A close encounter (CE) with a TRUFO (a True UFO) is a fairly rare occurrence, since most sightings take place at a great distance. However, CEs have happened often enough to be categorized. UFOlogist J. Alien Hynek described three kinds of CE in his 1972 book, The UFO Experience.


A Close Encounter of the First Kind, or CE-1, is the most common type of UFO experience. Close Encounters of the First, Second, and Third KindA CE-1 is any close-range sighting that occurs without tangible evidence: no trace of the craft is left, no creatures are seen. Without proof, the experience is impossible to study. Yet a CE-1 is hardly boring.

One CE-1 occurred on Interstate 70 near Indianapolis on March 29, 1978. Three trucks were traveling together on the highway; the truckers were talking to one another on their CB radios. Suddenly the trucks were covered with a bright blue light, as if a giant spotlight from the sky were shining on them.

The drivers couldn't see beyond the hoods of their trucks, and everything was silent. The CBs stopped working, and the engines of the three trucks began to run roughly. This lasted for perhaps five seconds. Then the blue light blinked off and things returned to normal: road noises, CBs, and engines. The drivers were stunned, but one man announced on his CB, "Hey, UFO, if you have your ears on, I want to go with you."

As if someone were listening, the blue light covered the trucks again, this time for fifteen seconds. The three engines ran into trouble again, and the trucks lurched and slowed to 10 mph. When the light stopped the second time, it did not return.

Other people witnessed this strange incident. A woman who was across the highway told the truckers on her CB that "it looked like a big bright blue lampshade over the three trucks."


A CE-2 is commonly called a "physical trace" encounter, since the UFO leaves behind some kind of evidence that it landed. This kind of encounter has the potential to prove that UFOs exist. In actual practice, though, most CE-2s have provided little substantial evidence.

Two types of CE-2 exist. In a Type 1 episode, the person does not actually see the UFO, only the results of its landing. In a Type 2 episode, the person sees not only the results but the UFO itself—at close range, so there can be no doubt that the witness is observing a TRUFO.

One of the most studied Type 2 physical-trace encounters took place in Delphos, Kansas, on the evening of November 21, 1971, and was researched by UFOlogist Ted Phillips, among others. A sixteen-year-old boy named Ron Johnson was working on his parents' farm. About seven o'clock, he was in the sheep pen with his dog. Without warning, he heard a rumbling sound ("like an old washing machine," he told investigators later) and saw a brightly lit mushroom-shaped object about seventy-five feet away. It was hovering a few feet from the ground, glowing with a steady mass of lights, not individual lights. Ron and his dog remained silent, though the sheep began to bellow. The bright lights hurt Ron's eyes.

The base of the UFO lit up with even brighter lights, and the craft moved at a forty-five-degree angle over the hog shed. Ron was blinded by the intense light and heard the UFO zoom away like a jet plane. Moments later, when he was able to see again, he saw the UFO in the southern sky. He ran to the house and told his parents what he had witnessed. With them, he returned to the yard, and they watched the UFO light grow smaller in the sky.

Then Ron showed them where the UFO had hovered. Even in the darkness of the November night, they could see a luminous gray-white ring. Some nearby trees also seemed to glow. The Johnsons touched the soil ring: it was cool and slick. But Mrs. Johnson said that her fingers became numb, and when she wiped her fingers against her pants, her leg also became numb. Both Mr. and Mrs. Johnson experienced prolonged numbness over the next few weeks, while Ron developed headaches and some eye trouble. He also began to have nightmares.

Investigator Phillips checked for other possible witnesses and found none. He also made sure that samples of the glowing soil ring were sent to different laboratories for analysis. Unfortunately, the findings at some laboratories contradicted the findings at others, and the results must be called inconclusive.  

CE-3: UFOccupants

Close Encounter of the Third Kind (CE-3) occurs when a person makes contact with a UFO and its occupants. A CE-3 that received almost no publicity in the United States took place in Rendlesham Forest, England, in late December 1980. Because the case is far from solved, it is still very controversial, so this version of the events may not be the final word.

Rendlesham Forest is located near two Royal Air Force bases that are leased to the United States. Because of the sensitive nature of operations at the two airbases, great care is taken to secure the area surrounding them.

On December 27, 1980, a group of air force security officers saw what they thought was a small aircraft heading for the forest. This was so close to the base that it had to be investigated, and two security officers walked into the woods.

There, in a clearing, they came upon a kind of green fog. It rose from the ground to a height of about three feet and seemed circular. Through it they could see the ground and some cows on the other side. As one of the security officers said later, "It was like nothing I'd ever seen before."

The two officers tried to find the aircraft that seemed to have fallen, crashed, or landed in the woods, but found nothing except the fog. Suddenly a red ball of light sailed over the trees toward the clearing and stopped above the fog. Then the red ball burst into a spray like a large chrysanthemum firework. When the lights dissolved, the green fog had disappeared and a large wedge-shaped UFO standing on three legs was in the clearing.

The men watched the object for a while and even tried to approach it. Each time they did, the UFO rose about six feet and moved away. One of the men saw what he thought were aliens. "There was definitely something inside it," he said later. "I don't know what. But the shapes did not look human. Maybe they were like robots."

Time and time again the two men attempted to touch the craft. Each time the UFO retracted its legs and flew a short distance away. It made no noise and maneuvered easily through the trees.

Eventually the security officers were joined by other air force personnel, perhaps thirty in all. The men formed a ring around the UFO, with fifteen-foot spaces between them. But the object took off without warning. The cows and some forest animals went into a frenzy, rushing away from the site. An hour later the UFO was spotted near the rear gate to the airbase. Then it disappeared.

The air force investigated afterward and discovered triangular indentations at the site as well as high radiation levels in the indentations.

But the story does not end there. 

Supposedly, three nights later the UFO returned. This encounter is described in much less detail than the first, and some say that it never occurred at all. If it did, this is what some sources report:

The UFO, damaged in some way, returned. More airmen went to the woods, and this time they saw three UFOccupants. The creatures were small humanoids, identical to each other, dressed in silver suits. A beam of light that fell from under the craft allowed the three creatures to float in the air. Wing Commander Williams ordered everyone to stand back as he approached the aliens. Apparently he was able to communicate with them without using any speech. Soon the craft was repaired. It took off slowly, then quickly sailed toward the North Sea.

The CE-3 at Rendlesham Forest raises many questions and answers none. Perhaps the most important question is, did it happen at all? Because all of the witnesses were military personnel, most did not want to speak publicly. Those who did risked exposing themselves to ridicule. Could the whole account have been made up by a few bored airmen? Could it have involved a secret military aircraft? Or did the encounter with UFOccupants really happen? Eventually, with additional study, we may learn the truth about the Rendlesham Forest CE-3.



Copyright © James M. Deem. Taken from How to Catch a Flying Saucer (Houghton Mifflin, 1991). All rights reserved.