Transcript of podcast episode 53
Josée Arnold (JA): Welcome to
Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage. I'm your host, Josée Arnold. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada's documentary heritage.
Falcon Lake, Manitoba. Located in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, 150 kilometers east of Winnipeg. It's May 20, 1967, and mechanic and amateur geologist Stefan Michalak wakes up early to begin his hobby of prospecting for quartz and silver. After a morning of working in the bush and a light lunch, Stefan returns to the task at hand, chipping away at a quartz vein he has found. The cackling of some geese nearby, obviously frightened by something, startles him. He looks up and sees two glowing objects descending towards him.
What did Stefan Michalak see and eventually touch? Was it a real UFO? A military aircraft? Or was it all just an elaborate hoax? In part one of this two-part episode, we unravel Canada's most infamous UFO case with the help of Stefan Michalak's son, Stan, and Canadian UFO expert and author Chris Rutkowski. Also, Palmiro Campagna, an accomplished author and a 'regular' in the research rooms at LAC, will take us through some of the extensive records surrounding the case.
Chris Rutkowski (CR): Well, I think there's an enduring interest in the Falcon Lake case because it happened in our own backyard, literally in our own backyard. The fact that, over the years, we still don't have any definitive explanation… It's the type of thing where you can still go to Falcon Lake and get souvenirs. It's our own Roswell in that. So you can get mugs emblazoned with the Falcon Lake UFO. Now, there's a book on it. But it had been produced on "Unsolved Mysteries."It had been in a number of television shows. In fact, it's listed among some of the top UFO cases of all time.
It happened here in Canada. It happened to an ordinary individual who was simply trying to enjoy the May long weekend. Yet there's this backstory about radioactive debris and the government covering it up. We know it was investigated by the government. We know that the military was involved and that the documents themselves are available. Here we have all the elements of a good mystery, but it's accessible. It's so accessible by the average person, I think that lends itself to the fact that it's something that we can really tangibly take part in ourselves. We can go back to the site. We can visit the area. With Stan Michalak being more vocal these days about what happened to his family and [what] he experienced himself… It's something that happened to ordinary people living in Canada.
JA: That was Chris Rutkowski. Chris is a Canadian science writer and educator, best known for his investigations and research into UFOs. Chris tells us a bit about his university days, when he was studying astronomy.
CR: In the astronomy department, I was being taught by some professors who really were not that enthralled with the idea of UFOs at all. In fact, their view was that it's quite a silly subject and that people who reported seeing UFOs were foolish or mistaken in some other way. They were not enamored with it and yet phone calls kept coming into the department asking about UFOs. In fact, some people were reporting UFOs to the astronomy department. The astronomy professors were not crazy about this. In fact, I was in my professor's office when a call came in and he was irritated. Later I suggested that, since my carrel for studying was literally just around the corner, perhaps as soon as a call came in I could take it off his hands. In that way he wouldn't have to bother with it.
It was, in some ways, a way of getting in good with my instructors. When I did start taking the phone calls and talking with people, I was struck by the fact that they didn't seem to be very crazy at all. In fact, they seemed to be as normal as anyone in this day and age. I don't know if that's saying much, but what it does say is that they had not been making things up. They were just honestly reporting things that they had seen or experienced and were curious as to what this was.
I remember going off into the rural areas, talking to people who had seen things on their farms and in other parts of Manitoba. It was fascinating to me because they were seeing things that I was told very explicitly could not possibly exist, and people were mistaken, and so forth. There's no question—I could certainly explain many of the cases, the vast majority of cases. But in some cases, I just was curious and was puzzled by what they had experienced because it didn't sound like they had seen airplanes, stars, fireballs, and so forth—[things] that were easy enough to explain in the vast majority of the cases.
There were still some that were puzzling and, as a scientist, I thought, "Well, here's a scientific puzzle. Things that couldn't possibly exist and yet people are reporting them. And so how do we deal with that?" Well, I guess it came from that [why], over the years, I became the go-to guy for reporting UFOs.
JA: Chris—writer of numerous books, including
The Big Book of UFOs—is considered Canada's UFO expert and has even been called Canada's Fox Mulder, a reference to the fictional character on TV's"The X-Files." We asked Chris if this was a label he embraces. And just what is his official title?
CR: My official title, I suppose, is a science writer. Although my specialty, I suppose, is things off the beaten track…
JA: Chris confesses that perhaps his speciality is things off the beaten track; a writer of the weird. People come to him not only with UFO stories, but [with] tales of seeing Bigfoot, lake monsters and even ghosts. Believe it or not, most of these reports—at least the UFO ones—all eventually find their way to Library and Archives Canada. They are collected and archived for possible future use.
