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Avoyelles Parish man's disappearance still a mystery after 50 years

Source: The Town Talk (Alexandria, LA), July 20, 2003
Original Source


Summary: Recent press article looking back at the disappearance of Air Force pilots Felix Moncla and Robert Wilson.

By Andrew Griffin
Staff Reporter
The Town Talk - Alexandria-Pineville, LA

MOREAUVILLE -- It was a cold, cloudy night above Lake Superior nearly 50 years ago when 27-year old Avoyelles Parish native and Air Force pilot 1st Lt. Felix E. "Gene" Moncla Jr. and 2nd Lt. Robert Wilson met a mysterious fate, trying to intercept what some believe was a UFO.

Family, friends and investigators want to know what happened to this well-liked Moreauville man so many years ago.

One of those people is Canadian UFO investigator and computer systems analyst Gordon Heath, of Surrey, British Columbia.

Heath, 48, grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, along the north shore of Lake Superior, and said he has been interested in Great Lakes mysteries since he was a boy. He came across the Moncla story on the Internet after having heard about it years ago. He spent some time in Avoyelles Parish last fall, researching old copies of the Avoyelles Journal and interviewing friends and family of Moncla.

While researching in Avoyelles Parish, Heath found that Moncla had been based at Truax Field in Madison, Wis.

Moncla, with 1,000 hours of flight time, had been temporarily transferred to Kinross Air Force Base in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, shortly before he disappeared.

On the night of Nov. 23, 1953, Moncla and Wilson were instructed to fly their Northrup F-89C jet aircraft to identify a large unidentified craft flying over restricted airspace at the Soo Locks along the American-Canadian border. The duo, flying at approximately 500 mph, descended rapidly from 30,000 feet to 7,000 feet in order to seek out the unusual object. They were traveling at a slightly slower speed than normal, said Heath.

This incident occurred when the Cold War was beginning to heat up, so American jets often were ordered to investigate unknown craft on the assumption that enemy pilots could fly them. And just a year earlier, a flying saucer flap had gripped the United States, resulting in unknown objects flying over restricted airspace in Washington, D.C.

As Moncla's jet approached the craft, Heath said a radar operator at Houghton, Mich., noted that it was not long before the two blips on the radarscope had merged. Suddenly, Moncla and Wilson's jet had disappeared and the "bogey" (as UFO's and other unknown craft are called in Air Force parlance) continued on a northward track over Canada and rapidly vanished off the radar screen.

A search team was immediately dispatched over Lake Superior, west-northwest of Michipicoten Island. Rescue craft scoured the American and Canadian coasts, but no remains of the jet or the bodies of the two pilots ever were found.

"Visibility was a variable that night," Heath said. "There had been plenty of clouds and light snow conditions reported."

However, all researchers agree that conditions were not inclement enough to imperil Moncla's top-notch jet.

At first, the Air Force said the F-89 and the bogey did merge on the radar scope and the Associated Press ran a story with that information. But then the Air Force backtracked and gave different stories about what happened that night, even saying that the object they had been chasing was a Canadian jet.

In fact, Air Force investigators would later report that Moncla may have experienced vertigo and crashed into the lake. The Air Force said Moncla was known to experience vertigo from time to time.

If Moncla was known to experience vertigo, Heath asked, why would the Air Force have him on active duty flying critical missions?

And the Royal Canadian Air Force disputed the Air Force theory that the object Moncla chased was an RCAF jet aircraft flying a night mission from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Sudbury, Ontario, Heath said.

Heath said the vertigo theory is weak since it was very likely Moncla was looking at instruments rather than visuals at the time.

Heath said a researcher in Royal Oak, Mich., John Tenney, found out through his own research that an Air Force communications officer claimed to have heard Moncla's Cajun drawl over the radio long after it had been reported that he had vanished. Heath said Air Force investigators discounted this because they were of the mind that the aircraft disappeared and crashed and the idea that Moncla was still flying around after he crashed into the lake didn't fit their idea of what happened.

Tenney could not be reached for comment for this article.

Heath compiled an interesting account of the Moncla mystery in the winter 2003 of the UFOBC Quarterly magazine.

Following the "accident," it would be a month before Moncla and Wilson were listed as officially dead by the U.S. Air Force. And surprisingly, the Air Force did not hold a memorial for the two crewmen as was customary for members who died in the line of duty.

Moncla's widow did, however, receive an American flag from the Air Force, Heath said. Heath wants to know why the Air Force did not conduct a memorial.

"Was it because they had reason to suspect that the two crewmen might still be alive?" Heath asked.

Fifteen years after the mysterious incident, in 1968, some prospectors near the Canadian city of Sault Ste. Marie, found wreckage from a jet along the rocky and remote Lake Superior shoreline. A newspaper account of the discovery mentions that the wreckage may have been from Moncla and Wilson's lost F-89. However, inquiries to the Canadian government and civilian agencies by Heath about the found wreckage, have proven fruitless. Heath said the F-89, developed in the late 1940s, had some design flaws but that those design flaws had been corrected before 1953 and that the jet had a very good safety record.

