Forget Roswell: Durango’s New Mexico neighbor Aztec has one of the most intriguing UFO mysteries of the Southwest
The site of the 1948 UFO crash sits just north of Aztec, New Mexico, and it’s not an easy place to find. It’s hidden inside a barren desert landscape and surrounded by rugged dirt roads, eerie rock formations, and arid shrub life along County Road 2770.
The Aztec UFO incident is a tale we hadn’t heard until a couple of months ago. In March 1948, as the story goes, a 100-foot saucer is believed to have crashed just north of Aztec. Unlike the Roswell crash, which took place only eight months prior, the Aztec UFO is believed to have landed on Earth mostly intact, with its occupants killed by the impact. The government is believed to have then descended upon the site to sweep up its contents and place them in a black hole of red-taped secrecy.
It took us two trips to Aztec to search for the crash site, and even then, we were unsuccessful. On our first trip, arrogance prevailed, and we didn’t bother to look up the directions ahead of time. The terrain proved rough and confusing, and out of fear of getting stuck on the mesa, we turned around, defeated.
The second trip we planned more carefully, printing out a map and paying attention to the roads we passed. We found the parking area and the scraggy mountain bike trail, but the rocky route was hard to follow, and we had to guess at what we hoped was the right direction. We kept an eye out for a plaque commemorating the site, but alas, we were once again unsuccessful, and began to worry about getting lost as the sun disappeared behind the mesa. We headed back to the car, disappointed.
As we drove back down the winding dirt roads, we passed a rock formation that could pass as the Sphinx in the oncoming darkness, and agreed that of all the places we’ve traveled in the Four Corners region, if we were going to encounter a UFO, it’d be here.
A meeting of the mindsThe 1948 Aztec UFO crash incident is a controversial topic among those who discuss the extra-terrestrial. There are many a theory, including talks of cover-ups and hoaxes.
But while there are plenty of layman hypotheses, there are only a couple of experts on the subject, and none are more qualified than Scott and Suzanne Ramsey and Frank Thayer, co-researchers and authors of “The Aztec UFO Incident.”
The Ramseys have spent more than 30 years and $500,000 researching this event, and it’s hard to imagine anyone more dedicated to the Aztec UFO crash. In fact, Scott and Suzanne even met through their mutual interest in the event.
Suzanne was a child living in South Dakota when she first heard of Aztec. It was a decade after Variety magazine columnist Frank Scully published his book, “Behind the Flying Saucers,” in 1950, which documented the incident.
“My parents moved to Aztec, New Mexico. ... My mom actually wanted to move there because of the incident and was grossly disappointed when she got there that nobody talked about it.”
Scott later became a guest on Suzanne’s local news talk radio show, For Your Information, and the rest is history.
The trio was drawn to the Aztec story because of the level of documented proof about the incident occurring.
“I guess I was intrigued because I thought, ‘How did something spectacular happen, and all the spotlight was put on Roswell, and this is much more documented?’” Scott said.
“I’ll speak for all of us, but none of us picked it. We did not pick it. It picked us,” Suzanne said. “It isn’t like we sought out to prove it. Like I said, we’re doing it because it’s something we want to document or prove one way or the other. It’s almost addictive. You talk about thirty years of research, and none of us picked it. There’s a hook there.”
Decades of research The Ramseys and Thayer, who is a professor emeritus at New Mexico State University, are known to spend years dissecting sources to ensure their credibility. They’re painstakingly scientific in their approach, and are not amused by those who look to sensationalize the Aztec story. It even takes us a phone call and a several emails back and forth to convince them we are not interested in turning their research into a tabloid cover.
“When we get a lead, it sometimes takes us two years to document that one lead. That’s why it takes so long,” Suzanne said. “For one thing, life goes on, you have to work around that. But also, you can’t just take someone’s word for it. There’s all types of documentation. … This is not a passing thing and certainly, we do not just pull it up on the Internet because, you know as well as we do, that anybody can put anything on the Internet and they can falsify it, and they don’t even have to use their real names. So, that’s never something that we do. It’s always archival.”
For example, they were trying to identify the group of scientists from which Scully got his information. Scully never revealed their identity, and refers to them collectively as Dr. G.
The Ramseys and Thayer spent two or three years researching who these scientists could have been based on Scully’s descriptions. Eventually, they ended up in the archives at the University of Minnesota, and with the help of the university’s archivist, they unsealed boxes with documents relating to a doctor who had died in 1950. Until that point, they had never been opened.
“In there was an amazing collection of stories about how he had been in the Southwest of the United States in March of 1948, and he hated flying, and he drove their station wagon out there because something horrific happened that he needed to get there,” Scott said. “And that’s the kind of thing we do.”
The research team is currently chasing down a lead from a man who claims that while at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, he was privy to information on the Aztec crash in the 1950s and early 1960s.
“And to verify his story, we go and pull the tax records. We pull the school records,” Scott said. “Anybody can tell you anything. But when you have a copy that they paid the real estate tax (on) the dates that he claimed he was living there, well, that kind of moves you on to the next step. So we do a very, very exhausting background check on everybody that tells a story.”
A hoax or a cover-up?The journey of the Aztec UFO crash incident has not been an easy one.
In 1949, the account was published by Scully in his Variety columns. A year later, he published a book, “Behind the Flying Saucers.” After the book was published, two of the story’s witnesses, Silas Newton and Leo Gebauer, were accused of concocting their accounts to sell fake alien technology in a money-making scheme. The public faith in the incident fell apart after Newton and Gebauer’s stories collapsed.
The Ramseys and Thayer believe that the con man component may be a red herring.
