“We cannot give a precise and unique interpretation to this remarkable combination of results. We can state that there is, nonetheless, another confirmation of a very significant event which happened on this spot.” This was the non-committal statement by investigators from the University of Metz (France) in their findings report regarding an alleged UFO sighting in 1981 in southeastern France.
At around 5:00 in the afternoon of January 8, 1981, 52-year-old immigrant farmer, Renato Nicolai claims to have witnessedthe landing of an unidentified flying object on his farm. In his testimony to the local gendarmerie the following day, Nicolai said, “My attention was drawn to a small noise, a kind of whistling. I turned around and I saw, in the air, a ship which was just about the height of a pine tree at the edge of my property. The ship was not turning, but was desending toward the ground. I only heard a slight whistling. I saw no flames, neither underneath or around the ship.”
The apparent sighting was quick, more like a touch and go maneuver. Nicolai said the object was only on the ground a few seconds. It took off, reversing it’s flight path, whistled some more and flew off rapidly to the east. The farmer believed that he observed two protrusions on the underside like landing gear and two circular “trap doors”. The entire incident, from first sighting to disappearance, was less than a minute.
Nicolai inspected the landing site and discovered a rough circle about two-metres in diameter with markings at places on the edges of the circle. He concluded that the vessel was some sort of experimental military device. Nicolai told his wife about the sighting, then she told a neighbor about the incident.
On January 9th, the next day, the neighbor notified the police about the supposed sighting. The gendarmerie arrived, took several photographs and collected samples of dirt from within and outside of the circle. The police official then notified the agency that investigates reports of UFOs–Groupe d’Etude des Phenomenes Aerospatiaux Non-ldentifies (GEPAN).
In their initial report, the GEPAN investigators describe two concentric circles, ten centimetres thick. One was 2.2 metres in diameter, the outer one was 2.4 metres in diameter. The GEPAN investigation report included their assessment of Renato Nicolai and a background check of the farmer. They noted the weather conditions at the reported time of the incident. Official air traffic reports were also copied into the records. GEPAN and the local gendarmerie continued their joint investigation for two years.
The final report from GEPAN and the gendarmerie stated that there was no plausible explanation for the incident. They said that because the Canjuers military base is nearby, the farmer’s initial assessment of the “device” being an experimental craft, was “believable”. UFOlogists use this testimony to claim that the Trans en Provence incident demonstrates, conclusively, the reality of extraterrestrial craft.
I have some personal reservations about this incident.
I wonder why Nicolai didn’t personally contact the gendarmerie immediately after witnessing the arrival and departure of the UFO. Why tell the neighbors first? Why did the neighbors not notify the authorities right away about this mind-boggling event?
The investigators from GEPAN arrived at the scene more than a month after the incident. Shouldn’t investigators begin their on-site studies as soon as humanly possible?
While the local gendarmerie performed their sampling and interviews in a professional, objective manner, the GEPAN is reputed to have a pro-UFO bias. Follow-up investigations by independent researchers have found that GEPAN conclusions are not as air-tight as previously claimed. Superficial, photographic evidence shows the imprints of car and truck tires at the site. Because Nicolai was making some improvements in his garden, there had been numerous vehicles parked at the same location. It has been accused that GEPAN failed to take these factors into consideration.
A group of French skeptics have an alternative explanation for the Trans en Provence incident. Their story says that Niclolai initially wanted to play a prank on his wife, so he convinces her that he actually witnessed a UFO landing. He allegedly used the traces of tire tracks as “evidence” of the UFO. Mrs. Nicolai apparently believes her husband’s tale, then relays the story to the neighbors. The neighbors call the gendarmerie.
When the police finally interview him, the farmer, out of pride, cannot recant his story. Skeptics then explain that the head GEPAN investigator was Michel Bounlas, a known ufologist and believer in extraterrestrial causes for UFO sightings. Furthermore, the size of the circles coincides with the advertised turning radii of some common compact cars in France.
In my opinion, the case for the authenticity of the Trans en Provence incident is flawed and weak. It looks to me like the “evidence” was shoehorned into a scenario. However, I also think that it’s entertaining to read about and analyze this sort of thing.
The Blue Jay of Happiness first found out about this incident while flipping through the May 2001 issue of “Popular Mechanics” magazine, issue 178. The article “When UFOs Land”, piqued his imagination.