Coincidentally, an F-89 on a training mission from Truax Field crashed near Madison, Wis., the same night Moncla's F-89 disappeared.

Heath said that until his disappearance, Moncla had led a successful life. He was the son of Yvonne and Felix E. Moncla Sr. and had grown up in Moreauville. Heath said Moncla graduated from Moreauville (Avoyelles) High School in the 1940s and went on to attend Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette (ULL), where he received a bachelor's of science degree.

It was while Moncla was attending the LSU School of Medicine to become a doctor that he applied for a commission in the Air Force. He was called to active duty shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War and ended up at Truax Field.

Heath said he is of the opinion that Moncla and Wilson met an unusual fate and that they may have been spirited away by whatever force was behind the object seen on the radarscopes that night. Heath said some radar operators strongly believe that the plane was "swallowed up by the UFO."

At the time of the accident, Moncla had a wife and two young children, including his son, David Moncla, who lives in Alexandria. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

In the Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery in Moreauville, a memorial was erected that reads: "(Moncla) Disappeared Nov. 23, 1953, intercepting a UFO over Canadian border as pilot of a Northrup F89 Jet Plane."

Heath said that the Avoyelles Commission of Tourism is planning on building a museum, which may feature a specific display relating to the Moncla disappearance.

Carlos Mayeux Jr., who grew up in the Moreauville area when Moncla was living, confirmed that there is such a project in the works. At the time, Mayeux was a teenager and recalled hearing the terrible news.

"It was a tragedy," Mayeux said.

Felix Moncla's wife, Bobbie Moncla Nabors, later remarried an Air Force officer in Alabama.

Buddy Moncla, 77, a cousin of the lieutenant who lives in the Avoyelles Parish community of Moncla, said he wants to know what happened to his cousin nearly 50 years ago. Buddy Moncla said he and his cousin Gene grew up together. He remembers Gene as good looking, popular and somewhat reserved.

Both attended Southwestern Louisiana Institute (ULL) in the early 1950s.

"We used to watch him play football," Buddy Moncla said.

After Buddy Moncla married Beryl, he saw less of his cousin because he was still single. Moncla and his wife were living in Cape Girardeau, Mo., when he said his mother called and informed him of Gene's disappearance.

"All we were told was that their plane went down and they never were found," Beryl Moncla said.

It wasn't until many years later that he began to hear more details about the case and the unusual circumstances surrounding his cousin's disappearance.

Buddy Moncla said he is open to the idea that a UFO snatched Gene and his co-pilot.

"I was told that the last transmission recorded was (Gene) saying, "I'm going in for a closer look," Buddy Moncla said. "That is the last they heard."

Buddy Moncla said that means his cousin saw something high over Lake Superior.

"He saw something and the radar saw something. The radar made the story more controversial because the image of Gene's plane and the unknown object converged into one blip and then it disappeared. What happened?" he asked. "They say he may have passed out at the high altitude, but what about his co-pilot?"

Asked whether he believes a UFO abducted his cousin, Wilson and the jet that night, Buddy Moncla replies in all seriousness, "There's no questions. What else? No one can prove otherwise."

He said that UFO's are just that, unidentified flying objects.

"Whether it was an item Uncle Sam was experimenting with or something else, we'll probably never know," he said. "It's an interesting story."

He said he and his wife are glad there is some interest in the story. And having met with investigator Heath during his visit to Avoyelles Parish, Buddy Moncla said the Canadian UFO researcher "came across as a straight shooter."

He added that he would like the U.S. Air Force to reopen the case and offer some closure on the subject, considering all the unanswered questions surrounding the mysterious incident.

Leoni M. Shannon, Moncla's older sister who now lives in Loveland, Colo., said the incident deeply affected her family.

"My mother was never the same; he was her only son. He was sweet to her. She tried to put up a brave front but you knew it was devastating for her," Shannon said. "After that incident I was constantly looking in the sky every night. I never saw anything. It's a puzzle."

Shannon said the Air Force and other governmental agencies were not helpful in providing the family with straight answers.

"We still know nothing about it," Shannon said. "I don't think the government wants to let us know about what really happened to him."

When asked if she believes it is possible a UFO or some other unknown force could have been behind her brother's disappearance, Shannon doesn't hesitate, "I think that something like that could've happened."

Meanwhile, back in British Columbia, Heath continues to write the Canadian and American governments searching for answers as to what fate really befell Moncla and Wilson those many years ago. He is confident the American government engaged in a cover up that continues to this day.

"I have a strong inclination where this is all going," Heath said. "That Moncla and Wilson were captured by a UFO."

Article ID: 617


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