defensive...

    I have a little rule myself: If someone actually resorts to the tired defense of, "Are you calling my source a liar?", then I have no issue whatsoever with considering them incapable of proper investigation. People lie. They can also be mistaken, they can misremember, they can infer, they can conflate, they can assume, and they can even suffer from delusions. Eyewitness accounts are the shittiest factors to attempt to label as "evidence," and this has been known a long, long time. Anyone that does not and can not take such things into routine consideration is not to be taken seriously. Neither is anyone that resorts to emotional challenges.

    If you were serious, Mr. Braglia, you might take this as constructive criticism. I'm betting you will not.

    Right now, it stands as a case of, "He said, she said," regardless entirely of who gave how much money to whom or invented what item - I'm not aware of any study where such things imparted honesty or verisimilitude. And even if any former student comes forward and demonstrates their ability to reconstruct the craft, at this late date, this is still almost meaningless. The only thing that could possibly support (not prove) the idea of the hoax is someone producing corroboration that has remained out of the public domain, such as photographs that match an unreleased aspect of Zamora's testimony - good luck with that.

    Lest I be challenged as being on one side or another (yes, too many people in this field can only count to two,) I have no opinion of whether this was a hoax or not. Nor do I care, except out of mild interest. After 48 years, nothing has come of it either way, and that says enough, I think.

  13. To those from Dave's Post at:

    Q1) If indeed you all knew each other back then (or that the schoool was small), do any of you recall any of the pranks mentioned above by the others?

    Q2) Zamora was interviwed just after the incident on radio: 04.24.1964 - Officer Lonnie Zamora is interviewed by Walter Strode on KSRC Radio. 12:15 (available audio length). Do any of you recall this interview? And. given that it did reach the public airwaves rather quickly, would this have taken the air out of the pranksters sails . . . causing them to instead remain hushed and much less likely to bragged about it?

    Q3) Do any of you know the names of additional students, that could be contacted or tracked down? Or, do you feel less inclined to tell us if you did? In any case, why not list them so we can contact them?


    P.S. - Dave, can you pass this along if we don't get a response. I think these are fair questions that I hope the above could respond to.

  14. This may be relevant - Zamora describes a flame that by description and attitude is an upward directed flame not a downward one...

    He also said he saw a flame in the sky originally, not on the ground... If prankers were conducting this they may have tethered it initially for testing then pulled it back as he was arriving. Or, the object was presumably landing?

    Hynek's account of Zamora's testimony . . . presumably taped.. . I found this mixed in at this site about a third of the way down.

    1. Officer Lonnie Zamora saw almost exactly what he said he saw. It was not a college prank nor any hoax. If it was, they ought be in Vegas. It wasn't a lander nor do we have anything egg shaped. That flame which initially lifted the craft off the ground is food for thought. But then the object did not blast away on after burners like our known fighter aircraft, but rather it became silent and eased away like nothing we've been able to put into the air. And it was completely silent once airborne. Whatever it was, it a successfully constructed and operated craft from somebody's civilization. Unless these beings return with a revelation and an explanation of who they are, their origins and the advanced mechanics of the craft, we'll never know for sure. As it stands now it remains a mystery. The Betty cash sighting in Texas was a top secret government construction that didn't work-out. The Socorro craft did work-out for somebody but is a complete mystery.

    2. The Socorro sighting was not a hoax nor college prank. If it was, they ought be in Vegas. It was almost exactly as Officer Zamora reported it. We have nothing egg shaped. The flame initially lifting the craft off the ground is food for thought. But then it became silent once airborne (we don't have any craft that can do that) and eased away and not blast away like our know fighter jets. The Betty Cash sighting in Texas was clearly a top secret government experiment that didn't work-out. The Zamora sighting was somebody's successfully operated construction from where we don't know. But it remains a mystery.

  15. Above two posts by same person. Call me, "Curious"

  16. Poor old Phil Klass gets criticized for lots of things, but if he was wrong about the mayor owning the land, there may be a good reason for it. In the Blue Book files, there is a referencce to "the Mayor's dynamite shack".
    See page 63 of:

  17. Well, Dave, it's been about a week and a half since you noted you'd talk to Dr. Colgate. Have you had the chance yet to query him on the details Anthony reports having gotten from "Stir"?

  18. I received an e-mail from Dave Thomas yesterday and I thought he might post what he found here. Since he hasn't, I assume he is too busy at the moment. To summarize the e-mail, Dr. Colgate had not read the piece and Thomas gave him a copy. He felt that there were no misquotes/quotes out of context but he had deleted his emails from Bragalia so Thomas could not check what was exactly asked and replied to. The bottom line is that Colgate's story is still a second or third-hand story. As a skeptic, I would like to see more evidence for this prank theory before I consider it a reasonable explanation.

    1. Thanks, Tim. I agree. When Dave posted that notice in the NMIT alumni magazine and got no additional useful information, that closes the door, I think, on the idea that it was a student prank, and that everybody knew this. It would have to be a prank known only to a few, and maintained zealously for close to 50 years. Very unlikely.

      Possibly Colgate was simply joking or boasting in that long-ago note to Linus Pauling, and made up the statement about the student hoax? Then, like many who start out with a little joke about UFOs, they later find themselves trapped as the little joke grows into something huge, and they don't want to admit that they just made it up.

