Thursday, February 13, 2014

Belgian UFO wave 1989-1992 – Part 2

This post is looking into the three other spikes of observations linked to the Belgian UFO wave of 1989-1992, namely the nights of 11-12 December 1989, 12-13 March 1991, and 26 July 1992.

11-12 December 1989: second spike of observations

In their 1991 book on the Belgian UFO wave, the SOBEPS investigated 26 sightings that occurred on the night of 11-12 December 1989. This time the observations could be grouped into three particular geographical areas: around Liège, around Namur, and near Mons on an axis parallel to the Sambre and Meuse rivers (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991:  82). It was, generally speaking, on the same general east-west axis as during the 29 November 1989 peak of sightings, but shifted further west. The observations occurred between 1735 (5:35pm) and about 0300 (3am). The first three observations were around Liege (between 1735 and 1800 – 5:35pm and 6pm), then it was in the vicinity of Mons that the next five sightings occurred (between 1800 and 1900 – 6pm to 7pm), and then 7 observations around Namur (between 1845 and 1910, 6:45pm and 7:10pm). The remaining 9 observations that occurred after 1900 (7pm) were in the general area of Liege, except one near Mons, one in the Netherlands (near Maastricht), and one in Luxemburg.

The observations were deemed credible and without obvious explanations by the SOBEPS, with the exception of two cases. About half of them occurred while the witnesses were driving, while most of the other ones happened when the witnesses were at home. The shape of what was observed was described in different fashions. In six cases, the object was described as either a cupola or a helmet. In three cases, it was perceived as a triangular object with rounded edges at each corner of the triangle, while for two observations the witnesses talked about an elongated triangle. In one case, it seen as having a rectangular shape, while in another one it was egg-shaped. In nine cases, the witnesses could not see a particular shape in the night sky, however they reported seeing three bright white lights positioned in a triangular shape, and among those five had also a red light in the middle of the white lights positioned in a triangular position. However, this pattern of white lights in a triangular position has been perceived in four other cases where the shape could be perceived. Combined together, the triangular shape and triangular light position are accounting for 14 of the 24 observations for the night. This is a significant pattern, but there are still significant variations. In a few other cases, green, yellow, and multi-color lights were noticed.

In terms of noise, in six cases the description mentions that the object was noiseless, while in two cases a little vibration noise was noted. The object was observed at low altitude in 11 cases at least, but the most interesting feature is the slowness or stationary behavior of the object in at least 13 cases. This type of behavior made several witnesses rejecting on their own the possibility that it was a plane, and at least four witnesses who had a very good look at what they were seeing rejected that it could be a helicopter. Several witnesses described the object as being very large, as big as a jetliner (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991:  82-113).

This second night of multiple observations had similar characteristics to the first night of 29 November 1989, namely bright white lights, a triangular shape, slow or stationary object, making little or no noise. However, like the first night there were still valid variations to the pattern.

Probably the most interesting case of this night was the one reported by the Lieutenant-Colonel André Amond, of the Belgian Army. Around 1845 (6:45pm), he was driving with his wife to the Gembloux rail station, in the vicinity of Namur. He saw what he called “panels” in the sky with white lights, with at the centre a red rotating light. He estimated that the panels were at 200 to 300 meters up in the sky. He stopped at a high point and looked at the object moving slowly, for 2 to 4 minutes. Then the object turned and only one light was visible and came towards them. His wife became nervous and asked to leave. He also found that the object was a bit “aggressive”, but it was noiseless. As he started the engine the bright light disappear and it was replaced by three light, not as bright as the first one”, in a triangular position, with a red light in the middle. He estimated the distance between the lights at being around 10 meters. Also, he noted that in spite of the full moon, he could not distinguish a particular shape. The object made sharp but very slow turns. The white lights disappeared, and only the red one remained until it faded away into the night sky. The total observation was between 5 to 8 minutes. He noted that the complete silence, the large size and slowness of the object were very unusual, and he rejected the possibility that it could be a plane or a helicopter. He wrote a report on his experience and sent it to the Belgian Ministry of Defense (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991:  90-92).

Among the cases investigated, it is also important to note that some were most likely explainable by human-made helicopters. Among them is the case of the night observation at Jupille-sur-Meuse near Liege. The SOBEPS presents in details this case in their book (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991:  101-111), and an English description can be found hereIn a report produced by the late RenaudLeclet, a convincing case is made that it was probably a Belgian or German (NATO) Sea King helicopter.

12-13 March 1991: third spike of observations

There were 27 cases investigated for that day by the SOBEPS (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991:  259-282). This time the quasi totality of the observations occurred near Bierset (suburb west of Liège) near the then military airport, which has been handed over to civilian authorities later during the 1990s.

