It was 4:30 in the morning, but Ivan Dame swears he was wide awake when he saw an unidentified flying object.
He knows what drones look like, he said. This was no drone.
“This was way bigger than drones,” he said, noting that he does see unmanned aerial vehicles hovering above his property from time to time. “It’s the first time I’ve seen that particular one.”
The lights, shaped like an upside-down “U” with square corners, appeared Oct. 15, floating about 200 feet in the air over Townsend Road in Hermiston, according to Dame. He said the formation didn’t correspond to any man-made aircraft he had ever seen.
The lights were — technically — unidentified by Dame, flying, and an object.
“I read all I can about UFOs and stuff, I just never thought I’d get a chance to see one,” he said.
It’s not the first time a Umatilla County resident has reported seeing a UFO, and it probably won’t be the last. Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center, said there has been a “marked increase” in reported UFO sightings across the country in recent years.
He didn’t think that the trend was based on the rise of unmanned aerial vehicles, or even necessarily an increase in alien visitors to Earth. He said it could just as easily be based on an increased interest in presentations and articles on the Internet about UFOs, or a “host of other factors.”
“I doubt that drones have a significant effect on our work,” he wrote in an email. “If they are flown at night, they have to have standard lighting, as required by the Federal Aviation Regulations, so they probably would be recognized as an aircraft.”
On the National UFO Reporting Center’s website are several local sightings. One anonymous reporter, describing himself as a truck driver, said he saw a diamond-shaped light hovering in the sky for more than 10 minutes near Pendleton on May 17 at 10:50 p.m.
“I was on the phone with my wife when I first spotted the light,” the report reads. “I pulled off into the west bound truck scale and proceeded to look at the light through 7x50 binoculars. I couldn’t make out much detail as I was unable to hold the binoculars steady. To the naked eye it appeared to be diamond shape.”
Other reports on the website detail a “silver-ish object” near Pendleton in March, a “ball with four orange lights” near Umatilla in 2014 and a “very large object” streaking across the sky above Hermiston in 2013.
Umatilla County has a connection to one of the most famous UFO sightings in the United States. The East Oregonian was the first newspaper to report a sighting by Kenneth Arnold in 1947. The Arnold sighting is described as the “dawn of the modern UFO era” in several books and websites dedicated to UFOs, and the incident gave rise to the term “flying saucer.”
Arnold, an experienced fire control pilot, was on a search and rescue mission over Mt. Ranier when he saw what he described as “nine saucer-like aircraft flying in formation at 3 p.m. yesterday, extremely bright — as if they were nickel plated — and flying at an immense rate of speed.”
“It seemed impossible,” he told East Oregonian reporter Bill Bequette the next day. “But there it is — I must believe my eyes.”
The story ended up on the Associated Press wire and spread to newspapers across the country, sparking hundreds of reported UFO sightings over the next year, including the infamous “crash landing” near Roswell, New Mexico, that the Army maintains was actually a weather balloon.
The limited technology of 1947 meant there were fewer man-made objects in the air in Arnold’s day. Today, a set of lights in the sky is more likely to be dismissed as an unmanned aerial vehicle, airplane, helicopter or satellite.
Law enforcement agencies do get a UFO report from time to time, however. Umatilla Police Chief Darla Huxel told the East Oregonian recently that her department does follow up on reports when they are received. In December 2011 Hermiston Police Department received two separate calls reporting a large UFO with orange lights, but Chief Jason Edmiston said he wasn’t aware of any recent reports to his department.
There are still people like Ivan Dame, however, who believe what they are seeing could be alien in origin but don’t call the police. Instead, Dame snapped a few photos with his cell phone and has been showing them around.
“It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before,” he said.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.