- "And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out
of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness
was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the color of amber, out of
the midst of the fire. -- Ezekiel 1:4
- Ezekiel saw the wheel and spoke of it as a mystical vision.
- Was Ezekiel's vision a sign from God? Or did it signify
something entirely different? Something the prophet was incapable of explaining?
- Since the earliest of recorded history, man has seen
and reported things that could not be explained. In the sea, on the land
and in the sky. The bizarre and unexplained have always been dismissed
as myth, vision and fantasy.
- The great mountain gorilla was once just a crazy story
- not unlike Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster - told by madmen and savages.
It is only in the modern era that gorillas have been accepted as the most
common attraction at any municipal zoo.
- Mermaids were just manatees, not sea borne lovers as
many sailors had hoped. Leviathans and other denizens of the deep have
been identified as whales and large squid, nothing more.
- Even the Bermuda Triangle is losing its mystery as scientists
begin to fathom that its bubbling depths sink ships more often than the
devil, aliens and ghosts.
- Troy was a myth until it was discovered, what then of
- Mysteries give life depth. It is our nature as rational
beings to try and solve those mysteries. It is all a part of the great
adventure of the mind.
- Council Bluffs is not without its own mysteries. One
of the greatest unsolved riddles in this sleepy railroad town occurred
on Dec. 17, 1977, when Kenny, 17, and Carol Drake, 16, and Carol's brother
Randy James, 12, were driving Kenny's Dodge Challenger to the Richman Gordman
store on North 16th. According to a Daily Nonpareil story dated Dec. 18
of that year, several witnesses in addition to Drake, saw a bright red
object fall from the sky toward Big Lake. When Kenny, Carol and Randy saw
the object, they went with great haste toward the lake. On the dike along
the road between the lake and the railroad tracks, was a molten "blob"
of glowing orange metal. The pool of metal was slowly running down the
sides of the dike and was too hot to touch.
- According to an article published in the now defunct
Omaha Sun on Feb. 9, 1978, Kenny Drake, who is now dead, saw four men about
18 or 19 years old drive by the site in "a tiny foreign car."
As they passed the three on the dike, they asked if "they saw that
thing fall out of the sky, too?"
- The car turned around and drove by the sight again without
stopping. This fact would become more relevant later on as the possibility
of a hoax was discussed and who, if anyone, might have perpetrated such
an act and how.
- "It looked like a great big sparkler at first. Then
it cooled down and seemed like lava, glowing and bubbling. I thought it
was a meteor," said Kenny in the Sun article.
- Randy James is still alive and living in Council Bluffs.
He said he is not now and never has been "a real UFO buff."
- He said that he hasn't really talked about what has been
referred to as "The Big Lake Incident" since he spoke to Dick
Ulmer for the Sun story in 1978, not for any reason dramatic or suspicious
- though Kenny told the Sun that he had purportedly received a call from
the United States Air Force insisting that he never mention his sighting
- "Basically, we were heading down North 16th, and
we saw what kind of looked like a ball of fire streaking from the sky.
It appeared to come straight down. We saw a flash so you could tell it
kind of hit the ground," Randy said. "Maybe it was space junk.
We stayed there with the fire department and picked up a couple of pieces.
There was a blue crystal in the middle of the pool of metal. When it cooled
down a bit, we picked up a piece of the metal about the size of a toothpick
and couldn't break it."
- The bluish crystalline pieces were not affected by the
heat, according to both Randy and Kenny.
- At the same time that Kenny, Carol and Randy were driving
up North 16th, Mike and Criss Moore were driving east on Broadway. Just
as they crossed 16th, they saw what Criss described as "a big round
thing hovering in the sky below the tree tops."
- "It was hovering. It wasn't moving," Criss
- Criss also told the Sun she saw "red lights around
the perimeter of the object, blinking in sequence."
- A middle-aged couple who saw the event and spoke to investigators
by telephone, but refused to be identified for fear of ridicule said they
saw "a bright red object rocket to the ground near Big Lake."
- Former Fire Chief Jack Moore, father of Mike Moore, was
called out to the scene where the grass had caught fire and the ground
was smoldering. He told the Nonpareil in a story at the time that Kenny
told him "something red fell out of the sky to the southeast, hit
the ground and exploded in flame."
- When he arrived on the scene, Moore said he found a grassy
area about four by six feet on a levee off Big Lake to be covered by a
mass of molten metal, said the Nonpareil article.
