Cover Stories and Debunkery

Chris Styles also found evidence of some cover stories to hide what had really happened.  One such story appeared in the Shelburne Coast Guard, a weekly newspaper, on Oct. 12, 1967.  The headline read, "U.S. Barge at Shelburne with Atomic Furnaces."  The story claimed that a barge carrying "two huge atomic furnaces" from Philadelphia to Rochester, N.Y., had to put into Shelburne for repairs on Oct. 6 after springing a leak and taking on water.  A number of things about the story made Styles and co-author Don Ledger suspicious.  First was the amazing coincidence of the timing.  Second, the strange "atomic furnaces" seemed contrived and not believable.  Finally the story claimed repairs were made quickly by divers overnight and the barge pumped dry in only 17 hours, which seemed much to quick to be believable from Styles' maritime experience.

A photo of the barge with caption also appeared in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on October 13.  The caption read “AN ATOMIC FURNACE, to be used at a project near Rochester, N.Y., made an unexpected arrival in Shelburne when the barge carrying the bulky cargo began to take in water.  Shelburne workmen and divers from Brooklyn worked around the clock to make the barge seaworthy.  The barge is taking the furnace from the Eastern United States to Rochester via the St. Lawrence Seaway.”

Styles and Ledger suspected the real purpose of the barge would be for the recovery of the object from the sea floor bed, something that couldn't be placed on a smaller recovery ship like a destroyer.  Further, a barge in a harbor is quite ordinary and unlikely to draw attention.  (DO, pp. 120-121)

A few months later, "Terry," the ELINT specialist who had been dropping sonar buoys by air, independently confirmed their suspicions.  When asked if he had seen any ships while flying over the area near Government Point, he mentioned seeing not only multiple ships anchored there but a barge as well, towed up in a hurry from Norfolk, Virginia, to put the object on when they lifted it up.  (DO, p. 124)

Another seeming cover story came after contacting David Bentley, a former reporter for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.  The newspaper had initially given serious coverage to the story.  But then Bentley was given charge of the story and the reporting quickly gave way to debunking, such as Bentley’s front page story on October 13"Shelburne's UFO:  Secret War Machine from U. S. Scientists." The story presented the pure speculation of two high Canadian scientists and purported “UFO experts”, Professor Rupert MacNeill, geologist and member of the National Research Council’s meteorite committee, and Toronto aerospace research scientist R. C. Tennyson, chairman of a new technical committee formed at Toronto University’s Institute of Aerospace Studies.  Both opined, without presenting a shred of evidence, that the Shag Harbour UFO and other unexplained UFOs were really highly advanced, supersecret U.S. military aircraft.  MacNeil further claimed that other experts he met and worked with agreed with him.

Interestingly, another article in the Chronicle-Herald, just below the first one, had the Canadian Department of National Defence denying any knowledge of any such secret project.  However, the article then added that the naval search for the object was not specific for locating a crashed UFO, but merely investigating the possibility of a plane crash (without noting that this had already been quickly ruled out by the same DND, since no planes were reported missing) or “the landing of an unusual meteorite which other government departments would be interested in”. The meteor “explanation” was totally preposterous given the witness statements of seeing a large object made up of sequentially flashing lights slowly descend and then seeing a light floating on the water for a number of minutes.  What "meteor" fits that description?

When Styles located Bentley in 1993, he pleaded poor memory concerning how he found the two debunking scientists.  Bentley told Styles we would look at what he wrote to refresh his memory and get back to him.  Instead Styles got a call back from Lyndon Watkins, a colleague of Bentley's.  Watkins said he had checked with some military buddies who "informed" him that the Shag Harbour crash was caused by an early prototype of the F-117A Stealth fighter.

