; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Mt. St. Helens Elk Abduction

On February 25, 1999 three forestry workers in the Mt. St. Helens area of Washington State witnessed a daytime elk abduction. The preliminary report appeared in the MUFON UFO Journal of May 1999. The follow-up investigation reveals additional details and corrects inaccuracies. For purposes of confidentiality, all witness names are pseudonyms.

The preliminary investigation:

On a cold March afternoon with fresh snow up to their boot tops and a rolling valley before them, Peter Davenport (Director, National UFO Reporting Center) and Robert Fairfax (MUFON investigator) stood contemplating the account of an extraordinary event. Also at the edge of the bank stood Jack (landowner's representative) recounting details-albeit secondhand - of"the incident witnessed by members of a crew of Hispanic forestry workers: a daytime elk abduction.

As it turned out, Jack did not have all the particulars of the elk abduction correct, but we were not to find that out until much later. The 14 forestry workers could not plant seedling trees the Friday we arrived on site because ten inches of snow had fallen the previous night; therefore the crew had been given the day off. Hastily, an interview was arranged, through their employer, with three of the witnesses that same afternoon.

However, circumstances were not conducive to obtaining an accurate and detailed report. The meeting took place in a deserted parking lot of a wayside cafe. The cacophony of rushing traffic saturated the background, creating additional handicaps, since none of the three witnesses spoke more than a smidgen of English. Add to this picture a chill to the air, a limited time before sunset, and the requirement of telling the story through their boss, Emanuel, as interpreter to get an idea of the situation.

So here we were, seven of us, standing around the tailgate of a pickup truck for an extemporaneous investigation. Conducting separate interviews was not a viable option. Even though group interviewing conflicts with traditional investigative practice, we perceived little choice in the matter-we needed to take advantage of this opportunity. Fully aware of the pitfalls this method of investigation presented, we made sure we scrutinized the group dynamics. As far as we could tell, each held to a personal version without acquiescing to group decision or falling under another's influence. We were aware the participants had discussed the events among themselves extensively.

Emanuel's efforts at translating were laudable, but he was neither a trained investigator nor interpreter. He had not been present during the abduction, and the event floated somewhere outside his compass of understanding. This presented a challenge, since we were unable to understand for ourselves what the witnesses were saying. Compounding these difficulties, Emanuel seemed reserved in his translations. We knew he believed something strange had happened to his workers; however, we also suspected he was not ready to believe anything as exotic as an alien craft snatching up an elk.

The testimony waxed expansive and waned timid by turns-torn between the need to tell their story and the anxiety of raised eyebrows at the outrageousness of the tale they told.

We struggled with the narrative for 35 minutes. There were innumerable questions yet to ask, but the hour grew late and signals via body language suggested we close the interview and bid farewell. Though crippled by the language barrier, our initial interview provided a tentative and skeletal picture of the event. We wanted to schedule individual interviews for the upcoming week, but were told that the witnesses would be too busy planting trees for the next few weeks-an apparent conspiracy of wet weather and time of year.

Our wait was to last 57 days. Weighing on our minds during this time-out was the knowledge that the ponderous passage of time truncates a witness' sharp recollection of details-the blur factor. In the meantime we searched for another translator. Finding no suitable candidate in Washington, our eyes turned south to California where we knew an ideal interpreter resided. Ruben Uriarte, MUFON's State Director for Northern California, was the answer to our problem: he not only speaks fluent Spanish, but also excels in investigation. Could we recruit him and persuade him to fly to Washington and give us a hand? The answer was an enthusiastic "yes."

The follow-up investigation:

Ruben began immediately by phoning Emanuel and coaxing the witnesses' phone numbers out of proprietary insularity. Then, over the next few days he arranged a meeting with several of the witnesses at one of the worker's home.

Prior to Ruben's involvement in the case, another Washington MUFON investigator, Kathleen Andersen, joined the team. Kathleen began by cross checking other UFO events in the Mt. St. Helens area, seeking correlation and commonalities. She found cases, but no matches.

An early gray Seattle morning on the first Saturday of May found Kathleen packing her Jeep with food, with equipment, and with two investigators—Ruben and Robert. We headed south. When we arrived at the designated house, the scene was a bit awkward at first, due to a small crowd that included friends and relatives milling about. The witnesses were not quite sure if they wanted to be interviewed.

Fortunately, Ruben has the gift of setting people at ease, and within a short time the witnesses began talking. We were able to interview the witnesses both individually and together as a group. Later that afternoon, seven of us jumped into two vehicles and drove to the remote site in the foothills where the abduction had taken place. After 9 1/2 hours of investigation, we discovered that the preliminary report (as reported in MUFON UFO JOURNAL of March, 1999) needed amendment.

