A Brief Encounter.

An assessment of case file 05 -1

[Multiple witness sighting.]


During my time as a qualified researcher and investigator of the UFO phenomenon I have amassed several files, the majority of which turned out to have prosaic explanations. On occasions, however, some investigations go beyond the mundane and can generate more questions than there are answers. The following case is one of those. It took place near the town of Stanley, Co. Durham, on July 14th 2005. It is also unique to my other investigations because of the photographic evidence that came with it.

Location: Harelaw Industrial Estate, North Road, Stanley, Co. Durham.

Case Background

At approximately 3.20 a.m. July 14, 2005, 39-year-old Darren Lumley, Maintenance Supervisor at the Schmitz Cargobull UK factory, and Brian McMahon were busy working the nightshift when excited security guard, Tom Fairgreaves entered the workshop saying he had seen a strange light In the sky. The trio went outside to investigate – Darren having the foresight to take with him his FinePix A330 Zoom digital camera, that he had used earlier to photograph newly installed jigs and tools.

The Event

The weather was warm and calm outside and low, broken clouds gently drifted eastward towards the town of Stanley. The men’s eyes were immediately drawn to one cloud in particular. It was pulsating with waves of light, with an orange coloured light beam emanating upward into the night sky from its interior, at a compass bearing of 170° SE, azimuth 70°. Darren estimated the strangely silent cloud to be two miles distant when he began photographing it. When it reached an approximate bearing of 145-150° SE, some ten minutes later, the lights illuminating it suddenly went out. As a keen bird watcher, Darren also noted the birds which occupied a nearby nature pond had become unusually quiet during the cloud’s passage.

They returned to the workshop and downloaded the images onto a laptop. To their dismay, none of them showed the mysterious cloud. Some, however, on further examination, did show a number of ‘orbs’ of various sizes that had not been seen by the naked eye at the time the photographs were taken.

Schmitz UFO 010

Image 23


Investigator’s Observations & Opinions.

Having known Brian and Darren for many years as work colleagues, I am convinced of their sincerity regarding their sighting. None of the trio has sought notoriety or financial gain from their experience; indeed, it was only through another work colleague that it came to my attention. Nor have they espoused any particularly strong beliefs in the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis. In fact Darren, whom I interviewed at length, expressed only the need to know what it was he saw. That the event had unsettled him was unquestionable, his mind being unsettled and beset by all kinds of questions. He was the one most affected by what he had seen.

Initially, the date I was given for the sighting was July 13, but on analysing the images and camera specifications I learnt that the event actually occurred on the 14th, the first image being digitised at 03.18 hrs. The final image was taken at 03.27 hrs, which amounts to a total of 9 mins 19 secs photographic time. This was very close to the estimated time of 10 minutes, they gave me for the sighting.

The date discrepancy is of little concern. Anyone who has worked nightshifts will tell you how easy it is to become confused about times and dates.

Press Office Report

On August 2 I received an eagerly awaited reply from Durham Constabulary’s Press Office, regarding my request of July 29 for any information they might have regarding the sighting. On checking their incidents logs and officer’s reports they were unable to find any corroborative evidence.

 Newcastle International Airport.

A similar request was made to Newcastle Airport for any pilot sightings or anomalous radar returns. To date, I have not received any reply from them.

Royal Meteorological Society.

Having contacted the RMS, to ascertain whether the sighting could possibly have been a meteorological phenomenon, I received a prompt reply that proffered and explanation of something bright travelling across the sky above the cloud, making it diffuse in form. However, their representative also stated that he could not think of anything that would be big enough or bright enough to account for the sighting.

I quickly ruled out ‘Sprites’ as a possible candidate for the phenomenon, even though the physical characteristics and dynamics of them bore a striking resemblance to the phenomenon.

Sprites are massive but weak luminous flashes that appear directly above active thunderstorm systems. When I showed an image of one such sprite to Darren he said, “That’s it. That’s what we saw!” Unfortunately, it could not have been for the following reasons:

images (6)

1. Sprites only occur above active thunderstorms. (There was no thunder. The cloud was silent).

2. Sprites appear to have a duration of only a few milliseconds. (The sighting lasted 10 minutes).

3. Current evidence strongly suggests that Sprites preferentially occur in decaying thunderstorms and are correlated with large, positive cloud-to-ground lightning strokes. (No lightning strokes of any description were reported).

There are many other reasons for precluding the Sprite hypothesis as an explanation for this sighting. Suffice to say, the foregoing more than adequately demonstrates the unsoundness of such an explanation.

Astronomical Phenomena

images (15)

On one image # 23 (above) a bright sphere (not an ‘orb‘) appears at the top of the photograph. Astronomical research has proven conclusively it is not a celestial body, such as a planet or the Moon. The Moon did not climb above the horizon until 13.04 hrs. that day. Nevertheless, I did identify three other light sources as being Mars, Juno, and Aldebarran.

Photographic Evidence

My initial analysis of the photographic evidence has led me to the following conclusions:

1. The cloud does not appear in the images because it was too distant and faint for the camera to pick up. In this instance the flash was used, thus obscuring any fainter light source at distance.

2. Regarding the ‘orbs’, I was struck by the remarkable similarities between one of the orbs  and this Low Energy Density Sphere image taken from a scientific study.


The scientific report shows orbs in various stages of forming, and in some cases show fully formed spheres behind stationary objects such as trees, strongly suggesting that they are not specs of dust or any other particulate matter on the camera lens. Unfortunately, none of the orbs in my investigation appear partially obscured by any object. Thus, the particulate matter hypothesis cannot be ruled out in this instance.