We asked Chris if we could be dealing with any sociological or psychological phenomenon in these UFO sightings.
[CR in background, beneath the narration] …a writer of the weird, I suppose. People are coming to me always. Not just with UFO stories, but in the beginning they were coming to me with tales of seeing Sasquatch, and lake monsters, and ghosts, and so forth. I was curious about these phenomena as well but, because I didn't have any scientific basis for accepting them, I didn't know what to do with them. And yet, people were reporting them. In fact, what's curious is that, in some cases within a day or two, people were reporting Sasquatch, UFOs, and lake monsters [chuckles] all within a small area.
I thought that they were curious. I wondered if we were dealing with some sort of sociological or psychological phenomenon. In fact—
CR: That's kind of my view on UFOs in a nutshell. That if we're not dealing with a physical phenomenon, we're at the very least dealing with a sociological or a psychological phenomenon in any of those cases. I think science should be studying this in some significant degree because there is a real phenomenon in any of those cases.
In the context that the UFO phenomenon is viewed as perhaps a physical type of phenomenon—where we assume that the aliens are visiting earth for whatever reason—if that's not true, there's certainly this cultural phenomenon where people believe that aliens are coming to earth for whatever reason. Because our world is in such a mess, perhaps the aliens are the ones who can solve our problems. This was the message of the contactees back in the 1950s into the 1960s, where the aliens were issuing dire warnings to the people of earth because we were polluting our atmosphere; we were at war with each other; [people] were starving in the world whereas the rest of us had such an abundance of food; and so forth.
That message from the contactees continues today. In fact, there's a revival of abductees and contactees. In fact, they tend to overshadow any serious scientific research at UFO conferences and certainly get the vast majority of media attention when it comes to UFOs in the news these days. So there's the sociological phenomenon. Then there's the psychological phenomenon: That sometimes in this life, people will feel unfulfilled and that their lives are, perhaps, not going anywhere. And so there will be this need to perceive something else out there picking [us] as something special. That perhaps we're selected to see something… Because of something special no one else can see. It's a way of increasing our ego and self-awareness, to believe that there's a psychological phenomenon out there.
There's certainly physiological aspects to the psychological phenomenon in that there are objects in the sky that are curious to see. In the sense that there are advertising planes, there's drones, there's balloons, and there's a phenomenon called autokinesis and autostasis, which make ordinary light seem to move or stand still depending on our perspective. There's even some physiological effects within our own brains where stimulation of the temporal lobes within our brains can cause us to imagine that we are seeing alien creatures and seeing objects moving about in the sky. There [are] many possible effects that give rise to UFO phenomena. We're just really scratching the surface.
JA: In your experience, what are some of the common misconceptions about ufology?
CR: Well, certainly one of the primary misconceptions is that there's nothing to it at all. In that, we do know that UFOs exist in the sense that UFOs stands for unidentified flying objects. There are such things that are reported. There is a tremendous amount of documentation. Certainly, the national archives document this in great detail: that people have reported UFOs officially for many years. There's no question that exists. But are we dealing with visitation from creatures from another world, or hallucinations or so forth? That's an entirely different question.
I think people automatically assume that we're talking about aliens when you talk about UFOs. That's certainly not necessarily the case. It could be a variety of things, natural phenomena and so forth. That's certainly one [thing] that people automatically assume. The other thing that people will assume is that they have dropped off in terms of the numbers of UFO reports. You don't hear about them as much anymore compared with, say, the 1960s and 1970s.
What's curious is that in the late 1980s, as my interest in UFOs continued, I took it upon myself to begin a national study of UFOs in Canada, called the Canadian UFO survey. In which, I enlisted the assistance of colleagues and institutions across Canada to look for UFO reports that might have been officially filed and to try and get a better understanding of how many cases there really were in Canada. Are the flying saucers more frequent in Quebec rather than Saskatchewan, or vice versa? Why one province over another?
I took the survey and got the data that was coming in. In 1989, we produced our first study, which found, I think it was something like 140, 150 cases had been reported in Canada. Not just through the National Research Council but also to private institutions, to police, and so forth. Curiously, the number has fairly steadily increased since then…
JA: Chris goes on to say that UFO sightings reported every year in Canada number over 1,000, or around 3 a day.
[CR in background, beneath the narration]
…to the point where we probably have somewhere around 1,000 UFO reports in Canada every year, which is more than three per day, which is not bad at all and suggests that people are still seeing a regularly occurring phenomenon.
CR: Most of the cases can be explained. And yet, there's this residual percentage every year, of the order of 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5 percent, something like that, [that] can't be explained. What that means is they're not necessarily airplanes, stars, fireballs and so forth, but we don't know exactly what those represent. And we're not saying that those are alien visitations. All we can say is that these are fascinating cases that don't seem to have ordinary and simple explanations.
