On Monday, January 25th 2010, Darlene Stewart saw something remarkable in the skies over Harbour Mille, a small community in Southern Newfoundland. She grabbed her camera, and snapped a picture of what appeared to be a rocket shooting diagonally into the sky. Another witness said that the rocket appeared to be only one of three objects that seemed to come out of the ocean itself. As people in Harbour Mille tried to understand what they had seen, different branches of the Canadian government passed of the responsibility for answering questions amongst themselves: “Originally on Wednesday, the RCMP said questions about the alleged missile sightings were being handled by Public Safety Canada, which had no comment other than to refer questions back to the RCMP. Then on Thursday, that federal department referred questions to the PMO” (Prime Minister’s Office).
Initially an RCMP officer told one of the witnesses that they had seen a French missile launch, which was also the information reported by a radio station in St. John’s. The RCMP also seemed to suggest that the government had more information, which they could not release. But then the Prime Ministers office stated that there had been no missile launch, and that the French had not not been involved. Most likely, they said, they said, people had seen toy rockets fired by a hobbyist. CTV reporter Tom Clark described the bemused response of local residents (see this great Youtube clip) who said that there were no model rocket enthusiasts in their community, and that it was too cold in January for hobbyists to be out. It was also unclear why hobbyists would launch a hobby rocket from a boat on the ocean, when they could have easily done so from shore.
One expert noted that hobby missiles typically launch vertically, while this rocket was traveling diagonally. Dr. David Geatrix, a Professor Aerospace Engineering, said that he believed the object was a military rocket. The local community became increasingly concerned, because they did not believe what they were being told. A Canadian MP, Gerry Byrne of the Liberal Party said that he had not received satisfactory answers to questions and that information needed to be provided to dispel conspiracy theories. But no more information was forthcoming. The French did announce that they had performed a missile test a couple of days earlier. But the information that they provided did match that for the Newfoundland incident. And so this case remained a mystery.
Then in November 2010 came a second mystery as a CBS news helicopter captured footage of what seemed to be a missile launch near Los Angeles. Some experts suggested that what people saw was in fact the contrail from an airplane. But a former Deputy Secretary of Defense said that it likely was a missile launch, and he wondered aloud about a political motive for the United States to have done so. The U.S. military denied having been behind this missile test. And many questions remained. If this was a missile launch from the sea, why would the U.S. have done it from a location where it was likely to be observed? It would seem more likely to be have been a test by another nation, and most likely an ally of the United States, or there would have been a major response. But which ally, and what were they testing? Although some commentators mused about a possible missile defense system, nobody really knows. And perhaps what people really saw were hobbyists’ rockets and an airplane contrail.
In the end, the mystery remains. But I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment. And this theme of international mysteries will carry into upcoming posts.
Shawn Smallman, Portland State University