Charles Johnson remembers looking to the sky on a dark Kentucky night during a camping trip over a decade ago, when his eyes landed upon a group of three or four lights that began moving in strange ways.
“They were stopping in midair and making very unbelievable turns,” he said.
It was, Johnson believes, a UFO. And since that moment, Johnson has been entranced with the possibility that alien lifeforms regularly visit Earth.
That fascination led Johnson and about 100 others to the basement of the Spokane Valley Library, 12004 E. Main Ave., on Saturday afternoon for a meeting organized by the the Mutual UFO Network and the National UFO Reporting Center.
It was the first time that the two national organizations – which track, document and investigate UFO sightings – held a meeting in the Spokane area.
When Dan Nims, Eastern Washington state section director for the National UFO Reporting Center, asked those gathered to raise their hands if they had seen a UFO, nearly everyone shot a hand into the air.
“In a UFO meeting, you expect to see a huge number of hands,” he said.
Members of organizing groups gave presentations about why they think UFOs are real, how to report them and how to track them.
Nims said his organization is made up of about 6,000 members and 800 field investigators who try to unearth information on every reported UFO sighting in the country.
He said Americans report between 40,000 to 50,000 UFO sightings a year to his group – and that this represents a fraction of the actual sightings. According to Nims, only 1 in 250 sightings are ever reported.
“If you see a UFO, don’t think you’re alone,” he said.
But of all the reports, most turn out to be lens flares on a picture, weather balloons or swamp gas. Some, however, can’t be explained.
Nims, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, said he has flown over Area 51, a hot spot for UFO reports.
“I know what’s there, and I’d have to shoot you if I told you,” he joked.
In his presentation, Nims gave a brief history of reported UFO sightings, stretching back to ancient Chinese texts that described a bright pearl moving over mountains and to cave drawings of alien-like figures with flying saucers overhead.
Another presenter, Peter Davenport, has been the director of the Mutual UFO Network for 24 years.
His fascination with aliens and UFOs began in 1953, during a drive-in movie. Six years old at the time, he saw a disturbance in the sky that directed the movie audience away from the film.
“People were running, pointing, gesticulating, looking to east,” he said. “I looked out the right side of the window, ignoring the movie altogether.”
A blinding, fire-engine-red disc the size of the moon hovered before rapidly accelerating away, he said.
The object flew over a nearby aircraft corporation, he said, and out of sight.
“It was a dramatic, dramatic event. Everybody was flummoxed after it,” he said.
Along with offering this account, Davenport presented an idea he’s been working toward and raising money to fund that would attempt to detect alien aircraft using radar waves emitted from Seattle that could bounce off UFOs and become detectable by simple equipment on the east side of the state.
Maurene Morgan, director of the Washington state branch of the Mutual UFO Network, gave a presentation on the mainstream national media’s reporting of UFOs that’s based on unreliable CIA information, she said.
Morgan also said she hopes to hold more meetings in Spokane and further people’s interest in UFOs.
Johnson, who has lived in Spokane for 12 years, said that by coming to the meeting, he was seeking to foster a network of people who would visit popular UFO hot spots.
“I’ve always wanted to go look for these objects or ships,” he said.