JA: One of these fascinating cases that possibly can't be explained is the Falcon Lake Incident. But before we get to that, we wanted to know from Chris if people's attitudes have changed towards UFOs since the 1960s and 1970s.
CR: I think that there is more of an openness to talk about the phenomenon. The astronomer Josef Allen Hynek—who was described as the grandfather of ufology—he talked about the "ridicule curtain" that was slowly being lifted and that, as long as you were talking scientifically or [about] the factual nature of UFOs, people would be taking it seriously. But as soon as you ventured into the more fanciful notions, that's when [people's eyes] tend to glaze over. Certainly, that's the scientific community's viewpoint—that there really isn't anything interesting about UFOs and it's all foolish and nonsensical.
At the same time, many of the outspoken critics within science, about UFOs, haven't really examined a lot of the cases. In fact, Carl Sagan rarely looked at any case about UFOs. But [he] was the first to say that there was nothing to do with science that could be gained from looking at UFOs. I generally disagree with that viewpoint. I think—while ufology itself isn't a science—I think that scientific methodology can be applied to the subject of UFOs to try and understand what people are really seeing.Through that, we find that many cases can be explained. And we can find out an awful lot about human nature. Again, going back to the psychological and sociological aspects, if there's nothing physical that we can find out, why people are reporting UFOs after all these years when we're told that there's nothing to it? I think right now there's a new wave of interest in UFOs because of some organizations that are claiming that they have finally the facts. There's been some reports and interviews with pilots who have said that they've seen UFOs themselves. They've had encounters with UFOs that didn't behave like any military aircraft that they've ever encountered. What do you do with those cases, other than study them with some serious scientific methodology to try and understand what really has been occurring?
Palmiro Campagna (PC): We'll look at those. This is from the
Winnipeg Free Press the year after the incident occurred…
JA: Someone else who has been studying UFOs, and who uses LAC resources quite often, is researcher and author Palmiro Campagna. Palmiro is a retired engineer—having worked for the Department of National Defence—and has acted as a Canadian Representative to NATO in the area of electromagnetics in military aircraft.
[PC in background, beneath the narration]
…And even here, they talk about Mr. Michalak seeing this thing and how he's fear struck. The reporter says "A natural reaction under the circumstances, wouldn't you say?" When you go to the documents and you look at the transcript record of him being interviewed by the RCMP and such, what you find is the exact opposite where he says he wasn't afraid at all. He was startled, yes, surprised but not fear struck. Nothing untoward in that sense.
It's a bit of, maybe an embellishment on part of the news media to make it sound bigger than it was perhaps. I don't know, but it's one of the many inconsistencies in the story between what's in the written record and what was reported.
JA: We asked Palmiro: What is the size and scope of the UFO files here at LAC?
PC: The files here at LAC are huge when it comes to UFOs. Most of them are actually now online. You can log into LAC and there's a specific site that allows you to see a number of these files. They cover from before 1950 right through to present day, almost 2000s, and they're all files from RCMP, from National Research Council, National Defence, Ministry of Transport…
JA: That specific site that Palmiro mentions is the UFO database on LAC's website. Use the search tool on our homepage and key in 'UFO.' You'll find the link to the online database, which provides access to over 9,000 digitized documents from our government records collection. These documents include reports and investigations of UFO sightings across Canada.
[PC in background, beneath the narration]
…Let me just take a moment here. That's my book on the subject which was based primarily on the files here. There's reproductions of—okay, not those two pages, but all of these. The records just go on and on and they date from 1950/1951 right through '57. They detail exactly what the forces and all these people were doing in terms of investigating UFOs.
PC: So yes, the archives is rich with these types of files and very, very interesting. A lot of the records are "I saw a light in the sky," but ones like this one are in there as well, and they're the ones that are of greatest interest. Yes, the archives is a great place to find this kind of stuff providing that the documents are turned over by the authorities because otherwise, you would have no way to know that these things were there and what was written in them.
JA: Stefan Michalak's son, Stan, collaborated with Chris Rutkowski on their book,
When They Appeared—Falcon Lake 1967: The Inside Story of a Close Encounter. The book was published in 2017, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the sighting. We asked Stan why it was important for him to tell his father's story all these years later.
Stan Michalak (SM): That's an excellent question. Chris Rutkowski and I were looking at the 50th anniversary of the incident in 2017. As we were leading up to it, we hadn't really paid a lot of attention. This is a story that ebbs and flows and comes and goes. It never really sits around for a long time, it disappears and then something makes it popular again. It has been that way for many, many years. We were looking at the approaching anniversary and Chris finally said, "Look, we've got to do something."
