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death of
a legend

This entry is was first posted in 2009 at a different site. It is being revised and reposted now as a remembrance on the second anniversary of the death of officer Lonnie Zamora on November 2, 2009.

El Defensor Chieftain

ANY LIFE IS A COLLECTION of memories, merged into personal legend.

Usually those legends are closely held, and only variously revealed -- sometimes the stuff of family conversation at Thanksgiving dinners, and sometimes in solitary and intimate reminiscences, unshared.

But for some the personal legends become public, the stuff of celebrity. It may be in accomplishing a great deed, or conversely stem from shameful notoriety.

Rarest of all is the public legend unsought, the happenstance of circumstance, the unremarkable person wandering unsuspecting into a moment unbidden and unwanted, subject to the vagaries of fate.

And it was in this fashion that Lonnie Zamora -- who died this week at the age of seventy six -- found himself enveloped in a legend all his own.

Albuquerque Journal Pic

News photo clipping from the Albuquerque Journal of April 27, 1964, as found in the files of Project Blue Book, the Air Force's official investigation into the UFO phenomenon, located at Wright Field, in Dayton, Ohio.

IT BEGAN, AS these things often do, on an ordinary day on the outskirts of an ordinary town, somewhere on an isolated gravel road. Within hours, the military was involved. Within days, it was a nationwide phenomenon. From the April 28, 1964 edition of the Socorro, New Mexico El Defensor Chieftain...

Evidence Of UFO Landing Observed
City Policeman Zamora Reports Sighting Egg-Shaped Object and Views Take-Off; Tourist Sees Craft Just Before Landing

What appears to be substantial evidence of an unidentified flying object landing and taking off in Socorro has been observed.

City Policeman Lonnie Zamora, a highly reliable source, saw a four-legged, egg-shaped object, and two persons in a gully a mile south of the courthouse shortly before 6 p.m. Friday. He saw the object rise straight up and take off, and disappear beyond Six-Mile Canyon to the west.

Some of the evidence of the landing and takeoff remained in the gully. There were four shallow holes where the object apparently landed on its legs; there were burned greasewood and seared clumps of green grass; there were two round, very slight depressions. No footprints were found.

Zamora said he saw lettering on the side of the UFO, and had sketched the lettering a paper sack after the object had taken off. He did not believe the lettering was in English and observed no numerals as there are on known aircraft. Zamora said he was not at liberty to further describe the lettering.

At least one other person -- an unidentified tourist traveling north of U.S. 85 -- saw the UFO just before it landed in the gully. Opal Grinder, manager of Whiting Brother's Service Station on 85 north, said the man stopped at the station and remarked that aircraft flew low around here.

Grinder replied there were many helicopters in this vicinity. The tourist said it was a "funny looking helicopter, if that's what it was." The man said further the object had flown over his car. It actually was headed straight for the gully where it landed moments later. The tourist also commented that he had seen a police car heading up the hill. This was Zamora's car.

Grinder did not know of the object at the time, and did not attach importance to the traveler's remarks.

A Tucson, Ariz., couple was here Sunday to interview Zamora for a scientific article on the object. The woman said a minister and 26 other persons in New Guinea had seen a similar object hovering for two hours at an estimated altitude of 400 feet. It was reported the observers had seen a man on the "deck" of the object.

Maj. William Conner of Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, was also here to interview Zamora. The major said he was not at liberty to comment. He and Air Force Sergeant visited the UFO scene. Use of a Geiger counter at the scene was reported to have brought positive results.

Capt. Richard T. holder of Socorro, U.S. Army up-range commander with headquarters at Stallion Range Center on White Sands Missile Range, said Saturday:

"I was contacted on the evening of April 24 by local authorities and asked to provide assistance in identifying a reported UFO. After being appraised of the situation, I attempted to determine wheter White Sands Missile Range or Holloman Air Force Base had anything that might produce the conditions described. Neither White Sands Missile Range nor Holloman had an object that would compare to the object described. There was no known firing mission in progress at the time of the occurrence that would produce the conditions reported."

Zamora doesn't know what the object was, but for those who desire to speculate, there are three possibilities:

First, it may have been a top secret U.S. aircraft in an advanced stage of development.

Second, it may have been an advanced type of aircraft or space ship of another power.

Third, it may have been a space scout ship from another planet.

Whatever the object was, it probably was the first reported concrete instance of a UFO in New Mexico.

Policeman Zamora shifted from a routine task to a frightening out-of-this-world experience in a few minutes Friday night.

