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UFO Case 4: The Trans-en-Provence Case

A celebrated physical evidence case occurred on January 8, 1981, in Trans-en-Provence, France. The case attracted widespread interest, partly because a UFO was seen landing and physical markings found shortly after it departed, but mostly because a French government agency analyzed the samples and announced anomalous results.

The actual sighting was brief, but its effects on the environment were the key aspect of the event. A 52-year-old technician, Renato Nicolai, was outside working on an upper-level terraced portion of his property at about 5:00 p.m. when he heard a whistling sound to the east. Turning, he observed an object resembling "a somewhat bulging disk like two plates glued to each other by the rim, with a central ring some 20 cm wide." The disc passed over two trees adjacent to Nicolai's garden, descended, and abruptly landed about 50 meters away. Because his property was elevated, however, the object was blocked from his view, and Nicolai was obliged to seek a vantage point near a small outbuilding where he could look down on the object.

After some seconds on the ground, the object ascended, kicking up some dust, and retraced its incoming flight path, once again emitting a low whistle, and disappeared in the east. As it flew away, Nicolai saw two round protrusions on the underside like landing gear, and two circular areas that looked like "trap doors." The total elapsed time was 30-40 seconds.

Nicolai went to inspect the landing site and found a circle about 2 meters in diameter with tracks or traces at certain spots on the circumference of the circle. Investigators described finding two concentric circles about 10 cm wide, one 2.2 meters in diameter and the other 2.4 meters in diameter. The next day, after having been notified by a neighbor, the Gendarmerie arrived at the scene and gathered samples of the traces and control samples from outside the circular area.

Ultimately, Groupe d'Etude des Phenomenes Aerospatiaux Non-ldentifies (GEPAN) -- a unit of the French space agency organized to investigate UFO reports -- was called in by the Gendarmerie, and some days after the landing they examined the site, collecting additional soil and vegetation samples for analysis. Their investigation also included an assessment of the witness (his background and story), a check of atmospheric conditions at the time of the UFO encounter, and air traffic on the day in question. GEPAN, in conjunction with the Gendarmerie, continued its investigation over the course of the next two years.

No terrestrial or mundane cause for the event could be discovered. When the final report, entitled, Technical Note 16, was released, it reached the following conclusions:

  1. Evidence indicates a strong mechanical pressure on the ground surface, probably due to a heavy weight, of about 4 to 5 tons.

  2. At the same time or immediately after this pressure, the soil was heated up to between 300 and 600 degrees C.

  3. Trace quantities were found of phosphate and zinc.

  4. The chlorophyll content of the wild alfalfa leaves in the immediate vicinity of the ground traces was reduced 30 percent to 50 percent, inversely proportional to distance.

  5. Young alfalfa leaves experienced the highest loss of chlorophyll and, moreover, exhibited "signs of premature senescence."

  6. Biochemical analysis showed numerous differences between vegetation samples obtained close to the site and those more distant.

This account has been taken from the book The UFO Evidence: Volume II: A Thirty-Year Report, by Richard H. Hall (2000), Scarecrow Press. Further details can be found in the article by Jean-Jacques Velasco "Report on the Analysis of Anomalous Physical Traces: The 1981 Trans-en-Provence UFO Case," Journal of Scientific Exploration 4 (1) (1990): 27-48, and that by Michel Bounias "Research Note: Further Quantification of Distance-Related Effects in the Trans-en-Provence Case," Journal of UFO Studies 5 [new series] (1995): 109-121.