The Shag Harbor USO

“You can always tell when a man’s well-informed. His views are pretty much like yours.”—Bob Hope


This particular USO didn’t have anything to do with singing or comedy, although it did keep a lot of military personnel entertained, or at least occupied, for about a week. In this case, USO stands for unidentified submerged object, and they’re more common than you probably think. During the late 1960s, so many of them were seen going in and out of Lake Erie that some people thought that there must be a base down there. I haven’t gone down to check.

map of Nova ScotiaAt about 11:20 pm on October 4, 1967, in the little fishing village of Shag Harbor on the southern tip of Nova Scotia, a handful of people watched as a bright orange light descended from the sky headed toward the waters of the harbor. As it got closer, many of them heard a whistling sound like a bomb falling, followed by a loud bang. Some witnesses said that they saw a bright flash when the object hit the water.

A number of people gathered near the water and watched as the glowing object floated roughly 900 feet offshore. Several of these witnesses called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to report the incident. Others called to report hearing the whistling sound followed by an explosion. Still others reported seeing an object with four or five yellow lights on it in the sky which seemed to be headed down toward the harbor. Almost everyone who saw it estimated it to be 50 to 60 feet in length. At this point, everyone involved thought that this was a plane crash.

After a few minutes of floating on the water, the glow began to dim and the object seemed to slip beneath the waves. Within half an hour, the RCMP had assembled an ad hoc rescue team consisting of several fishing boats that went out to search the area for bodies, debris and, hopefully, survivors. All that they found was a large patch of yellow foam floating in the area. When one of the fishermen tried to collect a sample of the stuff in a net, it slipped through the holes without leaving a trace. It soon dissipated and was completely gone. A Canadian Coast Guard cutter was dispatched to aid in the search and arrived within an hour. They also found nothing.

Probably the first people to see this thing were Air Canada Flight 305 pilots Captain Pierre Charbonneau and First Officer Robert Ralph. They were flying over Quebec just north of Vermont, about 200 miles west of Nova Scotia. Around 7:15 pm, they spotted what they described as a huge, rectangular (some accounts say round) orange object being trailed by a number of smaller lights like the tail of a kite. The object was matching their altitude and heading. At 7:19, there was an explosion near the object that left behind a round, white cloud that turned red, then violet, then blue. Two minutes later, there was a second explosion that left behind an orange cloud that then also turned blue. The lights tailing the larger object then broke their formation and begin swirling around this second cloud like a swarm of gnats. The main object flew into some regular clouds and disappeared. Both men filed reports on the incident, which is unusual in UFO sightings for pilots who want to keep their jobs, so they must have been pretty shaken up by what they had seen.

By the next day, it had been determined that no planes had gone missing the night before. All commercial, military and civilian aircraft were accounted for. Nobody could figure out what had crashed into the harbor, but some people were already mumbling about flying saucers and/or secret government projects.

Within the next few days, a lighthouse keeper recovered a badly burned and damaged metal cylinder about three feet long from the beach near the location of the crash. He wouldn’t say what was in the cylinder, which broadly hints that there was something inside of it, but given his nonchalant attitude about it in a filmed interview, I’m guessing that it wasn’t anything all that earthshaking. He probably doesn’t even know what it was. It was probably just some stuff. When he contacted the Canadian authorities about it, they directed him to turn it over to a Shag Harbor SignUnited States Air Force officer who was flying up there to get it, so that’s what he did. Naturally, that was the end of that. It probably hasn’t been seen by anyone without a ridiculously high security clearance since.

Two days later, on October 6, the Canadian Navy sent a team of divers down to search the ocean floor at the sight of the crash. Reports of what they recovered vary. Some say that they found nothing. Others claim that they brought up metallic debris. Still others claim that what they recovered was brought up in bags, so there was no way of knowing what was in them. Years later, one of the divers told UFO investigators under the promise of anonymity that the reason that they waited two days to send divers down was that they knew by then that there would be nothing to find. Using sonar, the military had tracked the object and knew that it had moved approximately 30 miles up the coast and was sitting on the submarine magnetic detection grid just offshore of Shelburne, home of a top secret submarine detection base.

UFOs just love to screw with sensitive military installations, but parking right on top of their detection grid is like giving someone the finger in front of their grandma. That’s a reason to fight, except that when they’ve tried to throw down with these guys in the past it has frequently turned out badly for them. You could ask Air National Guard fighter pilot Tom Mantell about that if he had lived to talk about it.

In any case, the U.S. and Canadian navies weren’t going to take this lying down. They sent a flotilla of six or seven ships that anchored right over this thing, or things, because a second object had supposedly joined the first. Another unidentified diver who claims to have been sent down to have a look at this thing and take some pictures said that there were two objects down there and that he saw “creatures” who seemed to be trying to repair the first object. That’s more than a little vague, but that seems to be all that he was willing to say other than that these things were definitely not from this world. I’m certain that he violated national security by even saying that much. He may or may not have also added that he found the whole thing very disturbing and didn’t like to think about it even 30 years later. That may have been a different diver since it’s unclear how many of the divers involved may have talked to different investigators over the years and what each of them may have said since they all insist on anonymity. It may have been just one guy talking to everyone, but the evidence doesn’t point in that general direction. And anyone can claim that an “anonymous source” told them anything. In court they call that hearsay and your lawyer can object…not that I would know. It’s not like I’ve ever been arrested for lewd behavior or anything like that.

On October 11, coincidentally(?), a Russian submarine was detected nearby in violation of allied waters, and all the ships at Shelburne were sent to intercept it. The USOs took advantage of this opportunity to escape and would seem to have gone back into UFO mode. A few witnesses reported seeing two lights moving northwest through the sky that same night, and the whole thing was over.

Does any of that last part seem as strange to you as it does to me? Did they really need every last ship to chase off one sub that was doubtless just jerking their chain to see what they would do? That sort of thing happened all the time during the Cold War. I’m sure that our side did it too. They couldn’t leave a couple of ships behind to monitor two unknown craft that were sitting right on top of a military detection grid? I’m not a conspiracy-minded person. In fact, I tend to chuckle at those people, but something about the way all of this ended just doesn’t add up.

Some people think that the reason this case is so significant is because the Canadian government officially classified the object as “unidentified,” which governments rarely do. RCAF Squadron Leader William Bain told Halifax Chronicle-Herald reporter Ray MacLeod “We get Halifax Herald Headlinehundreds of reports every week, but the Shag Harbor incident is one of the few where we may get something concrete on it.” As it turns out, they didn’t. Essentially, they admitted that it was a UFO. The term “UFO” and the words “unidentified flying object” appeared on some government documents that were later released to the public. Some people have interpreted this as the Canadian government admitting that an extraterrestrial craft from another planet splashed down in the Gulf of Maine. All that they actually said was that there was an object that was seen flying and that it remains unidentified. Don’t read too much into that. Some people are Olympic-class conclusion jumpers. The true significance of this case hinges on whether the anonymous sources are telling us the truth. I hope that they are. It’s a great story.



Happy World UFO Day!

and all the devils are here




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