Blog: The Belgian UFO Wave 1989-1993


nathalie-150x150by Nathalie Laurent, Belgium 

For many, even among UFO enthusiasts, the Belgian UFO wave is often summed up in a few lines: A large triangular object with bright lights flying over Belgium (where’s Belgium anyway?) during the 80-90 winter season. Some military jets chased it with no result.

A closer look shows a more complex story that lasted almost 4 years…with 3 successive waves.

Belgium, November 29, 1989.  The Berlin Wall had fallen 3 weeks earlier, the media coverage of the event was slowly waning. Belgium has a common border with Germany, though Eastern Germany, and the Wall, were several hours by train or car. The euphoria of the first moments was already transforming into worries if not fears. For many Belgians the end of the Cold War was a very concrete matter. Many people were going to Berlin, bringing back pieces of the Wall. The sight of Traban cars was becoming fairly common as there are a lot of Polish immigrants in Belgium and many families were finally reunited after years apart. There was also an unusual, but not surprising, NATO aerial activity in the skies. Boeing_E-3A_NATO_AWACSAWACS (those Boeings equipped with a large radar dish) were flying all over the country, sometimes extremely low. I had several personal day sightings. In autumn of that year I had a rather long commute that was taking me across the relatively empty countryside in the center of Belgium. And I can assure you that an AWACS flying at a fairly low altitude over empty fields is quite a sight…prompting me to stop the car and watch on a couple of occasions.

That NATO/ American presence would only increase in the following months as Iraq invaded Kuwait a few months later, Belgium serving as a rear base for the US military flying to the Middle East. And so this was the situation on that day of November.

Oddly enough the first sightings of the wave occurred in the tiny German speaking part of Belgium, right on the border to, well, Germany before spreading across to a larger area during the evening.
At 10.30 am a Major taking part in a walking training saw a metallic triangular object high in the sky near a dam. The shape intrigued him enough to stop and look at it for several minutes.

appleton_wi_cigar_ufo-300x184At 3pm another witness saw an ovoid object in dark metallic color. The witness was driving a truck and the object was flying in parallel to the road in the same direction about 150 meters from the ground.
At 4 pm a woman spotted a large metallic cigar shaped object near a strange lonely cloud. She said she thought the cigar had come out of the cloud. The object slowly flew away getting closer to the ground and disappeared behind a hill where the previously mentioned dam is located.

Between 4 and 5 pm several witnesses declared seeing a large triangular shaped object with 3 large lights of different colors (white, red, blue)

Around 5pm (the sun had now set) a  « gendarme » (constable) controlling passports at a booth on the motorway between Belgium and Germany saw 2 or 3 large and extremely bright lights slowly flying in from Germany. The object seemed to be flying in parallel to the motorway. He dismissed the possibility of a helicopter as the lights were too bright and the speed too slow.

30 minutes later 2 other gendarmes in a van in the same area spotted an unusually bright light hovering over a field. The light was so bright that one of the gendarmes declared you could have read the newspaper there (though it was already dark). The van slowed down and the passenger checked the object from the opened window. He described it as a huge triangular platform with 3 very large round lights emitting cones of light to the ground (it was later established the weather was not damp enough to allow for visible cones of light) and a smaller pulsating red light in the center. They heard no noise. The object started slowly moving and the gendarmes followed it for a while before the object change its course and disappeared from sight. Back at the police station, the 2 gendarmes heard there were other sightings and got back in their van to follow the trail. They saw the object again over the dam from the previous sightings, it seemed stationary. As it was further away than during their first encounter they could only see a large ball of light…which was regularly emitting long beams of red light in opposite directions, at the end of which appeared smaller red balls of light that were going back to the main object and circling it before disappearing. That happened several times at irregular intervals. To their amazement, a second triangle suddenly appeared over trees on the horizon, during its maneuvers, the 2 constables were able see a dome with rectangular windows at the top of the triangle, it quickly flew away. The first object flew away around 7.30pm.
And the sightings of various objects (though the triangle was the most common) continued all through the evening.
There are over 100 known sightings for that day alone. And most people would only find out about all that when the first book about the wave came out almost 2 years later.

On the next day, Friday 30th, one national TV channel (RTBF) mentioned the gendarmes sightings during the evening news.