Shag Harbour—in the Maritimes, of course—they had a big incident in 1967. They had a whole celebration out there [for the 50th anniversary in 2017]. They had all kinds of things going on. Chris said, "We've got to do something." When we talked about it, one of the things that came up was, no matter where you go, information is not complete. Whether you go on the Internet, whether you access files, archives, wherever you go, it seems that pieces of the story are always missing or worse, pieces of the story are wrong.
If you go on the Internet, for example, you'll find all kinds of places where they said my father was a welder. No, he wasn't. That he was an engineer. No, he wasn't. So on and so on and so on. We finally said, "Let's put together everything we have. Let's put it together in one place finally and forever. Let's just leave it at that and we will have finally one thing that tells the entire story." When I say the entire story, I mean not just the events of the day but the family story as well. That was my portion of the book.
Chris unearthed all of his documents, and he has tons of documents. This is probably the most documented and investigated UFO case in North America for sure. It even beats out Roswell. It beats out all the biggies for the amount of investigation and the amount of paper that was left behind. Chris dug up all of that. That became his portion of the story. We decided that we would include Dad's description of the events in his little booklet at the beginning [of our book]. Then a couple of personal reflections. And we thought that it was time that we finally laid this thing to rest, as complete as we can make it.
JA: We asked Stan how he and Chris knew each other and ended up collaborating on their book.
SM: Chris and I went to the same elementary school together. He was a year or two ahead of me. We were just boys when this event occurred in '67. We, for some reason, started to hang out together in the years that followed…
JA: Stan goes on to tell us how he and Chris became childhood friends in Winnipeg, after the incident towards the end of the 1960s. Chris became fascinated by the story. Time passed. Stan ended up going into the military and Chris to university.
[SM in background, beneath the narration]
…It's very hard. We've tried to put a date on it, but we really haven't. I think probably '68, '69, '70 would have been the years that we started chumming as boy pals. We would ride our bikes and go have adventures.
During that time, obviously, he became aware because the story was everywhere in the papers, and he became aware of this. He was fascinated by the story. I suppose time passed. We went off to high school and then to college, university, and so on. I went into the military.
SM:We caught up many years later when Chris had finished his degree at the University of Manitoba. He was now more interested in the case than ever, not from a curiosity perspective, but from a scientific and professional perspective.
He began doing a lot of UFO investigative work. He started to find the subject fascinating. Because he is a scientist, first and foremost, he really approached the stories with a different method. He used a little more of the scientific method to look into the stories and to investigate them. I think that's what attracted our family to him because when he approached us and talked with us about it, we found him to be very down to earth, very pragmatic, very much "Prove it to me, show me, we need evidence, this has to be explained," and so on and so on.
We found that he was quite sincere in his approach. We said, "Look, if you want to investigate this, you go right ahead. We'll do whatever you want. We'll give you whatever you want. We're not sure what end you're going to see, or we're not sure what you're doing this for or why, but fill your boots." I think the fact that he came from a Polish background was a nice touch, but he really did pursue it with a lot of vigour and intensity. He actually came up with and brought to light documents and discussions and testimony that was never revealed during the original investigation.
That really put a lot of periods on the end of very open sentences that had been started by the investigators in '67. Chris actually supplied a lot of answers over the years. He became the repository of everything to do with my dad's story. I can tell you that it fills a lot of very big plastic tubs. He has a ton of material. We, the family, have very little and we like it that way.
JA: Once again, Chris Rutkowski.
CR: Well, I've actually been approached a number of times to write a book about the Falcon Lake case. John Robert Colombo, one of Canada's preeminent editors, had asked me to participate. In fact, he wrote the introduction and forward for a few of my books. But I felt that there was something missing. When I had made some inquiries with some publishers, they were a little reluctant because it was such a regional book about a case that occurred just in Manitoba.
One of the things I realized was missing was the other voice. I had known Stan Michalak for many years. In fact, he and I grew up together on the same street in Winnipeg. We had actually hung out together when we were youths. We were familiar with each other and I was familiar with what had happened to his dad, at least from the stories that I had heard from my brief meetings with them when I was younger. I realized that one of the things missing was, in fact, the voice of Mr. Michalak.
Over the years, I had actually contacted the Michalaks a number of times, spent many hours in their homes. When "Unsolved Mysteries" actually decided to feature the case on the original series they flew me and the Michalaks, so including Stan, down to their sets where NBC was recreating the Michalaks' home. They had him sitting in front of the camera telling his story and then interviewed me about my thoughts. I was fascinated with the case. Back then, I knew it was a really good case. Because I knew the Michalaks personally, I found that I was more moved by the story than anyone who was looking at it from a cold examination.
