1884 words (7 minute read)

The Crash

Juan stood up and rubbed his aching back. Bending over all day in the hot Nevada sun took its toll, but the onions of the Moapa Valley were ripe and needed to be picked. He didn’t mind the work, really. He and his fellow braceros were grateful to have a job that paid, so they could help their families back home in Mexico. What’s more, Juan was happy to be working alongside his ten year old son.

His son Juanito was working a few rows over, but he was not working. He was standing with his hand on his forehead shielding the midday sun, looking east into the distance. “Mira, Papi!” Juanito pointed to a bright circle of light just over the horizon, becoming brighter by the second. “Qué es eso?”

Juan had no idea what a light like that could be. “No sé,” he replied, now also intrigued by the bright light that seemed to be moving, drawing closer and closer.

Now they could see a dark streak trailing the bright light. It was moving very fast! Unbelievably fast! In a moment it was upon them. They jerked their heads and followed it with their eyes as it flashed by almost directly overhead. A moment later they both startled at the loud sound of a sonic boom, covering their ears in a too-late gesture. A coarse rumbling sound followed for the next several seconds, then faded away. A dark smoky streak was left in the light’s path.

Then they saw the light actually hit the top of a mountain in the Las Vegas Range to the west. The top of one of the peaks suddenly exploded into a cloud of dust. They looked at each other with eyes as wide as their open mouths. “Papá, qué está pasando?” Juanito asked with a fervent anxiety.

“No sé, mijo, no sé!” Juan replied truthfully. He had never seen or heard of any such thing before in his life!

A few seconds later, they heard a distant boom. Then they felt a brief earthquake, like Juan had felt in Mexico many times before.

Juan and Juanito just looked at each other for a few moments, paralyzed by the enormity of what had just happened. Then they simultaneously dropped their harvesting sacks and sprinted to the old pickup truck. They raced down Highway 168 back to their hut on El Patrón’s property. When they got there, Juan stomped on the brakes to bring the truck to a skidding stop. They got out of the truck, slammed the truck doors behind them, and ran to the front door as María, Juanito’s mother, was running out to meet them. “Qué fué eso?” she asked, voicing the anxious question on all their minds about the events that had just unfolded.

Juan ran past her as Juanito relayed to his mother what he had just seen, stumbling over his excited words. Meanwhile, Juan quickly gathered a few items and tossed them into a canvas sack. Some tomatoes, a few onions, leftover tortillas from the morning’s breakfast, a small hunk of cheese from the cooler, and two bottles of Coca Cola. He grabbed the old pair of garage sale binoculars he had purchased earlier that year, the spring of 1954, and threw them in the sack as well. “Vámonos, mijo. Vámos a ver que pasó.”

Juanito was happy to oblige. He followed his father out of the house and dashed back to the pickup. He wasn’t going to miss the chance of getting a close-up look.

As they ran out the door, Juan yelled over his shoulder to María, “Adiós, Mi Cielo. Ahora regresamos.”

She had no choice but to let them go. They were obviously determined to see for themselves what this was all about. “Cuídense!” she cautioned.

Juan and his elated son drove west on 168 until it dead-ended on Highway 93. They turned north to the first intersection and then made a left hand turn. They zig-zagged along a network of paved and unpaved roads, keeping a generally northwest direction to the mountain, which was still surrounded by a cloud of settling dust.

Two hours later, they finally reached the base of the highest mountain and drove up as far as the dirt road could take them. They ran up towards the defect on the top of the mountain, until they were too short of breath. They walked the rest of the way, as fast as their legs and lungs allowed.

Finally they reached the top of a ridge, very close to their destination. Through the binoculars they could see a depression at the top of the next ridge, where the last of the dust continued to fall. There were large rocks to the west of the depression, obviously part of the shattered mountain top. But whatever caused it did not stop there. From their vantage point, they could see down into the lower lands of the valley to the west. Juan pointed out to Juanito a long, dark streak in the land, heading northwest, in the direction of whatever it was they saw flash by overhead. In the far distance, they could see a rising tower of black, billowing smoke. They looked at each other, worried and wildly curious at the same time. Juanito pointed, “Vámos, Papi. Yá!”