He was patrolling Park Street, where he had begun pursuit of a fast-traveling car several blocks ahead of him. Zamora was almost on the old road when he heard what he described as a blast or a roar. His first though [sic] was that an aluminum building used to store explosives had blown up. He forgot about the speeding car and headed up a very rocky, dirt road towards the building. On the third try, driving very slowly, he managed to get up the road which leads to the top of the mesa overlooking the gully where the UFO had landed.

The policeman said he first saw the object at an estimated distance of 150 yards, and he thought it was an overturned car. He was looking out of his car window as he drove towards the top of the mesa. Zamora said one of two persons at the UFO, whose back was to him, turned his head and looked straight at him. The two persons standing by the object appeared to be dressed in white coveralls, and at the distance Zamora saw them they appeared to be "child-like," that is, small. He did not notice what sort of headgear, if any, the two persons, presumably men, wore.

Zamora continued driving up the hill to get a closer look at the object and the persons. When he stopped his car on the top of the mesa and directly opposite the place in the gully where the UFO had landed, he saw it again, but the persons were not outside the object on which the sun gleamed brightly. He got out of his car and started towards the UFO. Then he again heard the roar or blast that had brought him to the scene and saw flames. Dust was flying around the object.

The policeman believed the object was about to explode. He was about 50 feet from the UFO, and for protection he dropped to the ground and covered his face with an arm.

No explosion occurred, and Zamora also realized the object was not heading in his direction. He raised his head slightly. He saw the UFO, which seemed to be heading south on landing, rise straight up for an estimated 20 feet, which brought it about on a level with the police car on the mesa top. The object appeared to maintain this altitude beyond the explosives building and due west in a straight line for about two miles to the perlite mill. On the other side of the mill the UFO gained altitude very rapidly, passed over Six-Mile Canyon, became a speck in the sky, and disappeared.

Zamora said there was a sharp whining sound at the end of the roar preceding the object's take-off. As the object got into the air, the noise quieted. The object did not leave a jet trail. Reports of other supposed UFO's have mentioned that they fly with little or no noise.

Zamora radioed the sheriff's office immediately after the object had taken off. State Police Sgt. Sam Chavez, State Policeman Ted Jordan, and Under sheriff James Luckie responded. Chavez and Luckie said the burned clumps of green grass and the greasewood were still hot when they arrived. The military later took samples of the burned earth for analysis.

An inspection of the scene Saturday morning showed the object landed astride a narrow, rock-strewn dry wash in the gully. Officers earlier had circled with stones the four places where the legs of the object had touched earth. The holes were shallow, about a foot long by six inches wide. They did not appear to have been made by an object striking the earth with great force, but by an object of considerable weight settling to earth at slow speed and not moving after touching the ground.

The two legs of the object that Zamora saw probably were about 2-1/2 feet long.

It was about 12 feet from one landing hole to the other on the west side and 15 feet between the two on the east side. The width probably was nine or more feet.

The clumps of green grass and two greasewood bushes seemed to have been seared all at once by an extremely hot flame. There were also broken branches on one greasewood.

The two round depressions were four and five inches in diameter, respectively.

The cause of the landing of the object, like its identity and its source, remain unanswered. Was the landing in the secluded, little-frequented gully for a test or caused by momentary mechanical difficulty?

After Capt. Holder was appraised of the UFO occurrence, he made a report of it to the proper agencies at WSMR. Investigations of the incident will be conducted by designated government agencies.

By Sunday afternoon hundreds of curious persons had trampled the scene and there was virtually no evidence left of the landing marks.

The El Defensor Chieftain was published twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Zamora's encounter had happened on a Friday. And so though the report from the Chieftain was from the first reporter on the scene, its story wasn't published until the following Tuesday, April 28, 1964. The story by that time had already gone national, and the Albuquerque, New Mexico Journal had carried a story somewhat at odds with -- and published one day before -- that of the Chieftain...

UFO Witness Sighs At Reports of What He Supposedly Said


SOCORRO (UPI) -- A policeman who gained sudden national attention Friday after he saw an egg-shaped flying object near Socorro said Sunday his experience had taught him something.

Socorro policeman Lonnie Zamora said he would turn around and run, just like he did Friday evening, but next time he'd never mention it to a soul.

"There have been so many phone calls," he sighted. And most of Sunday he spent shaking his head over some of the reports of what he supposedly said about the incident.

"Maybe you'd better ask some of these other guys," Zamora told reporters. "I'm the only one who saw it, but they seem to know more about it than I do."

Denies Seeing Creatures

Zamora denied he had seen any little creatures around the object and said the unusual machine rose off the ground and flew slowly away in a southwesterly direction until it faded out of sight. It never got more than about 20 feet off the ground while he was watching it, Zamora said, contrary to reports the object had zoomed up and away from him at a high rate of speed.

