clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Brief History of UFO Sightings in Los Angeles

Late last week, Angelenos were confused/awed/terrified by the sight of a mysterious streak of light illuminating the night sky across its entire length. For hours, no official explanation was offered, leading everyone in town to speculate wildly on Twitter about what it was. It turns out that it was the Navy testing their Trident II missile, which is used to deter nuclear attacks; to prevent the prying eyes of the Russians, the Navy released no details to the public prior to the launch. It was a reasonable, if not slightly off-putting explanation, but it didn't take long for people to cry conspiracy. Was it a comet? Was it an alien? What was the government hiding? We may never know, but for some conspiracy theorists, speculation will probably continue for years. And the Trident incident is not alone—Los Angeles actually has a rich history of unexplained phenomenon in its skies. Here's a rundown of LA's best UFO stories throughout history:

The Battle of Los Angeles

February 24 to 25, 1942
Sighting: In the midst of World War II, Los Angeles is put on a high-alert blackout one February evening when it's feared that an unidentified object in the sky is a Japanese aircraft. Anti-aircraft gunners anxiously await news of the impending danger, and when reports came in that an object has been spotted in the air near Santa Monica, the sky "erupted like a volcano" with gunfire. Three people die from falling shells and three others succumb to stress-induced heart attacks in the hour-long ordeal.

Reality: After the end of the war, the Japanese refuted claims that they had sent any planes into American airspace. In 1983, the Office of Air Force History offered a thorough report on the incident that stated a case of wartime nerves caused a chain reaction of shooting that lit up the sky for hours. The report found that the initial cause of the chaos was a weather balloon the Navy had spotted in the sky, mistaken for an enemy plane, and proceeded to bomb the hell out of. Once firing began, smoke from the 1,500 rounds of anti-aircraft artillery obscured the field of vision, and gun outposts up and down the coast responded by firing all they had at the sky.

Edwards Air Force Base

May 3, 1957
Sighting: While testing the landing gear on a new aircraft, crew members report seeing a saucer-like aircraft that hovered near them as they flew. They manage to capture both still images and motion pictures of the craft with the cameras they had been using to document the aircraft testing. Upon landing, the two crew members report the incident to Captain Gordon Cooper, showing him the film and photos. Understandably confused, Gordon informs the Pentagon of the incident and they tell him to send all original film and photos to Washington for analysis. The Pentagon does not follow up on the incident and the images are never seen again.

Reality: No official explanation was ever given for the sighting. Captain Gordon Cooper maintained for several years that the government regularly covers up UFO encounters. In his memoirs published in 2000, Cooper claimed to have seen many unidentified aircraft during his career. Six years after the incident at Edwards Air Force Base, Gordon became a flying object himself, orbiting Earth 22 times as an astronaut for the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission.

Orfeo Angelucci, Burbank

May 24, 1952
Sighting: Orfeo Angelucci, an assembly line worker at the Lockheed Martin plant in Burbank, makes contact with extra terrestrial beings on his drive home from work. According to Angelucci, a red, glowing oval appeared from the sky, emitting two globes of green lights that appeared in front of his car. From the balls of light, Angelucci hears a masculine voice speaking perfect English that calls him out of the car and offers up a mysterious drink in a crystal goblet. Angelucci is told his "higher vibrational perception" makes him one of three humans that the alien beings feel comfortable contacting. Over time, their relationship grows, as the beings took him in their craft for several journeys into the cosmos.

Reality: A sickly man from childhood, Angelucci moved to Los Angeles from Trenton, NJ because thunderstorms caused him mental anguish. On his way to LA, he was checked out by doctors at the Mayo Clinic and told to only engage in jobs that would not overwork his "weakened constitution." He then immediately takes a job working the graveyard shift at an airline assembly plant.

From his own, published account of the day he made contact with aliens:

After several cups of coffee and an exchange of good-natured banter with some of the customers, I left and went to my job at the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation plant. Things went along well enough during the earlier part of the evening, but about 11 o'clock I began to feel ill. An odd prickling sensation was running through my hands and arms and up into the back of my neck. I had a slight heart palpitation and my nerves were on edge. He drives home and sees aliens. Verdict? Switch to decaf, Orfeo.

Catalina Island UFOs

April 15, 1966 and December 29, 1968
Sighting: Catalina has become a small hotbed for alleged UFO sightings, enough to even support a guided UFO tour. The island's UFO-mania all started on the morning of April 15, 1966. At 9:45 am, in the skies above the Catalina Channel, a silver disc-like object is seen rocketing through the sky at an estimated speed of 170 mph. Grainy black and white footage is taken of the sighting.

In 1968, Paul Allione sees a set of bright lights in the sky in the same location as the 1966 sighting. The line of lights appear to tilt in the sky before stopping and hovering above the ocean.

Reality: After being inundated with calls from confused locals, the news reports that the mysterious moving lights in the sky was a weather balloon launched by two college students.