The observations occurred between 2000 (8pm) and 2300 (11pm). Approximately half of them happened while the witnesses were driving, and the other half from their residence. Similar descriptions to previous reports were provided by the witnesses. However, there were a division between the cases were a strong noise was heard (8), and others with little or no noise (13 cases). The strong noise was assimilated to plane about crash or to take off, or to the noise made by an AWACS. Given that the witnesses were living near a military airport, they were quite cognisant about the noise made by AWACS. Yet, in spite of the noise, what they saw did not had the shape or the behavior of a plane (something, again, they are used to observe given their proximity to the airport). There were no plane crash, and the Belgian Ministry of Defence confirmed that all AWACS were away in Turkey at the time, as part of a NATO mission to defend that country during the Gulf War (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991:  280).

Among the “unplanely” behaviors of those noisy objects was the capacity to make sharp turns without changing their flat horizontal alignment with the ground. In some cases, the object was stationary and/or moving very slowly, and in most cases it had powerful white lights illuminating the ground. The shape was at time triangular and flat, circular, or triangular with a cupola on top.

The silent objects were almost all described as either stationary or very slow, and at low altitude. Powerful white light with a weaker red light was also a very common observation. The shape was not always visible, but oftentimes the white lights were in a triangular or “V” formation. When the shape could be seen it was mostly triangular, but in some cases it was rectangular, ovoid, or circular. It was oftentimes described as large as a jetliner. The object was seen near or over the nuclear power plant of Tihange by a number of witnesses, which is about 10 km away from the Bierset airport. A number of witnesses also reported that they felt as if they were observed by the object.

One of the interesting cases of this observation spike occurred in the small locality of Clavier. At around 2145 (9:45pm), a woman and her daughter saw a red-orange light ball slowly pulsating in the night sky. It was just above tree heights and at about 10 meters from them. It moved very slowly, without making any noise, towards the Tihange nuclear power plant. In a few minutes, it reached the power plant and turned left and disappeared in the night. Five minutes later, they saw a large, noiseless, slow, dark, triangular object with flashing light all along its contour taking the exact same path as the light ball they saw just before. The following night, the same event repeated itself (Bougard & Clerebaut, 1991:  278).

26 July 1992: The last spike of observations

In their second book on the UFO wave, the SOBEPS presents the synopsis of 27 observations (involving 72 witnesses) that occurred on 26 July 1992, between 2200 (10pm) and midnight (Clerebaut, 1994: 53-77). The reports were coming from the general area of Malmedy to Waremme, with a number of them in and around Liege. The Belgian military confirmed that there were no military aircraft in the area where observations took place at time (Idem, p. 53).

Out of those 27 reports, one could be confirmed as being an aircraft, and two were night lights, offering limited information to analyze. The most striking feature of this last set of observations is the object’s shape. In 14 of the remaining 24 sightings, the witnesses reported seeing something in the shape of a lozenge or square oftentimes with four lights at each corner, while the triangular object and/or lights in a triangular formation accounted only for 6 cases. Rectangular shape was also noted in a few cases. The objet was at times perceived as being flat, while at other times it seemed to have a pyramid shape extension on the upper side. Some witness mentioned that the corners of the lozenge were curled up.

Another interesting feature was that in many observations, there was a flashing or gyrating light but it was a white light, not a red one as often noted since the beginning of the wave.  Once more, it was the “unplanely” behavior at the beginning of the sightings that attracted the attention of the witnesses. A number of them noted one or two unusually bright white lights in the sky that became four lights and a lozenge shape could be seen. The object was very often described as either stationary or very slow, at low altitude, large, and in a few cases the object was seen as making sharp turns that an aircraft cannot do. In about half of the observations, the object was described as noiseless, while in other ones a low pitch vibration noise was noted.

One of the most interesting cases involved a triangular shape object. At around 2220 (10:20pm), an off-duty military radar operator was watching at home the summer Olympics on television. It was in Fléron, an eastern suburb of Liege. He heard the dogs from the neighborhood barking in an unusual manner. He went to the balcony of his sixth floor apartment and saw two powerful white lights in the sky at about  1,000 feet above the ground, at a distance evaluated between one and two kilometers. The lights appeared to be stationary. He observed this scene for three to four minutes with his wife. The dogs continued to bark actively. He decided to go outside to have a closer look, and met neighbors in the street also wondering what was going on. Then he noticed that object was moving, and estimated it at about 60 km/h. He heard a light vibration noise that he compared to a washing machine noise. Then the object made a turn and he could see three white lights with one flashing in the middle. He could discern a large object shaped as an elongated triangle. The object disappears in the night sky (Clerebaut, 1994: 65).