With renewed energy, they raced back down to the truck and worked their way to the other side of the mountains, and to the valley below. Now they headed further northwest, toward the smoke. The terrain became rougher. Even the dirt road disappeared, but the old truck managed the dips and bumps of the open desert well enough. They stopped when they encountered what they had thought was the simple dark streak on the land. They were surprised to see it was not just a streak, it was a long gouge. It started somewhere back to the southeast, where it became gradually more shallow and indistinct. Looking to the northwest, the gouge became darker and deeper, until it ended at the place from where the black smoke was emanating. They noticed bits and pieces of deformed metal dotting the area along both sides of the dark gouge. Each of these pieces were also spewing a bit of black smoke, and some of them were still glowing red hot.

The truck bounced along the rough terrain until it could go no further. Juan guessed they were two kilometers from the crash site. He was sure now. It had to be a crash. It had to be a jet, he thought. They grabbed their sacks and trudged the final distance on foot.

Juanito pointed out more and more of the metallic debris as they approached the crash site. “Mira, Papi,” he said to his father, who was now hurrying ahead and did not look back. Juanito picked up the object that had grabbed his attention. It was a rectangular slab of metal, still warm, roughly the size of a book. It didn’t weigh much. It had a triangular indentation toward the bottom and the rest had a shiny dark mirrored surface. He liked the look and feel of it, so he threw it into his sack and ran to catch up with his father.

And there it was! They had finally reached the source of the rising black smoke, coming from a large gaping hole in the ground, where the dark linear gouge ended. At the far end of the hole, a fire was still burning. It gave off a tremendous heat that did not allow them to get much closer. Juan used his binoculars to get as good a view as he might. Amidst the smoke, the flames, and the heat distortion, he could see a large hunk of dark metal. That’s where the fire was coming from. And then he stopped cold! On the far side of the hole, he thought he saw glimpses of someone, or something, trying to crawl away.

“Dios mio!” Juan exclaimed, making a hurried sign of the cross.

The dash back to the truck, back over the mountain, and back to the ranch, was fueled by anxiety and panic. It was dark by the time they finally returned. Juan stopped the pickup at the big house, where he desperately pounded on El Patrón’s front door. El Patrón had the only telephone on the ranch. Juan could hardly get his words out. “La policía. Lláme ustéd a la policía!”

El Patrón listened to Juan’s story and called the police. By then, the local police had gotten several reports of the flash and the loud noises - booms, rumbles, earthquakes. After a brief conversation with the police, El Patrón hung up the phone and turned to the anxiously waiting Juan. “Mañana,” he said. “They’ll check it out mañana.”

“Pero el piloto! Para mañana estará muerto!” Juan argued in vain.

The following morning, a local police officer arrived at the scene. The ground was warm, but the smoke had nearly died out. He made note of the large hunk of metal. “Aircraft,” he reported. He made note of the person who had crawled out of the charred hole, now lying motionless at the far edge. “Dead. No one could have survived this,” he thought, reasonably.

The officer walked slowly back to his car, in no apparent hurry. “The show’s over,” he said to the handful of people who had also braved the rough terrain to see for themselves. He knew, though, that this was clearly out of his pay grade, especially with a death. “This show’s not over,” he thought to himself. He radioed the LVPD for help.

Over the next two days, there was escalating activity at the crash site. A large area was blocked off to the curious general public who were collecting bits and pieces of the fallen aircraft. Despite the road blocks, people were finding their way to the crash site. A few days later, armed guards were posted around the vicinity of the crash site, day and night.

After that, the investigation really picked up speed. The mayor was called, who called the governor, who called a senator, who called his contact at the Pentagon, who called the President of the United States. President Eisenhower was told, “This was no jet. And this pilot is no person.”

The National Guard was deployed to the crash site. A very large area was now strictly off limits to all civilians. The U.S Army Corps of Engineers quickly developed an extensive compound, and erected a fence around a wide perimeter, encompassing the old Groom Lake Air Force airfield. In April of 1955, the U.S. Air Force claimed the general area to be a test site for military aircraft. For some reason, the C.I.A. became involved, shrouding the entire project in utmost secrecy. Planes did start flying in and out of the area, for reasons unknown.

At some point, an unceremonious sign appeared on the front gate of the compound, some distance away from the entrance off Highway 375 near Tempiute Village, NV. The sign read simply, Area 51.

Next Chapter: Containment