It was something I could bring my analytic, my scientific, methodology to study a case that was so amazing and remarkable. How does one deal with a case like this? When Stan came to me with the possibility of releasing this book about the time of the 50th anniversary of his father's experience, I thought this perhaps would be the best time to do this. And with Stan's voice, it seemed logical to produce a book that really addresses the issue, setting true some of the facts that had been garbled with time. People didn't seem to have the entire story.
Putting up the story as accurately as possible was one of my goals all along. In fact, that has been [the] goal of all the books that I've produced over the years: Is to try and tell the facts, what's really going on, what was really occurring and what really happened to the witness. I want to know what the real facts are and we can work from there. This case offered all of that. When Stan and I got together to try and figure out how this book would look like, we quickly put it together and found that in just a matter of months we had something that we thought people would be fascinated with.
JA: Falcon Lake, Manitoba. May 20, 1967.
It was 5.30 a.m. when I left the motel and started out on my geologic trek. I took with me a hammer, a map, a compass, paper and pencil and a little food to see me through the day, wearing a light jacket against the morning chill.
The day was bright, sunny – not a cloud in the sky. It seemed like just another ordinary day, but events which were to take place within the next six hours were to change my entire life more than anyone could ever imagine. I will never forget May 20, 1967.
JA: That excerpt, and others that will follow, come from Stefan Michalak's 40-page manuscript entitled 'My Encounter with the UFO,' published in 1967. These excerpts will be read by LAC employee Kristopher Bedynski.
CR: Stefan Michalak was a bit of a rock hound and he kept returning to the area in the Whiteshell a number of times to find some interesting rocks. He had actually staked a claim or two and found some quartz veins on other occasions. On the May long weekend of 1967, he had gone out to the Falcon Lake area to do a little more rock hounding to try and find something interesting
SM: He would go to Falcon Lake, which was a resort in the Whiteshell Provincial Park in the Canadian Shield. He would go there. He knew that there [were] areas north of the Trans-Canada Highway that had vast areas of quartz. Where you find quartz and where you have granite, you can find gold, nickel. Off he went.
The Victoria long weekend was a perfect excuse, and he did it. He did it in 1966 when we came here, and he did it again in 1967, obviously. He went there. He went into the bush. He followed his nose. He had a map and a compass, but he didn't need it because he knew roughly where he was headed, generally north. He just simply followed the rocks. He would stop. He would look at some rock formations. He would chip a little here, chip a little there. He would say no, but he moved on, and he just kept going further and further until he came to a site that he liked, and he spent some time there.
While chipping at the quartz I was startled by the most uncanny cackle of the geese that were still in the area. Something had obviously frightened them far more than my presence earlier in the morning when they gave out a mild protest.
Then I saw them. Two cigar-shaped objects with humps on them about halfway down from the sky. They appeared to be descending and glowing with an intense scarlet glare. As these "objects" came closer to the earth they became more oval-shaped…
…Suddenly the farthest of the two objects – farthest from my point of vision – stopped dead in the air while its companion slipped down closer and closer to the ground and landed squarely on the flat top of a rock about 160 feet away from me.
The "object" that had remained in the air hovered approximately 15 feet above me for about three minutes, then lifted skyward again...
…Then my attention was drawn back to the craft that had landed on the rock. It too was changing in colour, turning from red to grey-red to light grey and then to the colour of hot stainless steel, with a golden glow around it…
…After recovering my composure and regaining my senses to some degree I began watching the craft intently, ready to record in my mind everything that happened.
SM: While he was there, these two craft came out of nowhere. He spotted them in the air. They hovered. One came a little lower, eventually landed on an outcrop that was close by where he was chipping rocks. The other left and took off the way it came. The one sat on the ground for about 40 to 45 minutes, something like that. Gave him time to look at it, to sketch it, to make some notes, to eventually get up the courage to approach it. His first thought was that it was some kind of a test vehicle, either Canadian or American.
He assumed that it had mechanical trouble, that it had landed there because it needed to. He approached it. He asked. He shouted to it to see if there was anybody inside that needed help. Investigated it, looked at it, touched it, very much curious about what it was.
I approached the craft once again and touched its side. It was hot to touch. It appeared to be made of a steel-like substance. There were no signs of welding or joints to be seen anywhere. The outer surface was highly polished and looked like coloured glass with light reflecting off it. It formed a spectrum with a silver background as the sunlight hit the sides.
I noticed that I had burned my glove I was wearing at the time, when I touched the side of the craft.
SM: Dad, being who he was, immediately said, "I wonder what this is. I wonder what it's doing here. I wonder how it looks. I wonder how it feels." He was curious. His curiosity got the better because he got a little too close. The craft was hot. He could tell. He touched it. It melted the tips of his rubber gauntlets that he was using. As he was close to it, it began to rotate, in place, and lift. As it lifted off and rotated, it was emitting a jet of gas that passed him and hit him in the chest, set his shirt on fire, forced him back.