The "explanation" was again preposterous and reminded the authors of the equally stupid USAF time travel "explanation" for Roswell alien bodies being crash dummies tested in the next decade.  Similarly, the earliest prototype of the Stealth wasn't tested until 11 years after Shag Harbour and crashed in Nevada, not Nova Scotia.  Further, the computer systems that enabled the inherently unstable Stealth fighter to fly didn't exist in 1967.  (DO, pp. 107-108)

The next Bentley debunking story in the Chronicle-Herald was published Oct. 18.  Titled “Shelburne UFO’s Come Under Attack”, it recorded other flippant dismissal of all UFOs by “Nova Scotia’s best-known astronomer: Father Michael Burke-Gaffney of St. Mary’s University.”  This was just another transparent use of a scientific (also a religious) authority figure to debunk the Shag Harbour incident and the other recent UFO reports from the region.

Although not covered in the Dark Object book, Father Burke-Gaffney was another scientist who worked for the National Research Council on UFO matters as an investigator and as a government contact person.   Requests from Ottawa for Burke-Gaffney, to gather physical samples from UFO trace cases and close encounters to send to the NRC for detailed analysis, can be found in Canada's RG 77 UFO file.  Despite his high level investigations for the government, he was a well known public UFO debunker, often quoted as saying he was "sick to death about UFOs." 

Burke-Gaffney had similarly looked into the Shag Harbour incident, as his St. Mary's papers show. Styles found relevant papers there not found elsewhere, including RCMP UFO reports from southwest Nova Scotia for the period which he had urgently requested from the RCMP.  He also took notes over the phone on the cases before they could be sent to him.  This totally belies his statement in the Chronicle-Herald article that he had no interest in UFOs.

According to Styles, the reason the story at first got extensive, straight coverage in the normally conservative Chronicle-Herald was because the managing editor, Harold Shea, and his wife had been buzzed a few months before by a UFO near their home in Chester, 30 minutes from Halifax.  The event converted Shea from a harsh skeptic to a full-blown believer.  Shea told Styles that after a few days of straight coverage, apparently, the newspaper started getting complaints from the public that the articles were scaring them or their kids.

Ray MacLeod, the initial reporter who was pulled from the story and replaced by David Bentley, told Styles that Bentley deliberately sought out government scientists who would debunk the incident.

Recently MacLeod provided more details in a Paul Kimball blog discussion on the case. (MacLeod writes under the name "Anonymous", though it is obvious who he is.) MacLeod was of the opinion that the object was some secret U.S. or Soviet craft that the military wanted covered up.  He then stated he thought this would "account for some heavy government pressure, direct or indirect, on my newspaper to do damage control on what the idiot Canadian military had inadvertantly let out of the bag."

"After I broke the story, I was immediately replaced by David Bentley, a golden boy for the Old Guard in the executive office at our newspaper, who went to obscene lengths to find 'UFO experts' who not only contradicted but mocked the public assumption that this was a 'flying saucer' story...  Also notable is the fact that the day I was told I was off the story, Bentley came to me and appologized for what he was about to do....meaning, as I see it, he had advance orders on what he was to do. And, if that wasn't enough, the managing editor [Harold Shea] who directed my story be the headline on page one was immediately given an unscheduled 'vacation' because, rumour had it, management thought he needed a rest. Either that or someone told them to put the man away for a while where he could do no more damage."

Despite some of the later debunkery, the Chronicle-Herald also published a more prominent, front-page story on Oct.12 about a second, very similar UFO sighting as the Oct.4 event that occurred the previous night only half a mile from Shag Harbour in Woods Harbour. (described in more detail on the next page)  In addition, they published an editorial on Oct. 14 saying that the evidence pointed to something unconventional happening and that it had been a "tough week for skeptics."

Missing Documents

During his investigation, Styles encountered several suspicious instances of missing government records.  In one case he went to the Canadian National Archives in Ottawa in Oct. 1994 and experienced 3 days of frustrating delays in obtaining a file he had previously been promised, titled "Target Detection Search, Flying Saucers, General, 1950-67."  When he finally got to view it, he was shocked to discover it contained only 2 dozen documents, none having to do with UFOs, even though this was supposedly a UFO file.  More telling, one sheet of paper had a notation that this file group had documents removed only a few months before in July 1994.