“Gotta remember that from 1952 until about 1986, no one would touch the Aztec incident,” Thayer said. “It was poisoned. No UFO researchers would touch it because it was considered to be a hoax hoisted off on the public by con men. This was taken apart in our book. We realized the government engineered that story to sink Aztec, and they were willing to ruin the lives of two, three people, to make sure it got covered up. … You cannot refute the evidence that we have put in this book.”
Wider access to documentation from government sources, like the Hottel memo, from March 22, 1950 – the most viewed document in the FBI Vault – have also bolstered more recent belief in UFO stories.
The memo, written by Guy Hottel, the head of the FBI field office in Washington, D.C. in 1950, states:
“An investigator for the Air Force stated that three so-called flying saucers had been recovered in New Mexico. They were described as being circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50-feet in diameter. Each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but were 3 feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of very fine texture. Each body was bandaged in a manner similar to the blackout suite of speed flyers and test pilots. According to Mr. --------- (redacted) informant, the saucers were found in New Mexico due to the fact that the Government has a very high-powered radar set-up in that area and it is believed the radar interferes with the controlling mechanics of the saucers.
No further evaluation was attempted by SA --------- (redacted) concerning the above.”
The memo was addressed to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and indexed in FBI records. While many people originally believed the memo was referring to Roswell, some believe the document was actually referencing Aztec.
“That is one of many, many, many interesting documents. The only critique it’s had over the years – it doesn’t mention Aztec,” Scott said. “And we have many documents that specifically mention Aztec.”
One such document they’ve unearthed is about a sting operation that took place in downtown Denver between the FBI and the Army Counterintelligence Division. The agencies set up the sting to buy photos of the crash from a man peddling them to an alleged reporter for $2,500.
“Just as the buy was about to go down, the FBI and Army CID – that’s Counter Intelligence Division – stepped in. And they specifically in that FBI report say the gentlemen was trying to sell pictures of the Aztec flying saucer,” Thayer said. “The bottom line on that one is the government took the Aztec saucer very seriously. If there was no Aztec saucer, they would not be been willing to pony up a bunch of money to buy some photos, whether they existed or not.”
Fellow researcher of the Aztec incident Bob Koford – who has worked with the Ramseys and Thayer – believes that, based on evidence he and other researchers have uncovered, it’s feasible to at least entertain the extraterrestrial hypotheses, even if it might seem like an outrageous idea.
“My evidence that I’ve discovered on my own research seems to just solidify the fact that something happened, and it was of a flying disc nature – as far as that’s what the documents will prove,” Koford said.
The most compelling evidence for him was when the Intelligence Group Chief Colonel Riley Ennis authored a directive that was published on the day the crash is believed to have taken place, March 25, 1948.
“It was a directive to the Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson (Air Force Base) to gather all flying disc reports and send them through MCI to the Army General Staff and they all were to fall under the heading ‘unconventional aircraft.’ So on that date, March 25, 1948, this directive was issued labeling ‘flying discs’ in quotes as unconventional aircraft. And that is the lead I started with. And after, I just started finding document, after document, after document that shows that day.”
Mike Price, an aviation historian who has worked with the Ramseys and Thayer in their research of the Aztec UFO crash incident, believes that the ramifications of humanity being able to harness UFO flight technology would be huge.
“These vehicles really don’t care if they’re in the atmosphere or in space. You can lift off, you could zip up to the moon for lunch and be back before dinner. You could go to the other side of the earth and minutes. The energy sources that it’s using, the propulsion energy, is different than anything we’ve used. It might be a revolution in energy. It could be that we no longer need to burn fossil fuels. We might not need power transmission lines. We might not need to drill oil and gas and ship them on boats around the world and spill half of it doing it. There are so many implications that the flight technology would absolutely revolutionize life on earth. And if you want to go to Mars, this vehicle could take it to Mars in a matter of hours and bring you home. It would open up exploration of the solar system and beyond to the human race. I think it’s too big to comprehend how the flight technology would affect our lives.”
Handle the truthThroughout our talk with the Aztec crash researchers, there’s much discussion of government secrecy and cover ups. A question comes to mind.
“Why do you think the government goes so far and works so hard to keep these incidents as secretive as possible? Do think that’s helpful in the long run? Do you think that people can even handle the idea that there is other life out there?”
According to Thayer, the tense climate at the time – in the midsts of the Cold War – led the government to believe it was important to keep extraterrestrials a secret, Thayer said. “And they just never let up.”
“I honestly think in 1948, this is right after World War II. We’re only three years after World War II. The Cold War was going on,” Scott said. “I think our government was absolutely smart in not letting our enemies know that we had recovered one, two, three, maybe four flying saucers. Why would we let the Russians know that that kind of technology was there? We were better off to make it look like a hoax, ridicule the people that saw it. You know, we had to make them the town drunk. We do that and move on. Take the technology and try to figure it out because if we’ve got it, God bless, it’s a lot better than if they have it.”
While Price believes that there are probably some military reasons that the government doesn’t want to come forward with, he believes that the public is at the point where they could handle the idea of extraterrestrial life.
“Personally, I wish that the government would come clean and tell the American people more of the truth of the story, not just of Aztec but of all the other many UFO cases. I think the public is ready to handle the truth. In today’s world, I think we’re ready to handle the truth. Might not have been the case in 1951, or 52, or 53 right after World War II, but I think the public can handle that today.”
However, Suzanne believes that because the government has had to cover up stories like Aztec for so long, it would be a mess if they came clean with the truth.
“Now, this is my personal opinion. If they were to come out now and say, ‘Yep, we lied all along,’ well that would kind of give an opportunity for people to say, ‘Well, if you lied about that, what else are you lying about?’”