As the craft continued to lift, he was basically ripping his shirt off because he was on fire. He stomped the shirt out on the ground. His undershirt, he tore that off too because it was already getting hot and singed. By the time he looked up, the craft had already begun its ascent and was gone in a matter of seconds. He looked around, stomped out whatever was left of the fire of his shirt and his undershirt. Immediately, within minutes, probably seconds of the craft lifting off and him stomping out the flame, he started to feel sick.
Somehow my desire for prospecting had vanished. I decided to go over to the landing site and make a thorough inspection of the place where the craft had touched down.
As I approached the site, I felt nauseated and my head began to ache. The spot where the craft had come to rest looked as if it had been swept clean with a broom. There was no debris of any kind on the rock. No twigs, bits of stone – nothing. It had all been piled up in a six inches deep circular mound about 15 feet in diameter.
As I stood there examining the spot, the pain in my head became more severe. Waves of nausea increased and I broke out in a cold sweat.
I knew that something totally unnatural had happened to me and, apparently, it was having adverse effect on my physiology.
JA: Stefan Michalak realized he had been injured and needed to get out of there as soon as he could.
SM: He grabbed up whatever he could. He left a lot of things behind, but he grabbed up a jacket. He threw that over his chest because, of course, he had no shirts on anymore. He threw a jacket over top and basically tried to head back in the same direction that he had come without using his compass or map. He just did it by dead reckoning.
As it turns out, he came out onto the highway a considerable distance west of where he went in. He misjudged the return. He was obviously sick. He stopped several times to throw up and to splash some water on his face and to try and calm the heat and the nausea and the dizziness. He got out on the highway a good distance from the main gates to Falcon Lake, to the park, and realized that he was there and had to walk back. He did. He flagged down an RCMP cruiser that was on the highway. There was a very interesting conversation between him and the constable. He didn't want the constable to approach him too closely. He felt that he might be sick and who knows what this was? Could the RCMP constable catch it from him? Was he irradiated?
He had no way of knowing. The constable was very skeptical and that came out in his report. Dad made it back to the Falcon Lake Motor Hotel where he was staying. Gathered up his things, called home and waited for the bus because he had gone out there by Greyhound bus.
CR: Well, eventually he found his way back to civilization. He went back to his hotel, called his family and arranged for them to meet him in Winnipeg. Took a bus back to Winnipeg where he was treated at the Misericordia Hospital for first degree burns and was released. [He] didn't say anything about a flying saucer to the medical personnel there. Later in conversation with his family, he realized that people should know about this because there might be an inherent danger—what happens if it happens to other people?
He went public with the story and that began the series of investigations that involved civilian investigators, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Canadian Forces, the RCMP and even the United States Air Force, which had sent a group from the University of Colorado up to study the case for its scientific investigation of UFOs.
JA: Mr. Michalak did indeed go public. He contacted the
Winnipeg Tribune and reporter Heather Chisvin and a photographer came out to the Michalaks' house. The story appeared in the newspaper a few days later under the title 'I was burned by UFO.' Eventually, the story was picked up internationally, with major networks covering it.
The news of what I had seen was spreading rapidly around the world. Articles appeared in newspapers and other publications. Some accounts gave validity to my story, others were quite sceptical.
I was afraid, I think, of ridicule more than anything else. Press investigations did not stop at my own home. Reporters went out to my friends and neighbours asking if they thought I was a stable person, whether I drank a lot, and whether I was the type who bragged and boasted a lot.
Then came the official investigations. The RCMP and the RCAF. Men whom I did not know and never expected to meet came to my door. They too had many questions to ask. What was my domestic life like? Why was I in the woods at the time? Somehow, people seemed to have genuine interest in my experience, and I enjoyed talking to them…
…By evening following the incident, I was totally exhausted. I could talk to people no longer. I refused to answer the telephone. I tried to break off contact with the outside world.
JA:Let's check in on Palmiro Campagna once again, going through the LAC files on the incident.
PC: Getting back to the records [where] the story is concerned. One of the other things that's mentioned in the newspaper accounts and has been mentioned over the years was that after he saw this thing or these things and he came out into the highway, cars passed him by and nobody stopped to assist. I don't know if I can find that. Anyways, it's written in the article. Initially, nobody stopped. Later on, it's years later, there were accounts coming out that the police cruiser did stop and the fellow got out of the cruiser took one look at Mr. Michalak decided that he was drunk, made some comment about "I don't have time for this," or whatever. Got back in the cruiser and took off, leaving him stranded to make his own way back to the hotel.