- "It was running, boiling down the edges of the levee.
The center of it was way too hot to touch," Moore said at the time.
- It should be noted that calls were made to Eppley Airfield
as well as Offutt Air Force Base by investigators, according to the Sun.
They could not explain the phenomenon as an air crash.
- Astronomer and Nonpareil Columnist Bob Allen was a secondary
witness to the event. He heard about it by the next day, Sunday, and went
to take a look at what remained. Overnight, most of the metal had been
chipped away, but a few pieces remained.
- Allen did several things that would later make the Big
Lake incident important to another investigator. The first is that he took
a sample of the metal to Griffin Pipe to have the metal analyzed. He also
sent a sample to Ames Lab at Iowa State University. Both said the metal
was simply high-carbon steel of a very terrestrial origin. Part of it seemed
to be slag, the kind of metal used widely in manufacturing.
- Allen also sent samples to the Foreign Technologies division
of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and received a letter from Col. Charles
H. Senn who confirmed that the object could not have been space-borne because
of the lack of an impact crater; could not have been part of a satellite
because the metal was too common and space debris does not become molten
or glow; the USAF had no interest in the case.
- Meteors fall from the sky as stones and even the earliest
of space craft were made of light metals with a high alloy content. The
molten metal of Big Lake was far too primitive to be a satellite of human
- Part of an airplane perhaps? Even if the metal had come
from an aircraft not noted by Eppley or Offutt, it would not have fallen
in a semi-molten state.
- All of this leads to one explanation that would satisfy
the theory that a hoax had been perpetrated. Remember the four unidentified
men in the small car who seemed only vaguely interested in the flash, but
not enough to stop?
- Perhaps they had planted the metal in its molten form
or melted it using Thermite then set off a flare to attract attention but
didn't count on the quick reaction time of Kenny, Randy and Carol who would
have practically caught them in the act?
- This was also right at the time that "Close Encounters
of the Third Kind" was in theaters. In fact, Mike and Criss Moore
joked about having seen the movie only the night before in the Star article.
Perhaps imaginations were running wild and one thing seemed like another.
- But in any event, a hoax would have taken a tremendous
amount of effort to pull off just for a few laughs. For one thing, molten
metal is hard to come by. It can't be transported easily and certainly
not in "a small foreign car" with four men in it.
- Allen concluded that the use of Thermite to melt the
metal at the location would have been extremely unlikely as no local sources
of the material were available at the time and considerable amounts of
ice should have been present on the ground around the metal had pranksters
attempted to cool the metal with water as was indicated by surface structures
on the metal itself.
- And so we are left with what we began, a mystery.
- If the Big Lake incident is a hoax, it is one of the
most cleverly perpetrated hoaxes requiring the perpetrator to be simultaneously
smart enough to pull off the hoax while being simple-minded enough to be
amused by a prank that just as easily could have gone unnoticed. The pranksters
would also have had to be willing to spend a great deal of time, energy
- In many ways, this incident has not drawn a great deal
of attention. It certainly doesn't garner much attention even locally.
- The incident did catch the attention of Jacques F. Vallee,
noted computer scientist, astronomer, astrophysicist, writer and member
of the Society for Scientific Exploration where he has studied unidentified
- In a report entitled "Physical Analyses in Ten Cases
of Unexplained Aerial Objects with Material Samples" presented at
the Pocantino Conference in Tarrytown, N.Y., in September 1997, Vallee
used what he calls "the Council Bluffs case" along with descriptions
of nine other similar events from around the world to describe what he
speculates could be part of a liquid metal electrical system in which the
high conductivity of liquid metals makes them an attractive means of current
collection, according to the author, that could also be a part of a nuclear
design for a flying object's power plant using direct energy conversion
rather than a heat driven engine such as a plane uses.
- Put simply, magnets could move liquid metal inside a
"magnetohhydrodynamic" generator instead of gasoline being used
to move pistons to create motion. The MHD generator would be quiet and
could explain why even base terrestrial metals might be found associated
with such a strange phenomenon.
- Sadly, we might never know what fell from the sky on
Dec. 17, 1977. Bob Allen and Randy James agreed that one explanation has
yet to be fully explored. It is possible, according to both men, that what
fell to earth that night did land on the levee.
- It is possible that what fell to earth actually fell
in Big Lake and what ended up on the levee was merely a splash that wouldn't
have left a crater.
- "Look in the lake," said Allen. "Get your
scuba gear on and look in the lake."