Mystery At Big Lake -
Fire In The Sky

From Loren Coleman
By Greg Jerrett
Staff Writer
Council Bluffs
Daily Nonpareil
Council Bluffs, Iowa
"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 Atlantis?
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 again.
"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 told investigators.
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 manufacture.
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 and money.
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 aerial phenomena.
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."



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