Okay. Well, what we find in the written record is the actual police transcript of the encounter where the police officer, Constable Solotki, gives a detailed description of what he saw happen. According to this account, he's flagged down by Mr. Michalak, he stops, gets out of his cruiser, walks over. He says that Michalak has the appearance of somebody who's been drinking. He doesn't say he's drunk…
JA: The RCMP officer, Constable G.A. Solotki, goes on to state in his report that Michalak was acting in an irrational manner and appeared drunk, but not that he was drunk. Solotki also states he couldn't smell any alcohol on him.
[PC in background, beneath the narration]
…He says he has the appearance. His eyes are bloodshot. He's behaving confused, frantic, all these kinds of things, and he proceeds to ask him, "What's wrong?"
Michalak explains to him that he's witnessed these two things in the bush somewhere, that he was burned by them, and so on. Every time the constable tries to approach Mr. Michalak, he backs off, and doesn't want him to come near him. The interesting thing is, he says, "I could not smell the odour of liquor on Michalak." That's a point in his favour, that he may have appeared inebriated but he didn't have the indication of drinking.
PC: He goes on to explain that he did at one point ask Michalak. He says, "I offered to drive him [to] the Falcon Beach and arrange for someone to treat him, but he declined saying he was all right." Well, that directly contradicts many of the accounts of what happened, in terms of nobody stopping to help this gentleman out. Is Solotki telling the truth in his police account. I have no reason to believe why he wouldn't be. Why would you want to make something like that up. It doesn't make any sense. There is an inconsistency there, between what he said and what's been reported in the papers.
JA: To try to clear these inconsistencies up, we go back to Stefan Michalak's manuscript to see what he had written in 1967. Voiced once again, by Kristopher Bedynski.
I walked out onto the highway and discovered that I was about a mile west of the point where I had entered the woods that morning. I directed my steps eastward, hardly able to move my feet. I made some small progress growing weaker with every step...
…The only thing to do was to continue walking. I made very slow progress; my stomach was still churning and my head was pounding like a drum. My only thought was to get to Falcon Lake as soon as possible…
…As I staggered along the roadside, I heard a voice calling me. Turning, I saw an RCMP constable. Briefly I gave him an account of what had happened – warning him not to come to [sic] close to me because I feared the possibility of spreading radiation. I asked about medical aid. "Sorry, but I have duties to perform here," he said. I stared at him, unbelieving what I had just heard. He, apparently, did not believe a word I told him. Otherwise he would have acted differently.
The constable left me with my sickness and disappointment.
JA: Before the launch of their book, Stan and Chris took a trip out to the site of the incident. Stan, in the 50 years since his Dad's encounter, had never been out there. He told us that being there was very emotional and moving, but also extremely informative.
SM: I had never been there. Nobody in our family had ever been there. It was hard. I don't know if I had deliberately refused to do it, or if I neglected to, or if I just didn't want to, or what, but when we finally did go, it was a 45-minute horse ride from the stables to the site. I don't know if you've ever been in the Canadian Shield, but it is rocks, water, and trees. That's all it is. You have swamp areas, you have flooded areas, you have great outcrops of granite, you have impassable trees. Just to get in there is a trick. And if we were going to walk from where the Falcon Lake Motel Hotel used to be on the Trans-Canada Highway, if we would walk to where dad was, as he did on that morning, it would probably take us a few hours to get there. We rode in on horseback, 45 minutes just to get to the site. When we got there, it was surreal.
In 1967, a few days after the incident, the RCMP wanted him to go to the site with them and the doctor said "No." He wasn't fit. They said, "Well, look, at least draws us a map. Give us something." Dad took a piece of paper and he sketched a sitemap of the actual site. Did it from two perspectives. He did it from a plan view, like an overhead view, and then he did it from a sectional view to show the changes in elevation, which [was] typical for my dad because that was the kind of guy he was, and that was the kind of skill he had.
How do you do this from memory a few days or so after having a traumatic event? And he did it. He even put in a compass reference showing where compass north, magnetic north, was right on the piece of paper and he handed it to them. He said, "This is all I remember." They went out there with this thing in their hand and a regular map, a topographic map. They couldn't find the spot. When they eventually did find the spot, everything matched up.
I went out to the site with Chris Rutkowski and a reporter from the press. And I'm holding his map, his sitemap in my hand, and I'm standing at the site. Every single detail fits perfectly, including the compass reference. Every single detail, the elevation changes from where he was sitting when he was chipping rock to the spot where the UFO landed. Everything about that was bang on accurate. How does one do this? It blew me away. I can tell you that that was probably the biggest eye-opening experience of my entire life when it comes to my dad, his story, and everything that surrounded it, is to be on the spot where it all happened.
