It was 5:45 pm on the afternoon of Saturday 24 April 1964 in the New Mexican desert, just outside the small town of Socorro, about an hour’s drive south of Albuquerque. Dutiful policeman Lonnie Zamora set off to chase a car zooming along the road outside town way above the speed limit. He never caught the speedster as he suddenly heard a loud blast. He knew there was a dynamite shack just south of town. Suspecting it may have exploded he turned his car and sped towards it.
The weather was clear but windy with a few scattered clouds.
Leaving the main road, Lonnie battled to get his patrol car up the steep embankment of the rough track leading to the shack. Driving on for fifteen seconds or so he noticed what looked from a distance like an overturned car. He thought a car may have crashed and the gas tank had exploded. Drawing closer to see if anyone needed help he saw that although the elongated oval object was roughly the size of a medium car there were no visible windows or doors. It was a whitish aluminium in colour and supported by four girder-like legs.
He noticed an unusual red insignia on the side of the object. Two beings were standing near the craft. They were the size of tallish children and dressed in white overalls. One of them seemed to jump as if in fright when he saw the watcher.
Lonnie reached for his radio to request backup for what he thought was an accident scene. He stopped his car and approached on foot. He heard one or two thumps at this time: probably the beings had boarded their craft and slammed a door shut in order to make a quick getaway.
There was a loud roar and a bluish flame shot out from underneath it as it shot up into the sky. It just cleared the dynamite shack by about three feet. Thinking either the craft or shack might explode he dived to the ground.
Rough sketch he made of the object he saw, which vaguely resembles an egg lying on its side:
The legs had retracted. When it was about 20 feet off the ground the blue flame vanished. The roar vanished and he heard a high pitched sound which changed to low pitch and only lasted a second or so before it fell silent. Picking up speed it moved rapidly out of view, just clearing the mountains in the region of Box Canyon.
At this point Lonnie was joined by State Police Sergeant Sam Chavez, who had heard Lonnie’s urgent radio message and responded at once, arriving within a minute or two of the craft disappearing. The two cops saw several scorched and burning bushes where the object had been.
More and more local police officers arrived on the scene as the evening wore on. They found four angular impressions where the legs had stood at an angle to the ground. They found that these indentations formed a quadrilateral whose diagonals intersected at exactly 90 degrees.
Army captain Richard T. Holder from the White Sands Air Force Base interviewed Lonnie that same evening after which he accompanied military police officials who looked for clues using flashlights. The next day a high ranking Air Force official phoned Holder to find out what was going on. (see further down for a letter to UFO investigator Ray Stanford, from Holder’s son)
Word of the encounter spread quickly. Local news reporters, a private UFO group and interested authorities all made plans to visit. Top brass from the military and FBI flocked to the scene, turning a regular Sunday in Socorro into a bustle.
A young chemist named Mary Mayes was asked to analyze plant samples from the area and turn her findings in to the Air Force once she’d finished. Although it was mostly sap there were two organic materials present which she couldn’t identify. There was also a triangular piece of fused sand about 25-30 inches (63-76 cm) at its widest, and tapering to a point.
One of the world’s most respected UFO investigators, Dr J Allen Hynek, arrived in Socorro on the 28th.
A few other sighting reports came in which occurred about the same time Lonnie was watching the strange craft disappear into the sky:
Two guys from Iowa were driving on a road southwest of Socorro at about 6 pm when they saw an egg- or saucer-shaped object ascend vertically from a cloud of black smoke on the ground and fly off. They noticed what seemed to be a row of portholes, and a red Z-like marking toward one end of the craft.
A holidaying family from Colorado also saw the craft. It passed just a few feet over their car, giving them a bit of a scare. When they stopped in Socorro to fill up with petrol the father remarked to the attendant “your aircraft sure fly low around here.” They thought it might be a strange type of helicopter.
They saw Chavez’s police car rushing to the scene in response to Lonnie’s call and thought the craft may have crash landed nearby.
Lonnie Zamora, disappointed at the way fellow cops and local residents made fun of his experience, took early retirement from the force two years later at the age of 33. He was an extremely sincere and conscientious officer and found the publicity, both positive and negative, unwelcome and intrusive.
He took a job as the manager of a gas station (petrol station to non-Americans). He died on 2 November 2009, aged 76.
But what he witnessed that day has been vindicated by authorities.
An excerpt of the official report of the incident written by Hector Quintanilla, who was Air Force Chief of Project Blue Book, which was released to the public at the start of 1981 states the following:
“There is no doubt that Lonnie Zamora saw an object which left quite an impression on him. There is also no question about Zamora’s reliability. He is a serious police officer, a pillar of his church, and a man well versed in recognizing airborne vehicles in his area. He is puzzled by what he saw, and frankly, so are we.
This is the best-documented case on record, and we still have been unable, in spite of thorough investigation, to find the vehicle or other stimulus that scared Zamora to the point of panic.”
Of course there have always been those scoffers who seek a mundane explanation for the events of 24 April 1964 some of whom allege that it was an intricate scheme cooked up by the mayor, Zamora and a few others, to bring publicity to the town and attract tourism. This theory doesn’t square with the facts at all and would never have stood the stringent tests and interviews which followed the sighting.
It has also recently been alleged by some debunkers that it was a hoax perpetrated by students using a balloon and a candle. There are several websites alleging that although Zamora was a reliable witness who reported exactly what he saw, the case was embroidered by others and was an elaborate trick. This theory should be treated with contempt in my opinion because of all the highly respected investigators who see this incident as a genuinely unexplained encounter and wouldn’t have been easily taken in.
In any event a convincing hoax would surely not have been worth the expense without some very compelling reason for doing it.
Clearly this particular incident has always been one which was taken seriously and which remains one of the more reliable and puzzling close encounters with unknown craft and equally mysterious beings.