It’s a stormy November evening in 1953. Somewhere in North America’s Great Lakes region, an unexpected object has just appeared on a United States Air Force radar screen. Keen to get to the bottom of this mystery, officials dispatch two airmen to take a closer look. But as this pair approach the anomaly aboard their aircraft, something happens. Mysteriously, they seem to vanish into thin air.
Based at Truax Air Force Base in the Wisconsin city of Madison, First Lieutenant Felix Moncla wasn’t exactly wet behind the ears. In fact, by November 1953 he’d clocked more than 800 hours of flying time. But somewhere in the skies above Lake Superior, he encountered a challenge that he couldn’t defeat.
On board an aircraft known as the F-89 Scorpion, Moncla and Second Lieutenant Robert Wilson set off in pursuit of the unknown object. And before long, they began to close in, thousands of feet above the dark waters of the lake. But what happened next continues to defy explanation, sparking a mystery that endures to this day.
Moncla, Wilson and their aircraft disappeared without a trace. It was a tragedy that their superiors struggled to explain. And over the years, the military has given wildly different accounts of what happened that fateful night. Is it the work of a government conspiracy, covering up the truth about a terrifying alien encounter? Or is the truth something a little more prosaic?
The story began on the evening of November 23, 1953, at an Air Defense Command facility on the border between Canada and the U.S. According to some reports, snow was falling, while other sources state that the weather was stormy. But whatever the conditions, at just after 6 p.m., something unexpected occurred.
Around that time, an operator detected something unusual on the radar. Traveling through restricted airspace, an unknown entity appeared to be nearing the commercial hub of Soo Locks on the southeastern shore of Lake Superior. However, there were no American or Canadian crafts cleared to be in the area at the time.
Puzzled, officials scrambled to a F-89 Scorpion jet that was temporarily stationed at Kinross Air Force Base, around 20 miles from Soo Locks. Normally, this craft was based some 400 miles away at Truax Air Force Base, which is situated in the Wisconsin city of Madison. Unfortunately, it would never make the journey back down south.
When the aircraft was relocated, two men who were also based at Truax Air Force Base made the journey to Michigan, as well. In the pilot’s seat was Moncla, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force with over 120 hours’ experience flying planes just like this one. Initially on track to be a doctor, the 27-year-old had abandoned a career in medicine to join the military some three years previously.
On the evening of November 23 Moncla set off in search of the mysterious object. And with Wilson manning the radar equipment, the two were soon in hot pursuit. However, the Second Lieutenant struggled to keep track of the unknown craft, which appeared to dart swiftly from place to place.
Thankfully, a radar operator on the ground was on hand to assist Moncla and Wilson as they gave chase. On the screen, they watched as one blip followed the other in a high-altitude game of cat and mouse, slowly descending from 25,000 feet to just 7,000. And then, finally, it looked as if the F-89 was gaining ground.
At a point some 70 miles off the Keweenaw Peninsula on the southern shore of the lake, Moncla and Wilson’s jet caught up with the unknown object. By that time, the airmen had tracked the unidentified craft for some 160 miles. But then, something happened that no one could have predicted.
According to witness reports, the two blips on the radar somehow locked together as one. Days after the incident, local Madison paper The Capital Times published an article about the strange occurrence. It read, “The Truax jet was followed on the radar screen at Kinross until its image merged with that of the plane it was checking.”
After that, Moncla and Wilson’s jet seemed to disappear into thin air. Later, an official report would note that the F-89’s radar signal simply vanished. And if that wasn’t strange enough, the blip representing the unknown craft veered off course before also disappearing. Dumbfounded, the U.S. military launched a search-and-rescue operation to track down the missing airmen.
But despite an extensive search of the area by both boat and plane, no sign of Moncla, Wilson or their F-89 was ever found. Both men, along with their jet, seemed to have disappeared without a trace. So, what happened to the experienced pilot and his second-in-command? To this day, the truth has never been uncovered.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the U.S. Air Force issued an official press release to the Associated Press. “[The F-89] was followed by radar until it merged with an object 70 miles off Keweenaw Point in upper Michigan,” it read. However, it wasn’t long before those in charge began to backtrack on this story.
In a second statement, released shortly after the first, the U.S. Air Force retracted its initial claims. This time, officials downplayed the mystery, asserting that the radar operator had been mistaken. Instead, they insisted that Moncla and Wilson had actually completed their mission, successfully intercepting the unidentified object.
According to this second statement, the object was identified by Moncla and Wilson as a C-47 aircraft belonging to the Royal Canadian Air Force, also known as a Dakota. Apparently, the craft had wandered some 30 miles off course, hence its unexpected appearance in restricted airspace. In fact, officials claimed that the airmen had only encountered trouble after their run-in with the other plane.
Allegedly, Moncla had been stricken by a fit of vertigo while returning to Kinross Air Force Base, causing him to crash the jet into Lake Superior. But it wasn’t long before holes began to appear in this version of events. Over in Canada, officials pointed out that none of their planes had been in the vicinity at the time, casting doubt on the identity of the mystery craft.
After that, events grew murkier still. According to UFO researcher Donald Keyhoe, who wrote two books about the incident, Moncla’s widow was visited by two different representatives of the U.S. Air Force. Allegedly, one claimed that the pilot had been flying at the incorrect altitude, with his proximity to the lake being the ultimate cause of the fatal crash.
Bizarrely, however, the second representative told Moncla’s widow a completely contradictory story. In this version of events, the F-89 had exploded high in the air above Lake Superior. In the midst of all this confusion, a rumor began to emerge – had the airmen perhaps encountered something out of this world?
As the years passed, Moncla and Wilson’s disappearance remained a mystery, along with the whereabouts of their ill-fated plane. Then, in 1968 reports emerged that some wreckage – possibly belonging to a military jet – had been discovered on Lake Superior’s eastern shore. But unfortunately, nobody has been able to verify these claims.