JA: Stan goes on to mention that in close proximity to the site, there was a fire ranger tower. We asked him if there were any corroborating reports or eye witnesses to the sighting.
SM: Yes, [there] were, but they were spotty. Again, the investigators really did not do a solid job at the time of hunting them all down. For example, what about the guy in the tower? Was he asleep? Chances are good that he was. There are so many things that could have been followed up and weren't. For example, there was a girl who saw a craft that looked almost identical to the one my dad saw. She even drew a picture of it with crayons on the day, or the day after, or the day before. I can't remember. I think the day after. Anyway, almost right on the spot, and she wasn't far away. They had a cabin near Falcon Lake.
It's not as though there weren't other things out there, it's just that nobody followed these things up. Was there anything, for example, did air traffic control pick up anything? Was there anything on radar? Did anybody on the highway see anything? I mean, they followed up the clues that were right in front of them, but they really didn't take a lot of time to go far beyond. It wasn't until years later that Chris uncovered a lot of these things, like, for example, the little girl's sketch.
JA: Once again, Chris Rutkowski
CR: Although there have been sightings of UFOs and reports of UFOs before and after the May long weekend in 1967, we didn't get any exactly corroborative cases, with the exception of some unsubstantiated claims that people had seen things the same weekend and had seen similar crafts around about the same time. But no formal reports have been filed.
In fact, one of the reasons that we had agreed to go on "Unsolved Mysteries" was to try and find additional witnesses who may have seen things on that same weekend and could corroborate the story in a greater way. Unfortunately, nobody had come forward, so we don't actually have the solid reports but, as I say, we did have people coming after the fact, decades later, saying that they thought that they had seen something about the same time.
It's unfortunate because you think that something like this would have been seen by other people in the area. There would have been other people driving on [the] Trans-Canada Highway, other people at the Falcon Lake townsite who, theoretically, should have been on the golf course, looking up and seeing something. Nobody reported it. It is kind of a puzzle. Again, this may have occurred very quickly, something flying in and out of the direction of the sun may not have been seen. It's difficult to say. One of the puzzles that lends to the mystery of the entire Falcon Lake case.
JA: We asked Chris what he makes of all the physical evidence involved in the case.
CR: Well, there's no question that something happened to Mr. Michalak. The fact that his hair and upper chest was burned and singed, the checkerboard pattern of chemical burns or thermal burns was on his abdomen. In addition, there was the radioactive soil and debris that was found at the site itself. I mean, this is a very interesting case on many levels.
In fact, I would argue it's much better than the infamous Roswell UFO case, where supposedly a flying saucer crashed in 1947 and pieces of things are retrieved by the American military and quickly hustled away. Well, here we have an incident where not only was a witness physically injured and the injuries were examined by medical doctors, but upon investigation, the case discovered physical evidence in the form of soil and the site itself had been located, the radiation at the site was verified, and then later, certainly after the fact, the unusual silver pieces that are also radioactive, were discovered. We have physical evidence in terms of metals and soil. We have physiological evidence in terms of the effects on Mr. Michalak.
It's a very strange case because we also have so much documented evidence. In fact, [there's] the many, many pages on the case that are physically kept in the national archives from the RCMP and RCAF but also we have the United States Air Force's Colorado investigation files. In addition to civilian research files plus correspondence between physicians in the United States and Canada on Mr. Michalak, we have the Mayo Clinic files because Mr. Michalak went down to the Mayo Clinic to be tested for a better understanding of what had befallen him.
Plus, many other documents that are incidental. Overall, we have huge amounts of documents which the Roswell case certainly doesn't have. In fact, the United States government denies anything happened, but the Canadian government verifies that something unusual happened to Mr. Michalak. In fact, the final conclusions by the RCMP and RCAF clearly stated they did not have any definitive explanation for what happened to Mr. Michalak back in 1967.
JA: Stay tuned for part two of this episode, where we delve into some of the physical evidence that Chris mentioned, like the silver pieces and the radioactive soil samples. We'll also get into the investigation by the RCMP and the RCAF, and the related documents that are stored at Library and Archives Canada.
If you'd like to learn more about UFOs and the Falcon Lake incident at Library and Archives Canada, please visit us online at bac-lac.gc.ca.
Thank you for being with us. I'm Josée Arnold, your host. You've been listening to
Discover Library and Archives Canada, where Canadian history, literature and culture await you. A special thank you to our guests today, Stan Michalak, Chris Rutkowski and Palmiro Campagna. They'll all be back for part two, so stay tuned!
A special thanks as well to Carolyn Cook and Ellen Bond for their contributions to this episode.
This episode was produced and engineered by David Knox and Tom Thompson.
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