One of the witnesses, "Augustine", points toward where he saw the craft carry the elk. (credit: MUFON Journal)

The incident:

Shortly before noon on the last Thursday of February, 1999, fourteen forestry workers had just broken for lunch and were heading for the crew vehicle. Francisco and Augustine were nearly at the turnout (1900 ft. elevation), Manuel and two others were walking up the slope (about 1600 ft. elevation) from an old overgrown access road, while the rest of the crew was scattered, most midway between the two groups on the north-facing hillside. Francisco stopped to rest momentarily and watched the 14 elk of a herd that had been browsing all morning on a nearby slope northeast of them.

Then, out of the northeast, he spotted a strange moving object. The UFO, presumably, had already dropped some 70 feet down the height of the Douglas Fir trees bordering the dirt road and was now drifting over a hilltop. Skimming the clear-cut at brush top level and hugging the contour of the hill, the UFO appeared to be heading slowly toward the herd of elk. The object's initial location was approximately 800 yards distant and 200 ft. lower in elevation than Francisco's location.

At first Francisco mistook it for a bi-colored paraglider silently drifting in for a landing. The object had a strange, slow wobble. It showed red on the right half, white on the left. Francisco quickly realized that he was not seeing any type of parachute.

The object advanced toward the elk herd, staying close to the ground as if in a "stealth mode." When the elk became aware of the object, they bolted. Most tried running up the slope to the east, but the going was slow. A lone elk separated from the herd and headed north. The craft targeted the loner and moved in. Surprised and astounded, Francisco shouted to Augustine, "Look at that! Look at that!"

The clear-cut terrain prevented rapid movement for the animals: innumerable small deciduous trees had trunks cut about 18" above the ground, transforming them into sharp stakes pointing skyward. The trunks, bristling with branches, lay helter-skelter, presenting criss-crossing barricades. The lone animal could not run fast. The wobbling craft, moving no faster than between 5 and 7 mph (est.), easily overtook it.

Augustine had missed the pursuit but caught sight of the UFO as it took the elk. Down-slope, Manuel (crew supervisor) also witnessed the capture-500 yards distant. Nearly every other person's attention had been diverted toward the main group of fleeing animals. The craft moved directly above the female elk and somehow lifted it into the air without any visible means of support evident to the observers.

At this point, the animal ceased discernible movement-no kicking legs, no struggling body, and no indication of consciousness. The witnesses were amazed that the craft could lift the 500-pound animal. The "wing span" of the object measured not much longer than the length of the elk-about 7 to 8 feet. (The increase in size attributed to the craft in the earlier report seems to have been an illusion caused by a change in the craft's angle of tilt over the terrain at the point of capture.)

The captured elk, its head apparently against the ventral surface of the craft, and body standing stiffly upright, was lifted off the ground-just enough to clear the underbrush. The craft continued its slow, wobbling oscillation. The suspended elk moved likewise as if she were a solid metal sculpture welded to the craft. After the craft acquired (without pause) the animal, it moved away at the same slow pace, to the north, following the contour of the land. The elk's feet were observed sweeping circles, in conjunction with the craft's movement, just above the brush and tree tops.

Within a short time the craft approached the forest edge that defined the end of the clear-cut area. Apparently the craft did not stop or maneuver in time to avoid hitting some of the lower branches. Because of the considerable distance of the craft, the witnesses could not discern exactly what had hit the trees-whether the craft, the elk, or something else is unknown.

After hitting the branches, the witnesses saw it dip sharply and reverse direction before ascending vertically in front of the tree line. All three had the impression that the object had almost dropped the animal. Once above the tree top level, it moved over the forest margin and continued northward, dipped out of sight momentarily (perhaps still following the contour line of tree tops), then ascended at roughly a 45-degree angle into the distance until it was obscured by clouds.

Meanwhile, the rest of the herd had gathered into a tight huddle near the tree line, a normal behavior when a predatory threat is perceived. This herd consisted of cows and yearlings. The bulls at this time of year stay in bachelor groups at a higher elevation. The huddle lasted for two hours.

Reactions and emotions:

The witnesses shared their story among themselves at lunch. Several of the workers that had not sighted the craft expressed doubt that anything extraordinary had happened. Nevertheless, the reactions of both the elk and the excited co-workers evoked fear, generating a tense emotional atmosphere. The humans, analogous to the elk's behavior, consciously stayed in close proximity for the rest of the afternoon. Even those that doubted the story knew something had happened and were not comfortable working far from the rest.

Some, perhaps because of limited beliefs imposed by philosophical predisposition, clung to a tightly fenced world - trying to force all that they had heard into some familiar pattern, consistent with their reality. These were the fellows that had directed jokes and gibes at Francisco in particular. These skeptics continued planting seedling trees throughout the afternoon in a normal manner. This was in sharp contrast to those workers who feared a return of the object-they planted with heads continually swiveling skyward.

