The Trans-en-Provence UFO Sighting

  • 51R8kBRLPUL“Yesterday, January 8, 1981, I was busy around the house as I am practically every day. I was behind the house, which is built over a restanque (raised level). I was building a concrete shelter for a water pump. Behind my house on the same level is an expanse of flat ground. It is reached through a path along the base of the house. It was about 5PM. The weather was turning colder. My attention was attracted by a slight noise, a sort of faint whistling. I turned around and saw a device in the air at the height of a big pine tree at the edge of the property. This device, which was not spinning, was coming lower toward the ground. I was only hearing a slight whistling sound. I was not seeing any flames, either below or around this device. While it was continuing to come down, I went closer by walking towards the stone cabin above my house. When I placed myself against the wall of the cabin, I could see very well over the roof, since this cabin too is built over a raised level. I was on the higher level, about 1.2 m from the roof. From that position, I clearly saw the device resting on the ground. Right away it lifted off, still emitting a slight whistling sound. Reaching a point above the trees, it left at high speed toward the forest of Trans, that is, towards the northeast. When the device lifted off, I saw four openings below, through which neither flame nor smoke were escaping. The device kicked off a little dust when it left the ground. At that instant, I was about 30 m away from the landing site. Later I went to the spot and I noticed a circle about 2 m in in diameter. At certain places along the circumference of the circle were traces like abrasions… The device had the shape of two saucers, one inverted on top of the other. It must have measured about 1.5 m in height. It was the colour of lead. This device had a ridge all the way around its circumference. Under the machine I saw two kinds of pieces as it was lifting off. They could be reactors or feet. There were also two other circles which looked like trapdoors. The two reactors, or feet, extended about 20 cm below the body of the machine. I have not felt any disturbance of the sense of vision or hearing.”

41dsIkTWEdLThis was the police statement of Renato Nicolaï, a fifty-five year-old French farmer in 1981 who is believed to have witnessed the UFO. The Trans-en-Provence Case is rare because the ‘foreign object’ left physical evidence, in the form of burnt residue in a field.The local gendarmerie got involved the very next day after the sighting, taking photos of the scene, and collecting soil and plant samples from the field. The case was later sent to GEPAN (Groupe d’Étude des Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non-identifiés), a department of the French Space Agency responsible for the investigation of UFO reports; the latter also reconstructed the trajectory and duration of the landing. In their findings, they noted that the ground had been compressed by a mechanical pressure of about 4 or 5 tons, and heated to between 300 and 600 degrees Celsius. Four labs analyzed the samples: trace amounts of phosphate and zinc were found in the collected material, and analysis of resident alfalfa near the landing site showed chlorophyll levels between 30 and 50 percent lower than expected. Mr. Nicolaï had initially believed the object to be an experimental military device due to the close proximity of the site to the Canjuers military base. However, GEPAN’s investigation sought to find conventional explanations, such as atmospheric or terrain causes. But despite a joint investigation which lasted for two years no valid explanation was found.

It all may sound like straight out of the X-Files, but even the world of academia has started treating cases like Trans-en-Provence more seriously. “Our feeling was [that] anything not explained is something science at some level ought to be interested in”, said Thomas Holzer, a geophysicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. (David Kestenbaum, ‘Panel Says some UFO Reports Worthy of Study’, Science, New Series, Vol. 281, No. 5373, Jul. 3, 1998). Other academics started conducting statistical evaluations of UFO sightings and their effect. “A 2001 survey of 183 college students at a regional university in North Carolina found that nearly one in four reported having a unidentified flying object (UFO)-like experience or anomalous light sighting of some kind (…) the use of folklore theory, an experience-centered approach, and cognitive anthropology provides an enriched perspective on how UFO experiences are perceived, interpreted, and incorporated into broader traditions.


Considering a sample of the frequency rates of such experiences with this integrated approach, reveals personal experience narratives to be both the foundation for modern belief in UFOs, as well as the primary reason why the UFO phenomenon remains a fixture in [popular] culture. Taken together, these approaches suggest that so-called U FO encounters are often based on real, sometimes bizarre experiences that both inform and are formed by existing cultural traditions and mental schemas.” (William J. Dewan, ‘A Saucerful of Secrets: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of UFO Experiences’, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 119, No. 472, Spring, 2006).

Featured Image: Artist’s impression of the landed craft in Trans-en-Provence. (source: Lumieres Dans La Nuit)