Carl Nally and Dermot Butler. States of Denial: The Tuskar Rock Incident and Other Mysteries. Mercier Press, Cork, 2013.
‘Conspiracy theories, by their nature, cannot be conclusively disproven,’ says the skeptic Ben Radford, ‘since any evidence contradicting them can be dismissed or ignored as part of the conspiracy itself.’ Radford was writing in June this year after the seventeenth anniversary of the crash of TWA Flight 800 near New York, in which 230 people died. Theories that the crash was caused not by an accident, but by a stray missile presumably fired by the US military, have been resurrected by a TV documentary that interviewed former members of the investigation team.
The inquiry into the TWA crash lasted four years and was one of the most expensive and detailed in US history. It found no evidence of criminal activity. But conspiracy theories continue to circulate because, as Radford says, they tap into a widespread distrust of government that has been fuelled by both imagined and real activities of the military and intelligence services, such as the recent revelations surrounding the NSA’s eavesdropping on private emails. Radford suggests that when conspiracy theories resurface, it is usually not because ‘new’ evidence has been uncovered. More likely, it is the result of a publicity ploy, either to promote a TV programme or to sell a book.
The core of this book is a claim that ‘dark forces’ were at work in the crash of an Aer Lingus Viscount that plunged into the sea off the Wexford coast, in the Republic of Ireland, in March 1968. For years afterwards there were claims that the tragedy, in which 61 people died, was caused by a British missile fired from a test range in Aberporth, Wales and the facts have been covered up. The original Irish government report into the crash was reviewed by the Air Accident Investigation Unit in 2002. This ruled out any British or other military involvement in the tragedy and an Irish government source put the original rumours into context. At that time, he said, ‘….you could say the Brits were responsible for anything from crop failure to car crashes and six of ten people would happily believe you.’
In their account, Nally and Butler both rehash and reject the earlier conspiracy theories and propose a new one. This is based upon ‘glaring discrepancies’ in the official reports and eyewitness accounts they claim were ignored by earlier investigations. They believe ‘paranormal events were at work in the fatal accident’, in the form of a close encounter between the aircraft and a UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena), something that ‘cannot be explained by known science’. As the MoD’s Condign report found, there is some evidence that civilian aircrew have, on rare occasions, encountered atmospheric plasmas, super ball lightning and other unusual phenomena on the fringes of current scientific understanding. So far so strange.
But when Nally and Butler use the acronym UAP they don’t mean some unusual natural phenomena, of the type proposed by the author of the Condign report (of which no evidence exists that is acceptable to scientists). This would make them sound too much like the state-sponsored debunkers and ‘career civil servants’ they blame for what they believe is a state of denial. No, reading between the lines, it appears their UAPs are really old fashioned flying saucers, or ‘structured craft of unknown origin’, the products of an extra-terrestrial intelligence, who visit us for inscrutable reasons and occasionally approach and hassle our aircraft.
If one thing unites ufologists as a group, it is distrust of government. The government cover-up trope has a pedigree almost as old as the link between flying saucers and the mysterious disappearance of aircraft. Hostile UFOs were a favourite of ‘60s paperback writers and that tradition is continued by Tim Good and Nick Pope. But even Good’s credulity was tested by the stories published in Nally and Butler’s first book, Conspiracy of Silence (2006). This contained a series of ‘extraordinary, if true’ stories describing, in great circumstantial detail, airliners harassed by triangular UFOs over the Irish sea, causing crew to take evasive action and passengers to panic. On one occasion readers are asked to believe that an Aer Lingus Boeing 737 suffered a ‘power drain’ and was left with ‘the wings badly damaged, as if dented by a hammer’.
Extraordinary if true. But are they true? Here lies the problem: the airline and reporting authorities deny any incidents of the type described happened. And despite wide media coverage of the claims in Ireland not a single passenger has come forward. Logically, if such damage had occurred, or near collision reported, it would have been the subject of a formal air-miss investigation. Witnesses, aircrew and civilian, would have been interviewed.
The most likely explanation is the incident never occurred and the whole story is an invention. Even Tim Good – who believes alien bases exist under the sea – says he finds Nally and Butler’s stories ‘hard to believe’ (Need to Know, 2006, p408) and admits they had never actually spoken to the pilots concerned. They obtained the stories second-hand, from the same type of anonymous ‘trusted sources’ in which Good places so much faith. What is their motivation for making up stories? As Ben Radford points out, people – even those in high places – sometimes enjoy a prank, either out of boredom or simply for the hell of it. But Nally and Butler find it impossible to accept their informants could be capable of leg-pulling, so the only possible explanation is a massive cover-up by ‘dark forces’ who are determined to stop the truth reaching the masses. Their suspicions are reinforced by a series of vague anecdotes taken straight from the world of James Bond. Friends and colleagues who have delved into the Tuskar Rock crash been followed by mysterious cars, have had their phone bugged and their homes broken into. You know the type of thing.
Anyone who reads States of Denial is advised to keep Good’s doubts in their mind. The book is a curious mix of tedious lights in the sky, in one case evidently the result of Chinese lanterns from a wedding party, and Irish versions of the ripping yarns found in Tim Good’s books. Most amusing of all is a re-telling of retired Aer Lingus pilot Aiden Quigley’s short story about two ‘very strange people’ who materialised in empty seats during a flight from Chicago to Dublin. One addressed the other as ‘Vaskar’ and they spoke in metallic voices. The stewardess noticed they had unusual skin, with ‘no pores, no blemishes, no creases’ and they vanished during the night. Quigley published the story in his book Green Is My Sky (1983) and in the foreward he makes it clear the story is pure fiction. But Nally and Butler find it difficult to believe that a pilot with 41 years of flying experience including acting as pilot for the Pope on one occasion, would include such tall tales unless ‘there is actually truth in them and publishing them in this manner was Quigley’s only way of bringing them to the attention of the public without fear of ridicule’.
Ireland has, of course, a long tradition of story-telling and that includes tall tales of every type. Stories about gremlins were told by RAF pilots in the Second World War but don’t have the same appeal to technologically savvy readers in the 21st century. Since they have become Ireland’s leading UFO investigators Nally and Butler have become the ‘go-to’ people for anyone who wishes to pass on fantastic narratives so we can expect more of the same. Their book will be enjoyed by anyone who buys into the version of the UFO myth promoted by Good and Pope, but anyone with even basic critical faculties will find their stories credulous and unconvincing. - David Clarke.
- Since 2008 David Clarke has been working with The [British] National Archives (TNA) as their consultant for the ongoing release of the UFO files created by Britain's Ministry of Defence.