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Lights in South Carolina sky spur UFO theories

The Sun News, North Carolina / Myrtle Beach Online - 10/2/2003

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Wingfield and her friends aren't the only people seeing strange things in the Grand Strand's nighttime sky.

By David Wren
The Sun News

When Pam Wingfield told her friends she had just spotted a UFO over the Atlantic Ocean, they did what most good friends would do - they laughed at her.

The laughter didn't last long.

In a matter of minutes, all three of the vacationers from Virginia had seen the orange and yellow glowing spheres flickering off the coast of North Myrtle Beach.

"We're all in our 50s, professional people - we're not into hallucinatory drugs or anything like that" Wingfield said. "People look at you funny when you tell them you've seen a UFO. But what we saw was unidentified, it was flying and it was an object"

Wingfield and her friends aren't the only people seeing strange things in the Grand Strand's nighttime sky.

A database kept by the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle shows there have been at least six sightings of yellow, orange or red lights floating near the horizon since Aug. 26. That's more area sightings in a short period of time than ever before, according to the database.

"It certainly is interesting, and it should be investigated" said Peter Davenport, the UFO center's director and keeper of the database.

Davenport said there are several explanations - both normal and paranormal - for the lights: a military exercise; commercial aircraft; flares from a boat; a prank.

"Only about 10 percent of the time do these things turn out to be bona fide UFOs" he said.

George Fawcett, a UFO expert from Charlotte, N.C., said lights are the least reliable UFO indicator because they could be anything, including stars and weather balloons.

But lights also might mean someone - or something - otherworldly is checking out the planet.

"If a train is coming down the railroad tracks and all you see is its light, you might think there's nothing more than a light" Fawcett said. "But if you step in front of that light, it'll kill you"

Most of the sightings have been in Myrtle Beach, although lights also were spotted in Conway this summer.

In every case, witnesses say the lights appear, fade out and then reappear at different places in the sky.

The lights only come out at night.

Myrtle Beach police say they haven't received any recent calls about strange lights, but such calls aren't uncommon.

"We have our beach patrol investigate them for the possibility of distress flares from a large boat" said police spokesman Lt. Chuck Dunn. "We also call the local military bases to see if they have anything going on. Usually, it's Shaw Air Force Base [in Sumter] dropping flares and doing maneuvers"

Officials say neither explanation is relevant in the most recent sightings.

Unidentified lights similar to those seen off the Myrtle Beach coast have been reported in Arizona, Illinois and Wisconsin in recent years. And a cluster of lights streaking across the New Jersey sky briefly shut down the Newark airport in 2001.

To Kevin Christopher, a spokesman for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, such lights always have a logical explanation.

"People jump to the conclusion that if you can't determine what some lights in the sky are, it must be evidence that aliens are visiting the Earth" Christopher said. "It's far more likely to be something mundane, like a star or a planet or lights from a ship or an aircraft"

It also could be people mistaking the planet Mars - which recently made its closest pass to Earth in recorded history - for a UFO, Christopher said.

The most plausible explanation, according to meteorologist Tom Matheson, is nighttime thunderstorms over the Gulf Stream, about 70 miles off the Myrtle Beach coast.

"That would cause what appears to be yellow or orange lights, especially if it's a hazy night" said Matheson, with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C.

Any explanation would be fine for Wingfield, who reported her sighting to the National UFO Reporting Center's Web site hoping someone could put the issue to rest.

"I personally don't believe in little green men" Wingfield said. "But it was so bizarre, it sure would be nice to get a reasonable explanation"


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