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The Val Johnson UFO Incident occurred in 1979 in Marshall Countymarker, Minnesotamarker. The incident involved Val Johnson, a Marshall County Deputy Sheriff, and is classified as a Close Encounter of the Second Kind (CE2). It is often rated as one of the most famous UFO incidents of the 1970's.

The Incident

In the early morning hours of August 27, 1979, deputy sheriff Val Johnson was driving his patrol car, a 1977 Ford LTD, on a rural highway in Marshall County not far from the North Dakotamarker border. At 1:40 am he saw a bright light to his south, along a group of trees some distance from his car. Since he had heard rumors that smugglers from Canadamarker were using small airplanes to deliver illegal drugs to the area, Johnson initially thought the light might be from a downed airplane. To get a closer look he turned his patrol car onto Highway 220 and increased his speed to 65 MPH. (The UFO Book, p.357) Strangely, Johnson noticed that the light was not illuminating the surrounding area. Suddenly, the light started to move towards him and almost instantly covered an estimated mile and a half before resting above his car. Johnson later stated that "I heard glass breaking and saw the inside of the car light up real bright with white light...after the light hit my vehicle, I don't remember a thing." (UFO Book, 357) When he awoke, his head was resting on the steering wheel; Johnson then noticed that his patrol car had skidded across the highway's southbound lane and now faced eastward. He was also having vision problems. At this point (2:19 am) Johnson radioed the Marshall County Sheriff's Department in Warren, Minnesotamarker for help. He answered the dispatcher's questions with "Something just hit my car. I don't know how to explain it...I heard glass breaking and my brakes lock up. I don't know what the hell happened." (UFO Book, 357) A fellow deputy sheriff, Greg Winskowski, arrived to help. He noticed that Johnson had a red bump on his forehead, and concluded that Johnson had hit his head on the steering wheel and been knocked out. Winskowski called an ambulance; the ambulance driver thought that Johnson was in "a mild state of shock." (UFO Book, 357) At the county hospital in Warren Dr. W.A. Pinsonneault tried to examine Johnson's eyes, but found that shining a light onto them caused Johnson extreme pain. He also noticed a "pinkish irritation" covering Johnson's eyes. The doctor compared Johnson's eye injury to "mild welder's burns", and gave him some salve and bandages. Johnson then gave a statement at the police station and was taken home. (UFO Book, 357)

Damage to Johnson's Patrol Car

The next morning Marshall County Sheriff Dennis Brekke took Johnson's LTD to the police garage to have it examined. The drive was difficult due to the vehicle's damages. Mechanics at the police garage found, according to UFO historian Jerome Clark, that the car was damaged in "peculiar ways." (UFO Book, 358) Among the problems: the car's inside driver's side headlight was smashed, but not its companion to the left. On the hood, close to the windshield, was a circular dent a half-inch in diameter. There was a crack in the windshield which ran from the top to the bottom; the crack showed four impact points which may have been caused by "small objects, stones perhaps." The car's dashboard clock, set correctly at 7 pm when Johnson had reported for duty, was now 14 minutes late (curiously, Johnson's wristwatch was also 14 minutes late). An investigator noted that "the 'creases' in the rear of the [circular] dent reveal [that] the pressure of the blow was delivered primarily downward and toward the windshield." (UFO Book, 358) Allan Hendry, an astronomer and the primary field investigator for the Center for UFO Studies, saw Johnson's car shortly after the sighting and noted more "peculiar" damages. Among them: the red plastic lens covering the roof light had a triangular puncture, and the lens had been knocked loose; the shaft of the radio antenna had been bent at a 60-degree angle five inches above the hood. The radio antenna on the vehicle's trunk had been bent at a 90-degree angle, but only at the top three inches; and all the damage "favored" the driver's side of the vehicle. (UFO Book, 358)