Two investigating officers from Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque said reports a man from the Pentagon would come to Socorro also were false.

Termed Fantastic

Capt. Richard T. Holder, White Sands Missile Range commander, termed the incident "fantastic" but referred to Zamora as a reliable witness. "Neither White Sands nor Holloman Air Force Base has anything which would produce the situation described in the report," Holder said.

Zamora said the craft cleared a dynamite shack by only a couple of feet as it departed He lost sight of it within a matter of minutes, he claimed.

He noticed the object after he investigated a cloud of smoke about a mile south of Socorro. He was aware of the dynamite shack in the vicinity and thought at first it exploded, he said.

The craft was in a draw not visible from main roads. He first saw it from about 200 yards and thought it was an overturned car. He said he saw what appeared to be a par of white coveralls, but whether anything was in them he did not know.

Within 100 Feet

He eventually got within about 100 feet, and it was then Zamora said he noticed it was something out of the ordinary.

"It had red lettering of some kind on the sides," Zamora said. He said the object was on the ground, supported by four girder-like legs.

At the site, four five to six inch depressions were found as well as a couple of round tracks about four inches in diameter which officers theorized might have been made by occupants of the craft. They even went so far as to estimate by the depression that the tracks were made by a being of approximately 120-16O pounds.

On the spot where the object supposedly sat was a once-green bush, most of it burned bare by exhaust heat. Zamora said it was still smoking several minutes after the craft's departure.

Leslie J. Lorenzen, a member of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, drove to Socorro from Tucson to take samples of the soil and indicated the story was credible to him.

"Reliable people are seeing incredible things," Lorenzen said. "Similar things have happened all over the world and certain details corroborate."

Seemingly, either Zamora had changed his story or the first report from the Chieftain had gotten it wrong. Now there were no little men but merely white coveralls. Now instead of a roar attracting his attention, it was a cloud of smoke.

Meanwhile by midweek, as part of the Air Force investigation, Dr. J. Allen Hynek -- Project Blue Book's official scientific consultant on the UFO phenomenon -- arrived. From the April 30, 1964 edition of the Lewiston, Idaho Morning Tribune...

Radar Men To Be Checked On Flying Object Report

Socorro, N.M. (AP) -- One of the things that bothers the scientist investigating New Mexico's unidentified flying object reports for the Air Forces the lack of mention of radar contacts.

"It's my understanding New Mexico is infested with radar equipment," said Dr. J. Allen Hynek of Northwestern University, an astronomer who is a special consultant to the Air Force. "I'm going to check to see if there have been radar contacts that might tie into these reports."

Hynek visited Wednesday the secluded hill where Socorro policeman Lonnie Zamora reported seeing an egg-shaped object fly away from a draw last Friday evening. Other reports have followed. The Socorro report and another at La Madera in northern New Mexico were similar in that state and military authorities confirmed a scorched area where the object was supposed to have landed, and wedge-shaped impressions that appeared to have been left by some type of landing gear.

Hynek would not offer an opinion on just what Zamora did see.

He said he had investigated many such sightings but "this is one of the clearest, no that's not the right word; just say it is one of the soundest, best substantiated reports as far as it goes."

"Usually one finds many contradictions or omissions in these reports," Hynek said. "But Mr. Zamora's story is simply told, certainly without any intent to perpetuate a hoax. The story of course was told by a man who obviously was frightened badly by what he did see. He certainly must have seen something."

Zamora's reliability as a witness was supported by Dr Lincoln LaPaz of the University of New Mexico who has an international reputation in running down reports on fireballs and meteorites.

"I would first point out that we are not personally involved in the investigation of these unidentified flying objects'," LaPaz said. "But I do want to say that I have had contacts with Mr. Zamora for 16 years in my work and he is a thoroughly dependable observer."

Hynek said the lack of radar contact reports bothered him. "So often we have such a contact and then can trace the object to some natural phenomena or aircraft," he said.

The scientist also discussed the markings that Zamora said he saw on the side of the object, a red, inverted V with bars through it.

But Dr. Hynek would have much more to say in his official reports.

Albuquerque Journal Pic

Telex from Wright Field to Kirtland Air Force Base relaying pressure received on investigation, including from the White House.

BEHIND THE SCENES, the first pages of what would become a mammoth dossier of nearly 200 pages -- including dozens of news articles -- had begun to take shape.

At Project Blue Book, the official Air Force investigation into the UFO phenomenon, it began with a phone message (click image for larger version)...

Phone Call Record

T/Sgt. David Moody, a member of Blue Book's staff, was dispatched the next day from Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio -- home to Blue Book -- to Socorro. He would file this three-page report (click image for larger version with all three pages)...

