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Sunday, September 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Waiting For The Aliens Ufo Group Often Discredits Sightings

They pack into a back room of Perkins Restaurant off North Division on a Sunday night. Two dozen serious, credentialed men. A reverend. An Air Force colonel. A biochemist. An astronomer.

Discussion rages for two hours about the one topic that fascinates and unites them: UFOs.

Often branded as fringe wackos, Spokane’s UFO buffs are crawling into the city’s mainstream behind the measured diplomacy of their leader - Jerry Rolwes.

In the past year, Rolwes spoke at Kiwanis meetings and crafted working relationships with the National Weather Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Spokane Astronomical Society and Fairchild Air Force Base.

He even persuaded county 911 operators to refer UFO reports to his northwest Spokane home - a link that was considered such a coup by his peers with the Texas-based Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) he was asked to explain the arrangement at a recent UFO conference.

Rolwes is confident his new liaisons can help him quickly debunk most bogus UFO reports. Of the 13 sightings he’s investigated in the area since late 1993, most could be quickly explained or dismissed.

Yet Rolwes remains fascinated with a woman’s report last Dec. 29 of three batlike aircraft hovering in a triangular pattern over the Palouse, near LaCrosse. One of her sons began crying at the sight of the bright lights and strange objects, which soon sped away.

Rolwes suspects the woman and her two boys might have seen some classified military technology such as new stealth aircraft.

He has no such plausible explanation for the puzzling lights seen around Post Falls last year - the topic of a “Sightings” television show in March that called the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene corridor a new UFO hotbed.

Ken Holmes, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Spokane, says he calls Rolwes when he can’t answer questions about what people say they saw in the sky.

“He’s intelligent and informed,” Holmes says. “I haven’t done any real research into his credibility. All I can say is he’s done some good work for us.”

Spokane and Post Falls police also say Rolwes appears genuine and helpful, but they don’t hide the fact they would rather distance themselves from UFO investigators.

Rolwes, 46, is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who on occasion addresses virtual strangers as “good sir.”

To Spokane kids entering the military in the early 1980s, this same cordial officer was their gatekeeper. Rolwes estimates he swore in about 6,500 Spokane recruits to the armed forces before getting transferred to other posts.

Rolwes, like most MUFON members and leaders, is keenly image conscious and strives to be seen as a credible, science-based investigator. He was initially reluctant to discuss his work with a reporter for fear publicity would be a magnet for pranksters and crazies.

“We don’t need any wackos,” Rolwes explains, then proudly lists the advanced degrees belonging to many of MUFON’s 25 paying members in Eastern Washington.

Rolwes also is quick to tell skeptics he has never seen a UFO. He simply believes there is enough credible evidence to argue the planet is occasionally visited by aliens.

He approaches his role in examining that theory with the seriousness of a homicide detective.

“He’s a hard-headed German kid from Iowa who’s not given to excitability,” says Ret. Col. Abe Kardong, a former Air Force pilot. “If anything, I would say Jerry is more skeptical than the average bear.”

Kardong joined MUFON a year ago. “I went to a couple meetings to see what sort of people were involved,” Kardong says. “I checked it out very carefully, because I’m anything but a kook. … They’re very professional people. Serious.”

Rolwes has been enamored with UFOs since he was a 9-year-old listening to his older brother’s Air Force tales about UFO reports. His own life in the Air Force further fueled the passion as he met many people who nervously approached him with things they had seen but were ordered not to discuss.

For example, he heard from the navigator of an F-111 fighter bomber who said that while flying over Utah in 1977 he encountered a lighted orb that parked itself next to the aircraft. A call was placed to the control towers, but radar indicated there was nothing up there.

“It is my judgment, because of the credible people who have crossed my life,” Rolwes explains, “that we are not alone.”

After keeping his UFO hobby quiet for years, Rolwes opened up late in his career and gave lectures on the subject. At his 1993 retirement roast from the U.S. Air Force base in Aviano, Italy, he received a handcrafted wooden spaceship he keeps in his bedroom.

Before leaving Europe, Rolwes communicated with the Rev. Jack Jennings, a Presbyterian minister in Spokane and Eastern Washington’s highest MUFON official at the time.

Jennings says Rolwes changed the group’s style and techniques so it can now better investigate sightings. “Jerry’s brought some more professionalism to it,” he says.

