PARIS (AFP) - France became the first country to open its files on
UFOs Thursday when the national space agency unveiled a website
documenting more than 1,600 sightings spanning five decades
The online archives, which will be updated as new cases are reported,
catalogues in minute detail cases ranging from the easily dismissed to
a handful that continue to perplex even hard-nosed scientists.
"It is a world first," said Jacques Patenet, the aeronautical engineer who
heads the office for the study of "non-identified aerospatial phenomena."
Known as OVNIs in French, UFOs have always generated intense interest
along with countless conspiracy theories about secretive government
cover-ups of findings deemed too sensitive or alarming for public consumption.
"Cases such as the lady who reported seeing an object that looked like a
flying roll of toilet paper" are clearly not worth investigating, said Patenet.
But many others involving multiple sightings -- in at least one case involving
thousands of people across France -- and evidence such as burn marks
and radar trackings showing flight patterns or accelerations that defy the
laws of physics are taken very seriously.
A phalanx of beefy security guards formed a barrier in front of the space
agency (CNES) headquarters where the announcement was made, "to screen out uninvited UFOlogists," an official explained.
Of the 1,600 cases registered since 1954, nearly 25 percent are classified
as "type D", meaning that "despite good or very good data and credible witnesses, we are confronted with something we can't explain," Patenet said.
On January 8, 1981 outside the town of Trans-en-Provence in southern France,
for example, a man working in a field reported hearing a strange whistling
sound and seeing a saucer-like object about 2.5 meters (eight feet)
in diameter land in his field about 50 meters (yards) away.
A dull-zinc grey, the saucer took off, he told police, almost immediately,
leaving burn marks. Investigators took photos, and then collected and
analyzed samples, and to this day no satisfactory explanation has been made.
The nearly 1,000 witness who said they saw flashing lights in the sky
on November 5, 1990, by contrast, had simply seen a rocket fragment
falling back into earth's atmosphere.
Patenet's answer to questions about evidence of life beyond Earth
was sure to inflame the suspicions of those convinced the government is
holding back: "We do not have the least proof that extra-terrestrials are
behind the unexplained phenomena."
But then he added: "Nor do we have the least proof that they aren't."
The CNES fields between 50 and 100 UFO reports ever year, usually
written up by police. Of these, 10 percent are the object of on-site
investigations, Patenet said.
Other countries collect data more or less systematically about
unidentified flying objects, notably in Britain and in the United States,
where information can be requested on a case-by-case basis under
the Freedom of Information Act.
"But we decided to do it the other way around and made everything
available to the public," Patenet said.
The aim was to make it easier for scientists and other UFO buffs to
access the data for research.
The website itself -- which crashed host servers hours after it was
unveiled due to heavy traffic -- is extremely well organized and
complete, even including scanned copies of police reports.
To visit the website: www.cnes-geipan.fr.