So, what really happened to Moncla and Wilson that fateful night? Two years after the incident, Keyhoe published The Flying Saucer Conspiracy. In this book, the writer speculated about the true cause of the airmen’s disappearance. Specifically, he hinted that the missing F-89 had been in pursuit of an alien craft.
Keyhoe, himself a former Marine Corps aviator, recalled hearing a rumor around the time that Moncla and Wilson had disappeared. Apparently, the story was that “an F-89 from Kinross was hit by a flying saucer.” However, when he investigated further, he received a different explanation. That is, a Canadian plane – not an alien craft – had been the catalyst for the incident.
Despite this, some continued to speculate that an alien UFO had somehow been involved in Moncla and Wilson’s disappearance. And in 1958 Keyhoe allegedly obtained a copy of an official Air Force document regarding the case. Apparently, it contained an interview with a witness who’d watched the incident play out on radar.
The unnamed witness is reported to have said, “It seems incredible, but the blip apparently just swallowed our F-89.” And that wasn’t all. Later, Keyhoe claimed to have discussed the incident with members of Project Blue Book, the official U.S. Air Force team dedicated to researching UFOs. And allegedly, they explained that the case was just one of many similar occurrences.
According to Keyhoe, some of those at Project Blue Book believed that UFOs were extraterrestrial craft visiting Earth. However, the team’s official report on what’s been dubbed as the Kinross Incident continued to tow the line. Moncla and Wilson, it stated, had perished in a crash – and there was no mention of any alien involvement.
Later, researchers from the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) made another alarming discovery. Allegedly, they contacted the Aerospace Technical Intelligence Center, only for the organization to deny that the incident had ever happened. According to reports, officials claimed, “There is no record in the Air Force files of any sighting at Kinross AFB on November, 23, 1953… There is no case in the files which even closely parallels these circumstances.”
Perhaps understandably, this evasiveness did little to quell suspicion surrounding the incident. And before long, amateur UFO hunters had begun to come up with their own theories about what had happened to Moncla and Wilson’s jet. Maybe, some suggested, the two airmen had been abducted by the very craft that they’d been tracking?
According to one theory, the F-89 had been picked up mid-air by the object, which was actually an alien craft. In fact, some even went as far as to speculate on the purpose behind such an endeavor. Perhaps, they reasoned, the extraterrestrials wished to use Moncla and Wilson to brush up on their English skills?
Meanwhile, another theory emerged claiming that the object had been a UFO protected by some kind of forcefield. When Moncla and Wilson’s F-89 unwittingly flew into it, then, it was as if the airmen had hit a solid wall. So, maybe the jet really had crashed – but not because of pilot error.
As the years have passed by, Moncla and Wilson’s disappearance has remained a mystery. And although the case continues to attract attention, neither official nor amateur investigators have been able to uncover the truth. However, that hasn’t stopped users on forums such as Reddit from speculating over the strange incident.
In one Reddit post, a user linked the disappearance to the mystery of the Great Lakes Triangle. An anomaly similar to the Bermuda Triangle, this region has allegedly seen a number of boats and planes vanish in strange circumstances over the years. According to some, there are high levels of iron ore in the rocks, which can cause navigation equipment to go disastrously wrong.
Unfortunately, there is a flaw in this theory. You see, the Great Lakes Triangle is traditionally located in Lake Michigan, some 250 miles south of where Moncla and Wilson disappeared. And if malfunctioning navigation equipment had caused the crash, what was the other blip that appeared on the radar at Kinross Air Force Base?
Elsewhere, another commenter offered up a more prosaic explanation for the incident. According to this person, the F-89 was a “tweak and go” model that had involved a lot of trial and error – and a number of fatal accidents. Perhaps, they reasoned, Moncla and Wilson had fallen victim to an altogether predictable crash?
However, this theory does not explain the origin of the mysterious blip on the radar screen. According to the Reddit user, such signals can be caused by mundane objects, such as a flock of birds. But wouldn’t a trained operator have been able to tell the difference between this and an unknown craft?
As both UFO enthusiasts and their debunkers continued to speculate online, another interesting development came in 2006. That year, a Canadian newspaper called the Pembroke Observer published a detailed article about the incident, calling it “one of the most enduring mysteries of the Great Lakes.” And soon afterwards, Francis Ridge, a prominent researcher of flying saucers, received a strange email.
Reportedly, the email contained a snippet of text purporting to be from a news story. Allegedly released by the Associated Press, the document announced that Moncla and Wilson’s jet had been found at the bottom of Lake Superior by a team of divers. And within the message was a link to the website of the group, the Great Lakes Dive Company.
As news of the discovery began to spread, a spokesperson for the group named Adam Jimenez gave interviews to reporters. Meanwhile, underwater photographs published on the Great Lakes Dive Company’s website appeared to support their claims. Then, the story took an elaborate turn. Apparently, the divers had also discovered wreckage of a UFO alongside that of the F-89.
For the UFO enthusiasts who’d been tracking the Kinross Incident, this development must have seemed too good to be true. But as researchers continued to dig into the story, it quickly fell apart. Apparently, there was no evidence that the Great Lakes Dive Company had ever existed. Before long, Jimenez disappeared, leading most observers to conclude that the discovery had been a hoax.
Since then, there have been no new leads on Moncla and Wilson’s disappearance, and the world is no closer to knowing what happened above Lake Superior that stormy night. However, in 2020 the Pentagon reignited the conversation about UFOs by releasing previously classified footage featuring unknown aerial phenomena. Might top secret files somewhere in the government archives still hold the key to the truth about the Kinross Incident? Perhaps time will tell.