Moody Report
Moody Report
Moody Report
Also in Blue Book's Socorro file is the statement of Lonnie Zamora. Who took the statement is not noted, but all indications are that it almost certainly was part of Capt. Holder's initial investigation.

It's unclear why the statement begins in the third person, then switches to a first-person statement, then reverts back to third person again, and trades back and forth throughout. All that is clear is that it reflects some version of a statement made by Zamora himself, probably taken as shorthand-type notes by the investigating officer -- again, most likely Capt. Holder -- those notes then being typed up:


Lonnie Zamora, 606 Reservoir Street, Socorro NM, 835-1134, Officer Socorro Police Force for about 5 years, office phone 835-0941, now on 2-10pm shift.

About 5:45 P.M. 4/24/64 while in Socorro 2 Police Car ('64 Pontiac white), he started to chase a car due south from west side of Court House. Car was apparently speeding and was about 3 blocks in front of police car. At point on Old Rodeo Street (extension of Park Street south) near George Morillo residence (about 1/2 mile south of Spring Street, the chased car was going straight ahead toward rodeo grounds. Car chased was a new black Chevrolet (it might have been Floyd Reynold's boy, Vivian, about 17). Chased car still about three blocks ahead. Lonnie alone.

At this time heard a roar and saw a flame in the sky to southwest some distance away -- possibly a 1/2 mile or a mile. Came to mind that a dynamite shack in that area had blown up, decided to leave chased car go.

Flame was bluish and sort of orange too. Could not tell size of flame. Sort of motionless flame, slowly descending. Was still driving car and couldn't pay too much attention to the flame. It was a narrow type of flame. It was like a "stream down" -- a funnel type -- narrower at top than at bottom. Flame possibly 3 degrees or so in width -- not wide.

Flame about twice as wide at bottom as top and about four times as high as top was wide. Did not notice any object at top, did not notice if top of flame was level. Sun was to west and did not help vision. Had green sun glasses over prescription glasses. Could not see bottom of flame because it was behind the hill. No smoke noted. Noted some "commotion" at bottom -- dust? Possibly from windy day --wind was blowing hard. Clear sunny sky otherwise -- just a few clouds scattered over area.

Noise was a roar, not a blast, not like a jet. Changed from high frequency to low frequency and then stopped. Roar lasted possibly 10 seconds -- was going towards it at that time on the rough gravel road. Saw flame about as long as heard the sound. Flame same color, as best as recall. Sound distinctly from high to low until it disappeared. Windows were both down. No other spectators noted -- no traffic except the car in front -- and car in front might have heard it but possibly did not see it because car in front was too close to hill in front to see the flame.

After the roar and flame, did not note anything, while going up the somewhat steep rough hill -- had to back up and try again, two more times. Got up about half way first time, the wheels started skidding, roar still going on, had to back down and try again before making the hill. Hill about 60ft. long, fairly steep and with loose gravel and rock. While beginning third time, noise and flame not noted.

After got to top, traveled slowly on the gravel road westward. Noted nothing for a while . . . for possibly 15 or 20 seconds, went slowly, looking around for the shack -- did not recall exactly where the dynamite shack was.

Suddenly noted a shiny type object to south about 150 to 200 yards. It was off the road. At first glance, stopped. It looked, at first, like a car turned upside down. Thought some kids might have turned over. Saw two people in white coveralls very close to the object. One of these persons seemed to turn and look straight at my car and seemed startled -- seemed to jump quickly somewhat.

At this time I started moving my car towards them quickly, with idea to help. Had stopped about only a couple seconds. Object was like aluminum -- it was whitish against the moss background, but not chrome. Seemed like [See Image Below] in shape and I at first glance took it to be overturned white car. Car appeared turned up like standing on radiator or on trunk, at this first glance.

The only time I saw these two persons was when I had stopped, for possibly two seconds or so, to glance at the object. I don't recall noting any particular shape or possibly any hats or headgear. These persons appeared normal in shape -- but possibly they were small adults or large kids.

Then paid attention to road while drove towards scene. Radioed to sheriff's office Socorro 2 to Socorro, possible 10-44 (accident), I'll be 10-6 (busy) out of the car, checking the car down in the arroyo.

Stopped car, was still talking on radio, started to get out, mike fell down, reached back to put up mike, then replaced radio mike in slot, got out of car and started to go down to where knew the object (car) was.