On Saturday December 1st, the media frenzy began. All newspapers and TV channels (including in foreign countries) were talking about it.  Those were the days before the Internet, mobile phones and The X-files. UFO’s were rarely mentioned, the Voronej incident a month earlier in Russia had made the news accompanied by the usual smirks.
This was different. People were interested. People were worried. Some people were scared. What was going on? Were those American or Soviet planes?
From the start the government and military declared they knew nothing about the matter. Yes, military radars had spotted unusual things. No, they were not theirs. So everyone turned to the SOBEPS.
The SOBEPS (Belgian society for the study of space phenomena) was a private civilian UFO investigation society which, at its peak in the late 70‘s, counted 1800 members. In 1989 it was about to stop its activities for lack of interest and sightings. Overnight, the few members left were propelled to the forefront. I am sure they were flabbergasted when they found themselves on national TV, replacing politicians during our traditional lunchtime political debates on Sundays.
As nor the police nor the military had any idea what to do…or, I suspect, much inclination to do anything about it, the SOBEPS became more or less the « official » link between the witnesses and the officials. The SOBEPS was given an answering machine and the police gave the group phone
number to anyone wishing to report anything unusual.

And the sightings continued…every day, for months. 
Not that the general public knew much about them. The news were not giving much details, and unless something « big » came up, like a national sky watch event, or some witness claiming to have a photo or a  video , or when  that military jet chase occurred, information were nowhere to be found. The interest in the topic faded away.

During those strange months, it seems everybody was watching the skies. I know I did I took part in the several « official » UFO watches. I never saw anything. I don’t even know someone who saw something during that wave. Even though pretty much everyone I knew at the time knew I was interested in the topic, no one ever came to me with a UFO story. How disappointing!

Some cases

The photos and videos


One would think that with the sheer number of people watching the skies during that time, someone somewhere would take a good photo or video of the phenomenon. But this was before digital cameras and smartphones, and night photography is tricky at best. Video cameras were available but few people owned one and their quality was pretty low.
The first photos either showed light blobs on black background or nothing at all. Blurry videos were just as disappointing. Then came « the Photo » we now know for sure is a hoax.

The Petit-Rechain photograph

petitrechainhoaxThat infamous picture was supposedly taken on April 4, 1990 in the area where the first sightings occurred by the German border. The general public wouldn’t hear about it for months. « Finally, a photo! »…was the general view when it was finally released by the media who didn’t question much its authenticity as the SOBEPS (including a university physics professor, Professor Meessen) presented it as the actual thing. To sum up the situation, despite obvious issues with that photo, everyone wanted to believe. And to be fair, when the SOBEPS released a second book about the Belgian wave, most of their members were a lot less enthusiastic about that photograph.  It taught me a few things, and back then, just going back to the original testimony should have been enough to discredit the photo. The witnesses were really vague, wanted to remain anonymous and got paid. The testimony doesn’t match what appears on film (it’s too close, not in the right position) , what appears on film doesn’t really match hundreds of other sightings (the ratio size of the lights / general size of the object is wrong)  and the position of the object on the original is odd, when you take a « surprise » photo you tend to put whatever you are shooting right in the center , it’s not the case here, the ufo is oddly located on the side of the frame.

The Ramillies photo

Ramillies1There were a dozen of videos taken during the wave. Most only shows blurry lights that could be pretty much anything ranging from stars and streetlights to planes. The most famous one is the Alfarano video.

The Alfarano video

This video was allegedly filmed during the night of March 31, 1990 during which the famous jet chase took place in another area. The origin of the video was shrouded in secrecy for a long time. It was filmed over Brussels by a man named Marcel Alfarano. The witness wanted money for his film. It is rather difficult to sort out facts in this story as versions differ a lot. It seems the video was first shown on Italian TV. The witness doesn’t appear to be very credible as he regularly appeared in the news with strange UFO allegations.

