FLORENCE, Ore. – Mike Johnson and his daughter Brenna were driving home to Woahink Lake from town one spring night in 1995 when Brenna turned around in her seat and saw a strange light hovering above the water.
The Johnsons knew exactly who to call: Greg Barnes, regional UFO investigator; a self-taught expert in the field of “UFOology.”
Barnes began with his typical first question: “What do you see right now?” Then, “How do you feel about it?”
The latter query is nearly as important as the first, he said. It tells him whether the caller is panicked or calm, fearful or skeptical. That state of mind could affect a person’s ability to report information accurately.
“A person who’s awestruck responds differently than a person who’s petrified,” Barnes said. “The person who’s afraid isn’t so much interested in details; they just want the thing away from them.”
Ultimately, Barnes drove to the Johnson house, not far from his own Woahink getaway. He missed seeing the lights himself, but wound up interviewing 11 people who claimed they’d seen either the lights or the floating, silent object that carried them, before the object veered west and glided out towards the ocean, reportedly disrupting cable television signals throughout Florence in its wake.
Barnes knows his hobby and his business card adorned with a flying saucer place him squarely on the fringe.
“You’re easily branded a nut,” he said. “I have to accept that, with this topic. What we have here is ordinary people seeing extraordinary things. A whole lot of what people see are obviously misidentifications; fishing boats, that kind of thing. People tell us ‘Oh, that’s just something that Lockheed made.’ But I doubt very seriously the government would test their latest, greatest underwater machines in Florence.”
Mike Johnson, for one, isn’t sure if what he saw was of this planet. But he’s willing to accept it might not have been.
“I think it would be extremely egotistical not to think there’s other intelligent life out there, being that there are probably 100 billion stars in our own Milky Way galaxy and there have got to be hundreds of galaxies,” Johnson said.
Skepticism doesn’t bother 54-year-old Barnes, a Navy veteran, former Indianapolis 500 racecar mechanic, excavator and Florence auxiliary police officer. People need someone to talk to about the strange lights they see, or the flying saucer they believe they just spotted.
He is happy to hear their stories; scour nearby hillsides for clipped treetops or the ground for impressions; take readings with his Geiger counter or the gadget that measures alpha, beta and gamma rays and pass his reports onto national UFO experts.
“Usually it’s anomalous lights in the sky,” Barnes said of the calls he gets from people who know his reputation.
“If it’s in the middle of the night, I say ‘You just woke me up. This better be a good story.’ Generally people thank me before they even say anything: ‘I’m so glad I have someone to talk to that thinks I’m not nuts.’ I say ‘Well, I haven’t determined that you’re not nuts.’ ”
Often he reports findings to Peter Davenport, who runs the national UFO Center based in Seattle. Davenport says what sets Barnes apart from the hundreds of other “regional investigators” he hears from is his common sense approach.
“He’s very objective,” Davenport said. “He recognizes that most of the data, most of the reports in the media or in mainstream UFOology probably can be explained by terrestrial events. You have to winnow out the schlock to get to the real material.”
Barnes is still working with a distraught, elderly Florence woman who claims she saw a light outside her window one night. Soon she was overtaken by paralysis and two small creatures appeared before her, she said. She felt nauseous, she said, and then found herself floating out her bedroom window, towards some kind of disc-shaped light.
The woman doesn’t remember what happened next, Barnes said. But when she returned, her bedclothes were buttoned incorrectly, she said.
Barnes has also seen his own blend of UFOs, he said. In Sept. 1993, he was standing at the boat ramp in Westlake when he spotted a light out of the corner of his eye. Barnes marked the spot with cedar cones and ran for his wife Wendy, a friend and a pair of binoculars.
Ten or 15 minutes later, Barnes said, a smaller white light dropped from the bottom of the big light, circled around the top and flew off. Under normal circumstances, he said, he would have been compelled to remain, maybe even paddle out into the lake for a closer look.
But the trio immediately and all at once lost interest, he said, as if something had convinced them it was time to leave.
Wendy, an escrow officer in Florence, has known her husband since they were children living across the street from each other in Torrance, Calif.
She can’t remember when he first started talking about UFOs, but it’s never bothered her.
“I never had the feeling to be so arrogant that we’re the only thing to exist in this universe,” she said. “And he has a very healthy attitude about it. If somebody doesn’t believe it, thinks you’re nuts, he says ‘That’s fine, that’s your deal.’ He doesn’t feel like he has to try to convert them. ”
On the Net:
Oregon UFO Review: http://www.oregonuforeview.com/oufor2.html AP