3.  Interestingly, the bright sphere that appears at the top of image # 23 occupies the region in the sky, that approximates the position of the cloud when first seen by the witnesses. Might this be the source of the light phenomenon Malcolm Walker of the RMS proffered in his reply to my enquiry? If this is the light source, which the witnesses estimated was two miles distant, then it must be very big and bright indeed, as Mr. Walker stated it would have to be. (Please note that under higher magnification this sphere is emitting ‘spiked’ rays).

4. Following several on-site photographic experiments, using the original camera, I have been able to determine that the object in image # 23 is not a reflection from some hidden light source, nor does it appear to be lens flare. Though there are several orange security lights present, none can account for the bright white object that appears in the image.

5. One of the orbs, under 400% magnification, appears to show a human face. This ‘face’ however has a prosaic explanation. The human eye is designed to detect patterns, and the brain is designed to make sense of those patterns. Without a doubt, when one studies this orb several faces emerge, leading me to conclude that the so-called face is merely an artefact of the brain’s need to make sense of the patterns within the image.

Site Visits

On July 25 I conducted a site visit to take azimuth readings and compass bearings. It was during this procedure that I discovered a curious magnetic anomaly. At one particular spot the compass needle suddenly jumped 60° northeast. As I continued a few paces south toward the perimeter fence, the needle swung abruptly 290° northwest. The fluctuations occurred repeatedly as I crossed the zone. I was later able to verify that there are no hidden or buried power lines in the immediate locale, thereby discounting them as a possible source for the magnetic anomaly.


On August 18 I conducted further research, having in mind the possibility that magnetic deposits were the causal factor of the fluctuations in the magnetic field. It turned out not to be the case, and since my initial visits an appreciable decrease had occurred, thereby invalidating any geophysical hypothesis.

During this same visit I also conducted several photographic experiments with the original camera. Several orbs appeared on the images, despite having checked the lens for faults and cleaning it of any dust particles. It would appear the orbs, whatever they may represent, are an entirely independent phenomenon.

Evidence-Based Conclusions

So what did the witnesses see in the early hours of July 14 2005? Was it a rare meteorological phenomenon? If so, then it is one that is so rare as to never have been recorded since meteorological records began. Though it bears some physical similarities to the Sprite phenomenon, several major parameter changes would need to be taken into account before it could be considered as a candidate. The absence of sound or cloud-to-ground lightning strikes are overwhelming factors in mitigating such an interpretation.

Given the time of the sighting, it is hardly surprising there are few witnesses to it. However, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest an independent sighting of the event in the form of a lady who phoned her local radio station to say that she had seen a “beam of light” in the sky at the time.

An astronomical interpretation is completely ruled out. The only reasonable candidate for the bright sphere seen in image # 23 is the Moon, but the time and position are incorrect for such an explanation. No other celestial body in size, shape, and magnitude, comes remotely close to it.

aircaft landing lightsCould it have been an aircraft? Extremely unlikely. The only powerful lights on an airliner are its forward facing landing beams. In this instance it would also have to have been travelling towards the witnesses, and would ultimately have emerged from the cloud into clear view. As it was a calm morning they would also have heard its engines.

Hot air balloons can also generate a UFO report. Nonetheless, I have also rejected this as a possible candidate for the following reasons:

• The burners on a hot air balloon are used to create lift, but they are used in short images (16)bursts and certainly not over a sustained period of minutes. Had the pilot been reckless enough to sustain the burn, and possibly run out of fuel for a controlled landing, the balloon would have quickly risen above the cloud and become visible. Moreover, the noise made by the burner would have been audible.  More importantly, what sane pilot would travel within a cloud, obscuring his view of the surrounding terrain and other aircraft?

• The cloud’s bright pulsing light and the vertical orange beam make the balloon theory even less likely. The balloons envelope would naturally diffuse much of the light from the burner, and the cloud even further still. Furthermore, there would be no exiting orange vertical beam at its apex. For this to occur the balloon would have to have had a large opening at its top, seriously jeopardising its lift capabilities.

lazer on cloudA laser display is certainly a tantalising feasibility. A dark cloud would surely be a good screen medium on which to shine a laser. But what would be the point of such an expensive display at such an early hour, when there would be virtually no one around to see it? Surely, on duty police officers would have seen it. And why wasn’t the ground-to-cloud laser beam visible? Wouldn’t such a laser show have been advertised in the local media? To date, I have found no evidence of this.

What remains is a very large and bright object, of undetermined nature and origin, travelling within the cloud. What that object may have been remains a mystery and a matter for conjecture. Based on the evidence at hand, I am left with little recourse but to classify the phenomenon as an (Unidentified Flying Object/Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon.

Hynek Classification System Assessment

In assessing this case I have awarded it the following classifications.

Nocturnal Lights [NL]  Fluctuating light phenomenon witnessed.

Close Encounter 2 [CE II]  The birds’ silence during the clouds passage suggests some kind of physical reaction to its proximity  Also, during the site visit, a  magnetic anomaly was evidenced, for which there was no explanation. .

Vallee Classification System Assessment
(AN ratings are used to classify anomalous behaviour)

AN 2  A magnetic anomaly which continued several days after the event.

(FB ratings are used to describe the fly-by of an anomalous craft or object)

FB 2  Straightforward sighting of a UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon) on a continuous trajectory; plus resultant magnetic anomaly.

SVP Rating
(The SVP rating is an important rating of credibility)

Awarded SVP Rating = 433.

The above score was awarded for the following reasons:

Source reliability score = 4. All accounts and testimonies are from first-hand witnesses, interviewed by a source of proven reliability.

Site visit score = 3. Site was visited by a reliable investigator with some experience.

Possible explanation rating = 3. Natural explanation for this sighting requires major alteration of several parameters.

David Calvert 20/10/05

© David Calvert 2011

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