The official reaction

Both the politics and army were very opened from the start. There never seemed to be any cover-up. Politicians didn’t seem very interested tough. They allowed military actions (army jets were sent chasing UFOs several times) and formally asked the American government if it was testing planes over the country (not sure they would have answered yes even if they had). Some local politicians (including one who would later become Prime Minister) asked for the creation of some formal investigation group on the European level. Nothing came out of it. I call it “opportunistic interest”.
The NATO response was more ambiguous. Belgium hosts several NATO military bases. Several fairly spectacular sightings took place near the SHAPE, a NATO military base located in Mons. When asked about those sightings (did they see anything?), the official cryptic answer was that they didn’t have any radars on the base
Here’s a personal anecdote. At the time I was taking Japanese lessons in Mons. For the 1991 New Year our Japanese teacher had organized a kite celebration like they do in Japan. That small event was taking place in a privately owned field near that NATO base. There was a dozen (maybe less) kites in the air when a military helicopter suddenly appeared, landed near the group and American GI’s in full gear  and armed (including a woman…that struck mind) jumped out of it and started yelling. Granted, the Iraq invasion was about to start and the military were more than a little bit on edge, still it seemed like an extremely disproportionate action for people who didn’t have a radar at hand.

The hypotheses

The F117 jet

This first explanation for the triangular object seemed like an obvious one. Most people were satisfied with this simplistic explanation.
But why would the US test an expensive and (back then) secret plane over one of the most densely populated countries on the planet?
And as cool and technically advanced that plane was, it was still just a plane. It cannot hover nor move slowly, it is definitely not silent and it is invisible to radars only under some conditions.
It is also much smaller than what most people described, the sizes of its lights don’t match, and it certainly doesn’t have a red light that can detach itself, circle around and come back to the main body of the ship.
And it would also only explain the triangle sightings. What about all the other ones?
A French popular science magazine still claims to this day that this is the only explanation. Without doing any research.

Drones

Too small, too light. The triangular object has been seen by stormy, windy weather and didn’t seem affected at all. Also the drone technology was only just starting in 1989.

Radio controlled zeppelins/blimps

Again, those wouldn’t work under bad weather conditions. Still, some people are convinced this could be the explanation. In the early days of the wave a Belgian inventor claimed all the sightings were his doings. Michel Kuznek claimed to be the inventor of a small, highly maneuverable radio controlled blimp. Indeed those mini zeppelins do exist and work great indoors and outside if there’s no wind …but he never was the inventor. He also always refused to show his elusive creation, unless someone would pay him 25 million Belgian Francs (about $700.000).

In 2011, Dan Geery, the American inventor of the Hyperblimp, was invited by Belgium TV for a documentary about the wave. They tried to fool some original witnesses with a small blimp equipped with lights. To be fair, at some distance, the effect is stunning. But again, the slightest gust of wind breaks the illusion.

Helicopters

Too noisy, lights and shape don’t match. Debunkers of the Belgian wave like to mention a case that appeared in an issue of the SOBEPS newsletter where the witness described and drew a UFO that looked a lot like a helicopter.

AWACS

This might account for some long distance sightings. The weird shape and occasional low flying pattern could definitely be a source of confusion.

A large scale sociological experiment/hoax

By whom? For what reason? It doesn’t explain what the witnesses saw. Or were some of the witnesses liars working for some mysterious state agency? And the paranoia and auto-suggestion did the rest?

It can be argued that 99% of what we know about the Belgian wave comes from a single source, the SOBEPS. And, OK, it does make me a little bit uncomfortable at times. But they were the only ones willing to investigate, take time to go meet the witnesses and collect their stories. And never getting paid for it (well, they got an answering machine…). So, yes, their recollection of the events might not be 100% objective, the whole wave is probably seen through their own point of view. They completely dismissed the « fringe » aspects (which would include abductions) of the phenomenon. But, fair enough. Who else is willing to go through the thousands and thousands of pages they collected in a few years?  Does that mean there was nothing in the Belgian sky because only one group investigated it? Does that mean they unwillingly manipulated everyone, from the media to the army and everyone in between with their pro-UFO views? Some skeptics are convinced it is the case.
“If the wave were real (in the sense of something unknown in the skies), why was it limited to Belgium, and even worse, just the French speaking area of Belgium?”  they argue. Well, was it? Or was it simply that the witnesses outside the « peak » area had no one to report their sightings to? Granted France has the Geipan (in 1989 it was called SEPRA), but it’s a very small group, with extremely limited funds …very far from the image the international media give of it. They investigate only a tiny fraction of reported sightings. They completely dismissed the November 5th, 1990 numerous sightings as space debris reentry for instance.

In the end the Belgian wave does not raise more questions than the UFO phenomenon in general.

Check back for Part II Belgian Wave Cases

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