Hardly turned around from car, when heard roar (was not exactly a blast), very loud roar -- at that close was real loud. Not like a jet -- knows what jets sound like. Started low frequency quickly, then roar rose in frequency (higher tone) and in loudness -- from loud to very loud. At same time as roar, saw flame. Flame was under the object. Object was starting to go straight up -- slowly up. Object slowly rose straight up. Flame was light blue and at bottom was sort of orange color. From this angle, saw what might be the side of object (not end, as first noted). Difficult to describe flame. Thought, from roar, it might blow up. Flame might have come from underside of object, at middle, possibly a four feet area -- very rough guess. Cannot describe flame further except blue and orange. No smoke, except dust in immediate area.

As soon as saw flame and heard roar, turned away, ran away from object but did turn head towards object. Bumped leg on car -- back fender area. Car facing southwest. Object was [See Image Below] in shape. It was smooth -- no windows or doors. As roar started, it was still on or near ground. Noted red lettering of some type like [See Image Below]. Insignia was about 21/4 inches high and about 2inches wide, guess. Was in middle of object [See Image Below] Object still like aluminum-white.

After fell by car and glasses fell off, kept running to north, with car between me and object. Glanced back couple of times. Noted object to rise to about level of car, about 20 to 25 feet guess -- took I guess about six seconds when object started to rise and I glanced back. I ran I guess about halfway to where I ducked down -- about fifty feet from the car is where I ducked down, just over edge of hill. I guess I had run about 25 feet when I glanced back and saw the object level with the car and it appeared about directly over the place where it rose from.

I was still running and I jumped just over the hill -- I stopped because I did not hear the roar. I was scared of the roar, and I had planned to continue running down the hill. I turned around toward the object and at same time put my head toward ground, covering my face with my arms. Being that there was no roar, I looked up, and I saw the object going away from me, in a southwest direction. When the roar stopped, heard a sharp tone whine from high tone to low tone. At end of roar was this whine and the whine lasted maybe a second. There was complete silence about the object. That's when I lifted up my head and saw the object going away from me.

It did not come any closer to me. It appeared to go in straight line and at same height -- possibly 10 to 15 feet from ground, and it cleared the dynamite shack by about three feet. Shack about eight feet high. Object was traveling very fast. It seemed to rise up, and take off immediately across country. I ran back to my car and as I ran back, I kept an eye on the object. I picked up my glasses (I left the sun glasses on ground), got into the car, and radioed to Nep Lopez, radio operator, to "look out of the window, to see if you could see an object." He asked "What is it?" I answered "It looks like a balloon." I don't know if he saw it. If Nep looked out of his window, which faces north, he couldn't have seen it. I did not tell him at the moment which window to look out of.

As I was calling Nep, I could still see the object. The object seemed to lift up slowly, and to "get small" in the distance very fast. It seemed to just clear the Box Canyon or in Mile Canyon Mountain. It disappeared as it went over the mountain. It had no flame whatsoever as it was traveling over the ground, and no smoke or noise.

Feeling in good health. Last drink -- two or three beers -- was over a month ago. Noted no odors. Noted no sounds other than described. Gave directions to Nep Lopez at radio and to Sergeant MS Chavez to get there. Went down to where the object had been and I noted the brush was burning in several places. At that time I heard Sgt. Chavez (N.M. State Police at Socorro) calling me on radio for my location, and I returned to my car, told him he was looking at me. Then Sgt. Chavez came up, asked me what the trouble was because I was sweating and he told me I was white, very pale. I asked the Sgt. to see what I saw, and that was the burning brush. Then Sgt. Chavez and I went to the spot, and Sgt. Chavez pointed out the tracks.

When I first saw the object (when I thought it might be a car) I saw what appeared to be two legs of some type from the object to the ground. At the time, I didn't pay much attention to what it was -- I thought it was an accident -- I saw the two persons.

I didn't pay any attention to the two "legs." The two "legs" were at the bottom of the object, slanted outwards to the ground. The object might have been about three and a half feet from the ground at that time. I just glanced at it.

Can't tell how long saw object second time (the "clear" time), possibly 20 seconds -- just a guess -- from time got out of car, glanced at object, ran from object, jumped over edge of hill, then got back to car and radio as object disappeared.

As my mike fell as I got out of car, at same area, I heard about two or three loud "thumps," like someone possibly hammering or shutting a door hard. These "thumps" were possibly a second or less apart. This was just before the roar. The persons were not seen when I drove to the scene area.

Just before Sgt. Chavez got to scene, I got my pen and drew a picture of the insignia on the object.

Next on the scene was Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who filed this eight-page report (click image for larger version with all eight pages)...

Hynek Report
Hynek Report
Hynek Report
Hynek Report
Hynek Report
Hynek Report
Hynek Report
Hynek Report

Included in the Project Blue Book files on Zamora are variety of pictures and drawings. There are some however of special interest. The first is a sketch of the incident scene:

The next are the drawings made by Zamora himself...