After taking Johnson's patrol car to the police garage, Sheriff Brekke drove Johnson to the city of Grand Forks, North Dakotamarker for a more thorough eye exam. Dr. Leonard Prochaska found that Johnson's eyes "had cleared up", but Dr. Prochaska did not find this unusual, as corneal flash burns often cleared within hours. (UFO Book, 359) After returning to his office in Warren, Brekke called the Center for UFO Studies in Evanston, Illinoismarker. He described Johnson's case to Allan Hendry, who agreed to immediately fly to Marshall County and investigate. Hendry called several local airports and air force bases to determine if they had picked up any "unusual" air traffic on radar; none had. (UFO Book, 359) Hendry found that skid marks at the site of Johnson's "collision" revealed that his patrol car had skidded for 855 feet before the brakes locked up, and that it had continued to slide for another 99 feet. Sheriff Brekke performed an experiment which revealed that Johnson had been going approximately 48 MPH when his car was hit. (UFO Book, 359)

After interviewing numerous people in the Warren area who knew Johnson and spoke highly of his character, Hendry concluded that Johnson had not hoaxed the event. He also concluded that an airplane could not have caused the damage to Johnson's car. Hendry had engineers from the Ford Motor Company and Honeywell fly to Warren to examine the car. Meridan French, the engineer from Ford, noted this about the windshield damage:

Even after several days of reflection on the crack patterns and apparent sequence of fractures, I still have no explanation for what seem to be inward and outward forces acting almost simultaneously. I can only [conclude]... that all cracks were from mechanical forces of unknown origin.

Hoax Theory and Rebuttal

The Johnson UFO incident received national publicity, and ranks as one of the best-publicized UFO events of the 1970s. Several of Johnson's friends in Marshall County urged him to take a polygraph test to prove he was telling the truth; they also urged him to undergo hypnosis to see if he could recall the incident more clearly. Johnson refused both requests; according to Jerome Clark he felt that undergoing hypnosis or a lie-detector test would only satisfy people's "morbid curiosity". (UFO Book, 361) Johnson appeared on television only once, with Hendry on ABC-TV's Good Morning America program.

In his 1983 book UFOs: The Public Deceived, UFO skeptic Philip Klass argued that the entire event was a hoax, and that Johnson had deliberately damaged his own patrol car. Among the pieces of evidence Klass found suspicious were Johnson's refusal to take a lie-detector test, the fact that the Honeywell engineer had found that dead insect matter still covered the two damaged antennas even after the supposed "impact", and that any ultraviolet light which could have burned Johnson's eyes would have been blocked by the windshield's vinyl layer and Johnson's sunglasses. (UFOs: The Public Deceived, p.235) In September 1980 Klass debated the case with Allan Hendry at a "UFO Symposium" held at the Smithsonian Institutionmarker. According to Klass, he had uncovered eyewitness testimony that "Deputy Val Johnson...likes to play practical jokes, especially late in the evening when he gets a little bored, as I talking with some of the people who have worked with him and know him very well." (UFO Book, 362) Hendry sarcastically replied: "I think that the sheriff and the six associates of Val Johnson were lying when they assured me of the integrity of their coworker. I think that Val Johnson is such a practical joker that he deliberately injured his eyes - as judged by two doctors - and he deliberately entered a phony state of shock for the ambulance driver who removed him from the scene of the accident." (Phil Klass vs. the UFO Promoters, Jerome Clark) According to Clark, Klass privately told Hendry after their debate that "everyone he interviewed in the course of his inquiry into the case spoke highly of Val Johnson." (Phil Klass, Clark) In his 1983 book, Klass revealed that his eyewitness testimony consisted of a coworker who told him that Johnson "did like to pull tricks on a guy once in a while... like maybe hide your coffee cup on you." The coworker also added that "I don't know if you'd call him [Johnson] a practical far as we know, he's never told us any untruths." (UFO Book, 362)

See also



Image:Val_Johnson_Incident_1.jpg|Marshall County Minnesota Sheriff report (page 1)Image:Val_Johnson_Incident_2.jpg|Marshall County Minnesota Sheriff report (page 2)

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