Craft Details:

Curiously, the witnesses were unable to agree on all the structural details of the craft. No one person had a complete description. Generally, all agreed on the length of the "wing span" (7-8 ft.) because they could compare it to the elk suspended beneath. Augustine perceived the relative depth to length, which measured out to 14 -18 inches. Manuel had the clearest perception of the width to length (5-6 feet) and the rear indentation.

All agreed that the UFO intermittently showed a red and a white patch on the surface. Francisco was sure it was a part of the craft's skin, but Augustine thought they were lights, and Manuel could not tell either way. They were unanimous that the red was dull (comparable to red pencil on a heavy textured paper), without luminescence, and that the white reflected like bright enamel paint. They were in agreement that red was on the right, white on the left, yet size, shape and position of the colors was not precisely known.

The craft's wobble caused the red and white to show intermittently. (See illustration of oscillation cycle: the top surface orients toward the observer for approximately one half of the wave revolution period.) The craft's color, other than the red and white areas, was described as gray. There were no reflections or surface characteristics that suggested the surface was metallic (note: it was an overcast day.).

The trio described the craft's complex motion primarily through hand movements. As close as can be determined, the UFO had an oscillatory period of about 2 to 2 1/2 seconds. This particular motion-apart from the object's forward motion-is difficult to describe except in terms of analogy. Peter described the motion as similar to that of a spinning coin as it is winding down and closely approaching a flat surface.

Francisco expressed regret that he had not taken time to carefully examine the details of the craft. He had been astounded and felt so much concern for the elk that his attention was focused on watching the animal. He realized immediately that if the object could carry off a 500-pound animal, it could easily abduct a per-son-a frightening notion that several members of the group later shared.

Puzzling Question:

The craft's estimated speed ("I could walk as fast as it moved."-i.e. approximately 5-7 mph) closely matches the estimated duration (3-5 min.) required for the observed distance traveled, as measured on a topographical map. With such a long sighting duration, an important question looms: "Why didn't more people see the craft with an elk suspended under it?" A number of reasons appear to answer this:

• When Francisco excitedly announced and pointed out the event, only Augustine was near enough to discern that the direction of his index finger pointed left of the herd. 14 panic-stricken elk, all weaving their way up slope, presented a sight that would be apt to draw a person's attention.

• Not everyone heard Francisco shout, and the other witnesses remained quiet.

• Within a very short time, the craft and herd (both moving away from each other) had separated enough that when bystanders visually searched for an assumed predator, such as a mountain lion, they did not scrutinize terrain far enough away from the herd to see the craft. They also spent time checking the immediate area around themselves for dangerous animals.

• All three witnesses to the craft were so astounded and absorbed with watching the UFO that at the time they did not think to question other spectators as to what they were watching.


Most of the workers have developed a sudden interest in UFOs following this incident. Some related that their spouses did not believe the story. A few are nervous when working in the forest, especially when in the general area of the incident-they constantly search the sky. Francisco could not understand what he saw, and spent several sleepless nights pondering whether the object was some type of prehistoric animal or an extraterrestrial craft. All want answers.

All graphics were done by Robert Fairfax. Ruban Uriarte submitted the official report to MUFON Headquarters, along with the photos of the witnesses. - Peter B. Davenport, Director, National UFO Reporting Center, and Robert A. Fairfax, Director of Investigations, Mutual UFO Network, for the Washington State - also Ruben Uriarte and Kathleen Anderson


Diagram of UFO by Robert Fairfax. (credit: FATE Magazine)

An update to this case appeared in Filer’s Files #12-1999. Mr. Filer contacted Mr. Robert A. Fairfax to see if he had more details on the case. Part of Mr. Fairfax’s response follows:

Filer: "I am particularly interested in the description of the craft itself."

Fairfax: "So am I; this is one of the areas we will try and nail. There were two flashes described as the craft wobbled. A fluorescent magenta (top) and a white (bottom). These were apparently not lights but seemed to be areas on the surface. They were seen intermittently but again we will need to pin the details down along with many others."

Filer: "What was the direction of flight and the last known direction of travel?"

Fairfax: "It was first seen in the SE traveling toward the NNW. It departed slowly to the NE, and then made a near vertical ascent into cloud cover."

Filer: "Did they notice any kind of plasma, lighting, or electrical effects around the craft?"

Fairfax: "Possibly, the two bright color areas. The craft seemed to increase in size as it was capturing the elk. We’re trying to clarify that."

Filer: "Did the craft tilt as it changed direction?"

Fairfax: "Wobbling was reported that was more pronounced before direction changes, but we need to verify with more witnesses.

Filer" "Did they notice a hum or sound?"

Fairfax: "There was no sound.

Filer: "Did you notice the height of the trees or the approximate height and distance from picking up the elk to the top of the trees?"

Fairfax: "Yes, but no precise calculations have been done. It had plenty of room to maneuver and climb."

Filer: "Did they notice any windows?"

Fairfax: "There were no windows."