  19. Late to the update on this, Tim and Robert...

    It is heartening to know that Dr. Colgate confirms that I did not misquote or misconstrue his emails to me.

    Tim, this is a lesson learned for you. Do not accuse me again of such a thing.

    Robert, you are being disingenuous. You are saying that Dr. Colgate is covering up a "joke" with a continuing lie. But you do not really believe this. If you did, you would tell Dave Thomas to tell Dr. Colgate what you have determined to get Colgate's reaction. But you will not.

    Tony Bragalia

    1. Tony,

      I did not say I was convinced that Colgate was "is covering up a "joke" with a continuing lie." However, I did suggest it as a possibility. I will forward these comments to Dave Thomas with the suggestion that he ask Colgate about that possibility.

  20. Hello all! I find this subject its fascinating. I wonder why major Hector Quintinella, Captain Holder, Dr. J.A. Hynek all believed that Lonnie Zamora encountered something inexplicable ..... If the University knew of the prank, I wonder why they didn't tell the Af rather than waste everyone's time....? Also if it was a rank in the mid 1960's, the perps would have been "bragging" about it...typical thing for students to do...what good is pranking someone and not claiming the credit? Wasn't it also true that the Professor mentioned it was a prank because he himself believed that interspace travel was impossible by conventional methods of the times?? Just some Q's I thought of while reading this blog. Very interesting article. Thank you!

  21. I;ve watched the developments in this fascinating case for many years. While I find it possible and plausible that this was a student prank, I doubt that it was as simple as a chinese lantern device.Bear in mind the closeness of White Sands, the credentials and connections of Colgate and Pauling.
    Now this is pure speculation on my part, but is it possible that Colgate knows it was a prank, because he or Pauling assisted in some way? We know Zamora had a bad rep. with the students, and perhaps an elaborate revenge prank was orchestrated using some rather high tech equipment, possibly borrowed from White Sands? OK I now this may be stretching credulity a little, but Zamora was clearly deeply impressed and shaken. Although VISUAL witnesses to the event were view, according to Stanford, there were a good number of residents who heard the thing, so it was very loud on take-off.
    I am also intrigued by Stanford's telling, in his book, about the analysis of samples of the landing foot scrapings collected from the site, and the initial report being changed from a zinc alloy to silica, with suggestions of a "cover up". Again, if some classified or sensitive hardware were involved, there would indeed be a cover up and probably a few red faces if the truth got out. Imagine the media getting hold of such a story?
    I repeat, this is pure speculation, but being objective, the "candle and balloon" story doesn't sit right, although the rest about this being a "student prank" to get back at Zamora does fit. I think there is a certain logic to the idea the nearby White Sands was somehow involved.
    Any opinions on this hypothesis?

  22. This is one of those great UFO cases where no one who has taken a serious look at it should question the fact that Zamora saw essentially what he said he saw.

    "It looks like a balloon." -Lonnie Zamora

  23. That's an interesting thought. As for any sort of cooperation from personnel at White Sands participating in a hoax with college students to fool a local law enforcement officer? I can't see the serious minded folks there wanting to have any part of it. After being in psychology for the past 30 years I would submit that when it comes the behavior of humans almost anything is possible. Considering the seriousness of the mission at White Sands this scenario is very unlikely. Even more so given the consequences of being caught doing such a thing.

    As for the use of a balloon in a hoax one would have to reconcile the winds being strong and gusty out of the SW as reported by all weather stations in the area at the time. Officer Zamora reported the object departed the scene to the SW. Maybe officer Zamora lacked any sense of direction?

  24. I was a student at NMIMT when this occurred. Dr. Colgate was the new college president at the time. The very idea that he knew more than we the students knew is at best naive. We the students had nothing to do with this incident. Any suggestion that it was a typical NMIMT prank (and yes there were many) is ludicrous. Why? There was basically a crowd of pranksters but there was never a whisper within that group of any such connection. If there had been, I can say with total confidence that word would have leaked out to some of us. Some of you many remember or know the craziest of the bunch, the grad student with the weapons carrier.... I can categorically state that he knew nothing. We even went together up on South Baldy later that week... why would we do that if we were involved? I do not know what really happened. I saw the site the following day and was sadly impressed by one thing; the number of people tromping around.
    Regarding the police officer and prank being played on him: Bull. A story generated long afterwards. I personally find the Colgate comments which are well documented offensive. I have no understanding of why he would say such rubbish (if indeed he said it) We, the students of that era were a wild bunch but we had nothing to do with this incident.

    1. A very interesting and potentially significant account. However, since your name is "Unknown," it is establishes nothing.

      Did you contact Anthony Bragalia with this information? His new website is, you can contact him there. But if you want this to be taken seriously, you'll have to use your real name. Don't worry, the MIB won't come around and kidnap you.

  25. Very soon, I will put this weak and fabricated hoax theory to rest. One of the so called hoaxers has denied having any part of this, and wonder why Colgate threw him under the bus. My 4 years of investigation on Socorro will show that the armchair hoax theory is a bust. And to top it all off, none of these hoax theory promoters has been to the site, and are not familiar with the details of the case.

  26. Would seem the Project Blue Book personnel would have explored the hoax possibility extensively. Just sayin.....


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