And finally, five pictures from the scene, selected from over two dozen, and representative of the others...

Picture of Scene

Picture of Scene

Picture of Scene

Picture of Scene

Picture of Scene

And there rested the events of the first week of Zamora's sighting.


Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) flight #1-16-61F with Bell 47 Helicopter providing chase support, April 26, 1965. The use of chase planes was a critical part of flight research, acting as a second set of eyes for the research pilot, warning him of any problems. Test flights of the LLRV began in October 1964, and chase support for the vehicle was supplied by a Bell 47 helicopter so as to hover close by, providing information such as altitude and descent rate.

IN THE YEARS SINCE there have been two primary theories of what Zamora saw that day, both of which have cropped up again and again since the earliest days, each subsequent version announced as if it were a new thought or discovery.

The first is that Zamora saw an experimental vehicle being tested, with the most common solution being some version of the lunar landing module, just then in its initial stages of development for the Apollo program. Jacques Vallee, a Hynek protege, noted in his diary...

In the meantime, the Air Force continues to look into a curious fact I have uncovered: the insignia seen by patrolman Zamora looks very much like the logo of Astropower, a subsidiary of the Douglas Aircraft Corporation. I found the logo in an ad they recently published in an engineering journal. I am suspicious of this aspect of the sighting. To my knowledge there has never been a genuine report of a saucer with an insignia painted on the side. Could the Socorro object be a military prototype?

And indeed, the Astropower logo has a striking similarity to Zamora's sketch:

Astropower Logo
These theories fail to reflect, let alone account for, the fact that an extensive investigation was undertaken exploring this possibility. For instance, a list was drawn up of all major lunar vehicle sub-contractors...

Subcontractor Letter
Letters and other inquiries went out to these contractors. The end result...

Project Card
The idea of it being the lunar landing vehicle is also discounted by the fact that the only working prototype was located at Edwards Air Force Base, two states and 550 miles away, and that the first test flight didn't occur until October, 1964 -- six months after Zamora's sighting.

The other vehicle suggested is the Surveyor lunar lander prototype which was being tested at Holloman Air Force Base, adjacent to White Sands Missile Range. In 2006, the group New Mexicans for Science and Reason claimed that the 'smoking gun' was this log from Holloman for the day of Zamora's sighting:

Schedule Log
The problems with this 'smoking gun' are manifest. Most obvious is the fact that the test was scheduled to end six hours before Zamora's sighting. More important, were the various configurations of the Surveyor prototypes and mockups:

Surveyor '64

Surveyor prototype undergoing first Mission sequence test in July, 1964.

Surveyor '66

Surveyor mockup on beach, 1966.

Surveyor '67

Mission commander Pete Conrad inspects Surveyor 3 during Apollo 12 mission in November, 1969. Surveyor 3 had landed on the moon on April 20, 1967.

But aside from the testing times and the obvious physical dissimilarities between Surveyor and Zamora's drawing, there still lies the biggest problem with the 'smoking gun' claim: Surveyor was not a self-launching vehicle, and the tests clearly indicate that the test involved lift by helicopter. But Zamora's attention was first attracted by a roar, and the lift off was accompanied by a roar and flames, followed by silence. From Zamora's close distance, even if he had visually misidentified the helicopter-Surveyor configuration, the sound of the helicopter blades whirring should have been loud, and distinctive.

Such theories also fail to account for the fact that the incident took place just on the outskirts of the White Sands Missile Range, and that the initial investigator -- Capt. Holder -- was in fact in charge of the White Sands Stallion Range adjacent to Socorro, and that he also contacted Holloman AFB. All of this argues against such a possibility.

While some die-hard cynics might argue that the vehicle was so secret that the Air Force was allowed to engage in an extensive and time-consuming goose chase, such arguments would also have to encompass why it was kept even from the White House, which -- as indicated in the telex included earlier -- had pressured the Air Force for answers.

Surveyor '67

Letter from Dr. Linus Pauling.

THE THEORY OF A HOAX perpetrated against Zamora has also been in currency since the time of the event itself.

The most recent was the discovery of a 1968 letter from Dr. Linus Pauling to Dr. Stirling Colgate, then president of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (aka New Mexico Tech), located in Socorro. In a hand-written post script, Pauling asks Colgate about Zamora. Colgate's hand-written reply...

I have a good indication of the student who engineered hoax. Student has left - cheers

Contacted after discovery of the letter, Stirling was reported to have stood by the statement, but when pressed for detail only cryptically replied...

I will ask a friend, but he and other students did not want their cover blown.

