The air force report, kept confidential until its release yesterday, addresses for the first time claims by "eyewitnesses" that aliens were found in the wreckage and secretly removed by the authorities. The number of aliens said to have been sighted has varied, from three to five or more. But the description - that they were like people, but smaller, squatter and with round heads - has never altered, and has provided the template for all "aliens" since.
The explanation advanced by the air force yesterday is that the "aliens" were in fact dummies used in experiments in the Fifties to test the effect of high parachute drops on human bodies. The report speculates that people confused dummies they saw fallen to earth then, with the "flying saucer" incident of the previous decade.
While this explanation would not be incompatible with the now so familiar description of the aliens, it was immediately rejected by several UFO researchers. One such, Karl Pflock, said that although he did not believe that the Roswell incident entailed either a flying saucer or dead aliens, the "eyewitnesses" had been quite categorical that they were talking about the year 1947. He says they would not have confused different incidents years apart.
Earlier official explanations - the first dating from only a few days after the Roswell incident, on 3-4 July 1947 - have said that the extra- terrestrial wreckage supposedly seen by local farmers and hikers the day after the crash, was in fact a particular variety of weather balloon. Yesterday's finding is consistent with that.
It still does not explain, however, why - in July 1947 - the US authorities mounted such a massive operation to recover the "weather balloon"and secure the site; why top-level officials were flown in secret to Roswell; why so little was divulged in the decade that followed the incident, and why - if it was all so simple - no parachute dummy from that era was produced before to support earlier explanations.
For the world's most powerful air force to have deployed some of its best brains investigating half-century old reports about flying saucers and dead aliens might seem exaggerated, and even absurd, especially given the prosaic nature of the latest findings. But the Roswell incident, with its assumptions of a top-level government cover-up and the existence of other worlds, occupies a special corner of the American psyche.
The conjunction of the Roswell incident with America's national holiday, with all its patriotic overtones, is the coincidence from which the recent classic of American cinematic science fiction, Independence Day, derived. The television series The X-files, which has gained an instant - and particularly credulous - following in the United States built its appeal on the same popular suspicion of government and weakness for science fiction and has put the American public in just the right mood to mark the 50th anniversary of Roswell.
With hundreds of thousands of revellers and researchers expected in Roswell next week - and very few of them inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt - the air force's decision to publish a new report was a brave step. But the effect is likely to be limited indeed.Reuse content