During meticulously prepared speeches, Rolwes details evidence from previously classified documents that the federal government routinely concealed its own investigations into UFOs and covered up evidence of the 1947 capture of a flying saucer near Roswell, N.M.

Rolwes says anyone who examines the documents can see the government was hiding something. “You look at the material released through the Freedom of Information Act and you try to explain it away,” he says.

When Rolwes receives a UFO report he listens for a certain type of witness. He had no use for the recent drunk who claimed he’d seen little green men.

“I’m not going to be laughed at,” Rolwes says. “I want to talk to people who are scared, people who have fear in their voices.”

He heard it last year when he talked to Post Falls’ UFO witnesses.

Between March and October, residents reported strange lights in the sky. A police dispatcher poked her head out one night and saw them too. One witness videotaped an odd, bright light that appeared to hover, then shoot above the horizon.

Rolwes interviewed seven “legitimate” witnesses, including a man who says some sort of craft with a blinding light 50 yards wide followed his truck along West Newman Lake Road.

Rolwes ruled out military, commercial and recreation aircraft. He also confirmed there were no strange weather balloons or hospital helicopters in the area.

Rolwes wouldn’t deliver when “Sightings” tried to get him to say the unexplained light was likely connected to alien visitors.

“I couldn’t say that,” Rolwes explains. “I had no proof of what it was. All I could say was what it wasn’t.”

Dan Bakken, president of the Spokane Astronomical Society, respects Rolwes’ cautious style.

“If he hasn’t been able to fully explain something he doesn’t assume it’s an alien aircraft,” he says. “I think any very large commercial area should have a professional clearinghouse for these reports.”

Rolwes and Bakken hooked up several months back when people reported seeing bright balls streaking across North Idaho toward Hayden Lake.

After getting a call from the National Weather Service, Rolwes called Bakken. The astronomer explained that the sighting sounded like “bolides” - large, high-speed meteorites.

Bakken considers himself a “healthy skeptic” about UFOs. “My mind isn’t closed. But to believe in something that fantastic, I’d have to see it myself.”

Bakken says many people often mistake Venus and the particularly bright star, Capella, for UFOs. He also says lenticular clouds, tight discshaped clouds common in the area, can fool people, too, especially at dusk.

Bakken, who is building a massive telescope with a 41-inch lens, says many people reporting UFOs are simply unfamiliar with the heavens.

“They don’t know what they’re looking at,” he says. “A lot of people these days just barely glance up at the sky at all.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)

MEMO: MUFON’s quarterly meetings in Eastern Washington occur at Perkins restaurant, 5903 N. Division, on the first Sunday of November, February, May and August, 5 to 7 p.m.

This sidebar appeared with the story: REGIONAL SIGHTINGS Some regional UFO sightings, explanations and gags during the past 50 years: June 1947 - Boise pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine disk-shaped objects over the Cascade Mountains. Arnold coined the term “flying saucers” and it stuck. April 1952 - After a rash of UFO sightings, Fairchild Air Force Base announced it would act as a clearinghouse for serious UFO reports in the Spokane area. Within a week, two sightings were made: a “ruler shaped,” red object spotted by mill workers in the Trentwood area, and a green, yellow and red rocketlike object over Ft. George Wright. August 1959 - After nightly reports about brilliant, blinking lights above Colville, the mystery was solved. The U.S. Air Force explained the lights were nothing more than jet-refueling tankers on routine night-training missions. April 1963 - Sandpoint residents and police witnessed a strange black object with no rotors or wings, glowing with an orange flame at night. January 1967 - A red, yellow and green UFO was reported to Moscow, Idaho, police by a radio announcer and several University of Idaho students who said the bright object hovered over the Pullman area. November 1967 - Two Ririe, Idaho, farmers reported to county and state police that their car was forced off a country road by a small space vehicle which landed on the roof of their vehicle. The laborers said two “little green men” came out, feuded in a strange language, got back in their vehicle and sped away. Police said the two men did not appear to have been drinking. October 1975 - About 20 Oregonians discarded their possessions and fled the state to join a Colorado cult preparing to leave earth aboard a UFO. The alien craft was going to take them to heaven, the cult believed. February 1976 - Police in Cascade County, Mont., investigated reports of harrowing screams at night and strange, hovering lights. Two women said they saw three hair-covered humanlike creatures. A policeman said he saw a strange light too, but couldn’t get close enough to explain it. September 1976 - Gary Hutson woke up in his Spokane home to eerie noises, wild lights and a strange-looking craft in his back yard. “It sent chills up my spine,” Hutson told a reporter at the time. Hutson promptly called Crime Check. When police arrived they found the alien spacecraft consisted of three automobile hubcaps, a blue revolving light and a white strobe - all assembled by a prankster neighbor. May 1980 - Passengers on a United Airlines flight into Spokane claimed the plane shifted its landing path to avoid a UFO. The jolt was later credited to a pilot mistaking a train light for an aircraft. January 1981 - A UFO was reported in the Edwall, Wash., area by a man who said he saw a light so bright he pulled his car over to study it. As it burned brighter he got frightened and returned to his car. The light sped off. 1982 - Strangely mutilated farm animals were reported in Montana, Washington and Canada. One Montana report stated UFOs were sighted the night before animals were surgically mutilated in the area. November 1986 - A Japan Air Lines pilot said his cargo jet was shadowed by a huge UFO while flying over Alaska. July 1990 - Witnesses saw a diamond-shaped aircraft north of Fairchild Air Force Base in broad daylight. December 1994 - A Palouse woman reported seeing three batlike aircraft hovering near Lacrosse.