Others at New Mexico Tech also had tales of being told that students had perpetrated a hoax. Some tales even include the use of a 'rear-projection device' in full daylight in the rugged arroyo.

But the claim of perpetrating a hoax is easily made after the fact, with no evidence provided. And of course, those who would hoax one person are just as apt to deceive another.

In the fact the possibility of such a hoax was researched by Dr. Hynek, in reaction to such a suggestion by Dr. Donald Menzel of Harvard, a self-dedicated -- if imprecise -- debunker of the era. The difference here was that Dr. Menzel's suggestion was that it was a hoax perpetrated by local high school students. The letter's relevant portions...

29 April 1965

Dr. Donald Menzel
Mrs. Lyle Boyd
Harvard College Observatory
Cambridge 38, Massachusetts

Dear Don and Lyle:

At long last I am prepared to make a reply to your letter of February 19.

I am also enclosing a piece of the identical type of cardboard originally picked up by me at the landing site. The only difference between this cardboard and the one that picked up and turned into the Air Force is that the original piece had charred edges which may or may not have had any connection with the alleged landing. But that it was charred I will attest to. This sort of cardboard gets caught under many of the bushes in that area. As you know the winds there can get very high in the windy season and you not only see tumbleweeds batting across the county, but papers, old lunch boxes, packing crates, etc. also merrily batting along. These get wedged in under the bushes and stay there to weather sometimes for a year or more, I would judge. This cardboard, as you can see, has plainly been weathered quite some time and is hardly the kind that would have been used to fake a model of a spaceship.

I should mention that I discussed this whole matter with Major Quintanilla, and he and I are in agreement on what follows...

I don't think we can say too much about the flame which could be pretty subjective. A swirl of dust, etc. might from the distance have been interpreted as a flame. As far as smoke or a burning bush, etc., I couldn't get anyone to say this time that they had seen smoke or that anything was burning. Chavez insisted only on the fact that a greasewood bush appeared to be charred in spots or rather seared and that the searing was highly localized. Greasewood is notoriously hard to ignite, and a match or ordinary flame held to it hardly affects it. Chavez said that the burns appeared as though intense but localized flames had seared the grass and the bushes, but remarked that right next to a seared portion he found portions quite untouched. Again, I don't know how much credence can be placed on all the burning bush, etc. I think we must go to other major points.

The hoax hypothesis is, of course, one that suggests itself immediately. It is Quintanilla's and my opinion that both Chavez and FBI agent Byrnes must have been in on the hoax if we adopt the hoax hypothesis. They testified that there were not tracks in the immediate neighborhood and so that the hoaxsters must themselves have arrived and left by balloon! Had it been a hoax, certainly some paraphernalia should have been left around if the pranksters beat a hasty retreat. These gentlemen said that nothing of that short [sic] was found.

The wind was blowing strongly from the south, yet the object was reported to have gone on directly west. This would hardly fit a balloon, unless, or course, the directions are wrong. I questioned and requestioned the people on this point and couldn't shake them from that.

Pranksters could have hidden behind the knoll directly to the south, particularly had they lain prone. The dynamite shack is too small and too far away to have risked hiding behind it.

Opal Grinder does have a high school student working for him, and I talked with him at length. Teenagers generally hate Zamora's guts, but it was added that they hate all "fuzz" and that if they wanted to get even with Zamora, they would simply beat him up or do something more direct, like letting the air out of his tires or something with immediate results rather than resort to an involved hoax. Opal Grinder, of course, would have to be in on the hoax, also. He again told me the story of the tourist who said that he had sighted a strange object crossing directly in front of him on the road and landing in the gully, and toward which an instant or so later, he saw a police car going. I checked out the time on that, and it fits. Opal Grinder's wife was just preparing to go to the bank before it closed at six (apparently she takes the week's loot to the bank on Friday's just before they close). The sighting as you know, was supposedly at 5:45 P.M.

Some of the high school students do have walkies-talkies, but the hoax hypothesis does involve Chavez, Opal Grinder, and FBI agent Byrnes; the reported tourist would have to be mythical.

Zamora knew exactly where the dynamite shack was, because this is precisely why he left the road when he heard the noise. He though there had been an explosion in the dynamite shack.

The dynamite shack does not stand on legs as I have inspected it closely and have taken photographs. The shack and the reported UFO must be considered distinct.

Furthermore, I doubt very much whether a hoax could have been kept secret this long. If a hoax comes off well, perpetrators like to gloat a bit, and there would have been no point about getting even with Zamora if they couldn't have gotten some kudos out of it. La Paz once told me of an instance in which some college students wanted to get even with a geology professor so they planted a "meteorite" and contrived an explosion at some distant part of the state, and had this poor professor running around ragged chasing a meteorite. The perpetrators, however, were caught and expelled from school because they simply couldn't keep their secret. They "confided" to friends who in turn confided to others, and there you are.