After the intense night of 29 November 1989, the observations of UFO continued although it declined in intensity afterward. There are a number of issues about the reporting that need to be pointed out. Given the intensity of the press coverage that started in December 1989, the increase in the number of observations is likely to be in part linked to people paying more attention to what is going on in the sky.

Another issues was that the majority of observations were coming from the French-speaking part of Belgium. The SOBEPS was clearly more French-speaking than Flemish (Dutch-speaking), but it still had Flemish people among its ranks. It is reasonable to think that the tense cultural and linguistic Belgian divide had an impact on reporting. Given the intensity of the international press coverage, one should have expected more observations from northern Belgium (Flemish community). The SOBEPS had reports from the Flemish part of Belgium for the period, but very few on the spike days noted before. Hence, the linguistic divide may have produced an incomplete picture of the UFO wave, but it appears reasonable to think that the geographic concentration of sightings during the spikes days represent a relatively sound reporting context.

When it comes to individual observations, it is impossible to assess them all. Yet, it is reasonable to think that a number of them were probably the fact of human-made objects (planes, helicopters, ultra-light planes, etc.). Nevertheless, there are many cases that are quite difficult to explain away. Furthermore, the SOBEPS received the unconditional help of the Belgian military so that more exotic airframes could be excluded as part of the potential explanation.
Of course, it is always possible to speculate that American classified flights were the explanation, and that the Belgian military did not know, or could not speak about it. Given that such speculations are improvable by definition (if one has access to classified material, one can’t speak publically about it no matter what is the content), then using logic is the only alternative. In view of the wide press coverage about UFOs then, that Belgium is a NATO ally, that truly exotic military planes are very expansive, that any accident in highly populated area like Belgium would cause a serious international scandal (and excuses for the Congress to cut military budgets), and that by doing so it might give information to the Soviet Union about those planes, one can only conclude that such speculations are, at best, completely ludicrous.

A better and more methodologically sound assessment would be, instead, to look into the witnesses themselves. The SOBEPS was very careful in assessing if they were dealing with genuine witnesses. It is of course impossible to have a perfect score in removing hoaxes, but the array of witnesses is quite impressive. They were coming from all walks of life, including people who were in position of authority (police officers, senior civil servants, doctors, military personnel) and who had an obvious incentive to be seen as upstanding citizens. From a sociological perspective, the witness population is consistent with the general demography, and the “credibility” factor is not an issue.

Another important point is the general practical knowledge of the witnesses regarding aircrafts. Many of them lived near military airbases, and were quite used to see military aircrafts in the sky such AWACS and jet fighters. As well, by 1989 the general knowledge about commercial jetliners and helicopters is much higher that it was just two decades before, simply because they are much more common than before. Hence, a key reporting issue is that most witnesses reported because they observed activities in the sky that would not match “normal aircraft” appearances and behavior. In other words, we know about those cases because something was considered being “off”, and that could not be explained away by the witnesses.

In old ufology, there is a tendency to regard witnesses as sincere, but ignorant. The tune is no different among the pseudo-sceptics (and thus implying that ufologists and pseudo-sceptics know better). Such view may have been somewhat true from the 1940s to the 1960s, but afterward this seems a very erroneous perspective, not to say a condescending one. Witnesses can be fooled by special weather, sound effects or elaborated hoaxes, but since the 1980s their average knowledge of aircraft behavior should not be questioned unless there is a good reason to do so. This, in view of the large amount of observations collected by the SOBEPS, should be enough to accept that what happened over the sky of Belgium was a genuine anomaly.


Bougard, Michel and Lucien Clerebaut. (1991). "Chronique d'une vague". In SOBEPS, Vague d'OVNI sur la Belgique: Un dossier exceptionnel. Bruxelles: SOBEPS, pp. 51-296.

Clerebaut, Lucien. (1994). "Chronique d’une vague". In SOBEPS, Vague d’OVNI sur la Belgique 2: Une énigme non résolue. Brussels : SOBEPS, pp. 13-118.


Bruce Duensing said...

Your essay brought out the holes in "measuring" this phenomenon and what especially struck me was the variety of shapes you noted as reported. It made me think of the geometry as seen from the ground turned on a axial basis from the underside view of witnesses which may or may not be the case.
As always, your post was incisive and provocative. These mass sightings such as they are described bring to mind an ink blot that is superimposed upon by a game of the closest match while revealing essentially nothing except potential holes in the fabric of theories.

Eric Ouellet said...

Hello Bruce,

Good to hear from you. Your comments are, as usual, very much on the mark.