Styles suspected the file had perhaps been "cleansed" because of a recent appearance he had made on TV where he discussed the Shag Harbour crash in detail.  An archivist also advised him that any really important documents would be so highly classified they would never make it to the archives, even being denied to elected government officials.  This allows the military to bury some secrets so deeply that it is almost impossible to get at them.  (DO, pp. 64-65)

The last review of this file had been 10 years before in 1984, by Dr. O. M. Solandt, Director of the Canadian Defence Research Board.  From the papers of Wilbert Smith, Canadian government radio engineer and Canada's primary UFO researcher, Solandt and the DRB had been involved in UFO research since 1950, providing Smith with government assistance for his UFO research.  Despite this, Solandt was to deny any interest or involvement by himself or the DRB in a disingenuous letter to researcher William Steinem from 1983.

Another example occurred when Styles and Ledger attempted to get tide and wind records from Oct. 1967 to help determine whether the Shag Harbour crash object was being carried passively outward by the tides and winds or might also be moving under its own power.  Although the tide records were readily available, the government weather records held by Environment Canada were missing for Oct. 1967, even though the records went clear back to the late 1700s.  The puzzled archivist couldn't recall an instance when such records had ever gone missing.  The movements of journals when checked out were always recorded and tracked. (DO, pp. 101-103)

A third odd instance of missing records occurred when Styles tried to get a hold of Coast Guard cutter logs to see if any mention was made of the divers searching for debris in Shelburne Harbour.  After many requests the log he finally received appeared to be a forgery.  The times were completely wrong, using Greenwich mean time instead of local time.  Thus the crash time was recorded as 23:30 GMT, or 7:30 p.m. local time, instead of the actual local time of 11:30.

Further, all entries were in the same handwriting over a continuous 48 hour period, which was very unlikely.  The log was also kept in an ordinary spiral binder instead of the usual bound volumes with numbered pages and printed labeling at the top, deliberately used to avoid tampering with logs and changing timelines.

Likewise lighthouse logs and Coast Guard vessel logs for the period were missing.  The daily reports of the NORAD radar station at Baccaro went missing for 2 months.  When they finally turned up, there was no mention of the aircraft incident only a few miles to the southwest.  (DO, pp. 103-104)

Another oddity was the absence of any RCMP reports on the incident, even though they were the initial on-the-scene investigators and organized the first search and rescue effort.

Documents That Were Found

Nonetheless, Stiles and Bob MacDonald did manage to find various documents related to the Shag Harbour crash.  The Canadian National Archives UFO files on microfilm (Record Group 77) had the pre-crash UFO report of Darrell Dorey, e.g.

There were also some official government documents, such as a Priority Telex message to CANFORCEHED (Canadian Forces Headquarters) from RCC (Rescue Coordination Center) Halifax, advising that a UFO had impacted in Shag Harbour.  It is dated Oct. 5, with a local time of 9:20 a.m., or about 10 hours after the crash  It is noted that RCC had already ruled out possible explanations such as aircraft, flares, etc., and therefore this is filed specifically as a "UFO report" and it mentions that the "UFO descended rapidly to water".  It is also, for the first time, called a "dark object", perhaps referencing how it went dark after floating on the water for a few minutes, or how the object itself was not seen, only the string of lights as it descended.

The report named RCMP Corporal Werbicki as one of the witnesses.  However, there was no report from Werbicki himself, even though he was the RCMP officer in charge of the Barrington Passage Detachment at the time.

At CANFORCEHED in Ottowa was Squadron Leader William Bain, the head of the Air Desk, which acted as the military clearing house for all civilian and military UFO reports.  The next document the same day was another Priority message from Bain to CANMARCOM (Canadian Maritime Command)The subject was "UFO", references the RCC "UFO report", and tasks Maritime Command with investigating the report and recommends conducting an underwater search "ASAP" (DO, Appendix, p. 168).