But waiving all that aside, the things that would seem to militate against a hoax are the fact that no tracks coming to or going from the region were found, minutes after the sighting occurred; paraphernalia was not located, again within minutes; Chavez and the FBI agent would have to have been in on the hoax; and finally, the object took off crosswind. Paraphernalia I refer to would have been ropes, launching equipment, gas tanks, etc. which would have been difficult to dispose of in a few minutes and certainly without making any tracks. You say "the whole thing could have easily been planned to come off as it did." I think otherwise; it would have been quite difficult to have a thing like this come off, even as to the original timing. Zamora did not have a regular patrol route so his approximate whereabouts would not be known at a given time. I questioned Chavez on this, and Zamora patrols the whole town in an unscheduled fashion. By the way, there is no local UFO club. The fake UFO would have had to have been rather sizeable since it looked to Zamora like an overturned car, upended, first off from a considerable distance.

You suggest that when Zamora's car crested the hill, the hoaxsters triggered another blast of flame and released the UFO, and ran like hell. The terrain is such that when a car crests the hill, it suddenly comes upon the site. There simply would not have been time to wait until this happened to release the UFO and then hide; not unless there were elaborate ropes and wires running over some distance on the ground. As long as Zamora wears his glasses, his eyesight is good, and you must remember that he did not lose the glasses until after he saw the flame and thought the object was about to explode.

Your suggestion that we re-enact the event is more difficult than you think. I have not yet discovered how to make a balloon go off crosswind or to wait to release it and cause an explosion until someone was just one hundred feet away from me, and then disappear and hide "instantaneously." If the purported balloon release had been by means of delay mechanism, with the hoaxsters having had time to hide, then the release mechanism or some parts of it would have been left behind as tell-tale evidence.

Zamora is having his troubles; the boys he picks up are rather direct. Zamora stopped a teenage speeder, and the kid fired back at Zamora, "What are you giving me a ticket for? Don't you know a flying saucer might come down on you any minute?" You may say that this strengthens the hoax hypothesis, but on the other hand it is a perfectly natural remark for kids to make to a man held up to ridicule for having "seen things."

I come back also to the trenchant fact that Zamora was a thoroughly scared person. Chavez has remarked this to me a number of times that never in his long association with Zamora has he seen him in anything at all approaching the state he was in when Chavez joined him. I honestly don't think a small gas-filled balloon carrying a cardboard spaceship could have frightened a gruff, practical type like Zamora who is used to accidents, bloodshed, fights, and even murders. We all seem to agree that Zamora saw something that really and truly frightened him.

It seems much more likely to me that he saw a strange test craft which is super secret. The flaws in this reasoning are that if it is so super secret why would anyone be landing a half mile south of a town. Why, also, have we been unable to unearth from various agencies any classified clues as to such goings-on?...

Coming back to the Socorro case: I'm sorry that I couldn't have been of any more help. Both Quintanilla and I find it impossible to dismiss as a hoax unless we have some evidence that there was a hoax...

The points given in Hynek's letter are well-made, and any rumors of a hoax -- even in letters between those of Nobel caliber -- are subject to further proof which addresses those points.

Proof which has been distinctly and tellingly not forthcoming.

Surveyor '67

San Miguel de Socorro.

A ROSARY WAS SAID for Lonnie Zamora yesterday evening at San Miguel de Socorro.

This morning, a Catholic mass was held, and Lonnie Zamora was laid to rest.

His was the story of a plain-spoken man who wandered unsuspecting into a moment unbidden, and unwanted.

But his was also the story of an unremarkable man who did that most remarkable of things: having seen the incredible, he told his story plainly and without embellishment, and then left it to others to make of it what they may.

In such courage does a kind of immortality take hold; of such acts, does a legend endure.

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1. This post has been revised since its original publication in November, 2009. However it has not been updated with any subsequent events which may have occurred.

2. The reason Lonnie Zamora's account changed as reflected in the Chieftain story and that of the Journal can only be surmised. Both the Chieftain account and Capt. Holder's report agree in all respects, and the later Journal story may be reflective of a mis-communication -- Dr. Hynek notes that Zamora was awkward in talking about it. Or it may have been Zamora's attempt to play down the event either out of frustration at the hullaboo being made or even at the request of Air Force investigators.

3. Zamora's report was the first of several over the following days. A representative sample from the files of Project Blue Book can be found here.


The Arrival

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