MUFON’s quarterly meetings in Eastern Washington occur at Perkins restaurant, 5903 N. Division, on the first Sunday of November, February, May and August, 5 to 7 p.m.

This sidebar appeared with the story: REGIONAL SIGHTINGS Some regional UFO sightings, explanations and gags during the past 50 years: June 1947 - Boise pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine disk-shaped objects over the Cascade Mountains. Arnold coined the term “flying saucers” and it stuck. April 1952 - After a rash of UFO sightings, Fairchild Air Force Base announced it would act as a clearinghouse for serious UFO reports in the Spokane area. Within a week, two sightings were made: a “ruler shaped,” red object spotted by mill workers in the Trentwood area, and a green, yellow and red rocketlike object over Ft. George Wright. August 1959 - After nightly reports about brilliant, blinking lights above Colville, the mystery was solved. The U.S. Air Force explained the lights were nothing more than jet-refueling tankers on routine night-training missions. April 1963 - Sandpoint residents and police witnessed a strange black object with no rotors or wings, glowing with an orange flame at night. January 1967 - A red, yellow and green UFO was reported to Moscow, Idaho, police by a radio announcer and several University of Idaho students who said the bright object hovered over the Pullman area. November 1967 - Two Ririe, Idaho, farmers reported to county and state police that their car was forced off a country road by a small space vehicle which landed on the roof of their vehicle. The laborers said two “little green men” came out, feuded in a strange language, got back in their vehicle and sped away. Police said the two men did not appear to have been drinking. October 1975 - About 20 Oregonians discarded their possessions and fled the state to join a Colorado cult preparing to leave earth aboard a UFO. The alien craft was going to take them to heaven, the cult believed. February 1976 - Police in Cascade County, Mont., investigated reports of harrowing screams at night and strange, hovering lights. Two women said they saw three hair-covered humanlike creatures. A policeman said he saw a strange light too, but couldn’t get close enough to explain it. September 1976 - Gary Hutson woke up in his Spokane home to eerie noises, wild lights and a strange-looking craft in his back yard. “It sent chills up my spine,” Hutson told a reporter at the time. Hutson promptly called Crime Check. When police arrived they found the alien spacecraft consisted of three automobile hubcaps, a blue revolving light and a white strobe - all assembled by a prankster neighbor. May 1980 - Passengers on a United Airlines flight into Spokane claimed the plane shifted its landing path to avoid a UFO. The jolt was later credited to a pilot mistaking a train light for an aircraft. January 1981 - A UFO was reported in the Edwall, Wash., area by a man who said he saw a light so bright he pulled his car over to study it. As it burned brighter he got frightened and returned to his car. The light sped off. 1982 - Strangely mutilated farm animals were reported in Montana, Washington and Canada. One Montana report stated UFOs were sighted the night before animals were surgically mutilated in the area. November 1986 - A Japan Air Lines pilot said his cargo jet was shadowed by a huge UFO while flying over Alaska. July 1990 - Witnesses saw a diamond-shaped aircraft north of Fairchild Air Force Base in broad daylight. December 1994 - A Palouse woman reported seeing three batlike aircraft hovering near Lacrosse.

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