This was followed by Priority Telex from CANMARCOM to CANCOMDIVELANT (Canadian Command fleet Diving unit Atlantic).  It gave instructions for the unit to task out of the Coast Guard station at Shelburne on the cutter HMCS Granby, proceed to Clark's Harbour, and provide a diving officer and 3 divers for a search for the crashed object reported by the RCMP.  The latitude and longitude were proved (43d 30' N x 63d 45' W) and the approximate distance from the shore (300 yards).  The unit was to work with the RCMP officer in charge and be advised by him of the object's likely location.  Written in the top right hand corner was the name of S/L Bain.  The word "UFO" was handwritten in large capital letters and underlined 3 times. 

Bain was also mentioned in the initial Halifax Chronicle-Herald story on the incident.  He was quoted saying they were “very interested” in the matter."  He then added, “We get hundreds of reports every week, but the Shag Harbor incident is one of the few where we may get something concrete on it.”
An interesting side story is that Chronicle-Herald reporter Ray MacLeod, who got replaced for debunking reporter David Bentley, relates that he asked Bentley why he wasn't following up on Bain's provocative statements.  Bentley told him that he was told the man didn’t exist, there was no such office in Ottawa, and he should leave that angle of the story alone.

When interviewed 30 years later by Styles, the "no nonsense" Bain claimed no knowledge about recovery efforts at Shelburne, but did add one could be justifiably suspicious based on Style's evidence. He opined that such an operation probably would have been coordinated and covered up by the Navy and NORAD, though also thought knowledge of such a large-scale operation would have leaked out by now.  (DO, pp. 64-65, 99)

On  Oct. 6, a memo from Col. T. T. Turner, Director of Operations, to Bain again summarized the events and added that a Coast Guard cutter with an officer and three divers were at the scene.  It again mentions that RCC had investigated and discounted aircraft, flares, floats, "or any other known objects."  Again the subject matter is labeled "UFO Report."

A shorter summary has also been found in a Department of National Defence memo housed in the Canadian National Archives.  There is no date or signature, so the author is unknown. (National Archives website copy)

An interesting point made by investigator Don Ledger is that civilian witnesses generally assumed that an aircraft had crashed and did not refer to it as a "UFO."  The identification as a "UFO" was added by government agencies, starting with the Rescue Coordination Center, which quickly determined that all aircraft were accounted for.  There had also been no radar contact or aircraft transponders to ID this as a conventional aircraft, and other conventional explanations like flares, floats, etc. didn't fit either.  That is when they contacted military headquarters and filed a "UFO Report" with the Air Desk, which specifically handled UFO reports.

Various RCMP UFO reports from the night of Oct. 4 also turned up, such as from Cpt. Leo Howard Mercer, mentioned previously (DO, Appendix, p. 165).  Another report was filed from the Cameron family of a very similar object to the Shag Harbour crash object seen leaving the area exactly 1 week later. (DO, Appendix, p. 166).  This will be discussed in more detail in a later section

Interestingly, Lawrence Smith, one of the fishermen whose boat was involved in the Shag Harbour search in 1967, also filed a UFO report with the RCMP in 1970, along with his brother Manns, of 5 or 6 glowing, red-orange globes that seemingly stopped their car and their tape player while they were driving near Bear Point, Shelburne County.  After about 30 seconds, the lights disappeared.  The next day, Col. Rushton, C.O. of the Baccaro NORAD radar station, called the RCMP to inquire whether anybody had filed any UFO reports.  Then he revealed that one of his men had seen something very similar to that reported by the Smith brothers.  (DO, Appendix, p. 167)  This was one of about 30 RCMP Nova Scotia UFO reports found in the collection of UFO debunker Father Burke-Gaffney, discussed above.

The 1967 Shag Harbour UFO crash, Part 5
Debunkery, cover stories, missing documents,
and some surviving documents