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To his credit, this has never affected Wertman's work as an investigator. The first thing he does when verifying a sighting report is get on his laptop and pull up Google Earth to check the lay of the land (a nearby airport may offer clues). He consults astronomy charts that show the position of bright planets and stars in the sky, and air traffic sites that track the flight paths of planes arriving in Cleveland. Wertman was able to explain a rash of sightings in Euclid two years ago when he looked at the air traffic patterns and talked to a pilot friend who confirmed that arriving flights were making a long loop over the eastern suburbs before landing at Hopkins.
The amateurs on "Chasing UFOs" who tromp around farm fields at night with infrared cameras and other high-tech gear? They should talk to Wertman about the time he was given a video that showed a peculiar configuration of lights moving through the night sky. He took it to a flight instructor at the county airport and asked, "What are we looking at?" The instructor told him, "That's a Cessna 162 that's banking."
Wertman went home, built a model airplane with lights, and re-created the maneuver on a video of his own. He then showed the two videos in tandem at a CUP meeting without saying where they came from. "The only person who caught me was a physicist who noticed that the soundtrack I put in my video did not match the Doppler effect of an object moving closer and then father away," he says.
Still, there are occasional reports that can't be explained. One of the most famous and enduring in northern Ohio is the Trumbull County sightings of December 1994, when police from several departments spent the better part of a night climbing water towers and chasing around several of our craft in their patrol cars. That was a hoot! As always, though, it got overblown. We did not, for instance, immobilize a police cruiser while shining a bright spotlight on the vehicle and the officer as he stepped out, as he later claimed. Frankly, we think he got that from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
And there's always good fun to be had around Hopkins and NASA Glenn. In September 2004 the Olmsted Falls police were inundated by calls from residents who spotted lights on one of our craft. The cops stepped outside and took pictures, and an air traffic controller later told Clark that he watched us for 45 minutes. "He said he had never seen anything like it," Clark recalls. "He was told not to talk to anybody about it. We've tried to contact him since, but he won't respond."
So there's value to CUP's ongoing educational efforts. Wertman gives occasional presentations on how to report and evaluate UFO sightings; a session at the Westlake Porter Library in August attracted more than 100 people. On July 8, CUP held a "Disclosure Day" at the county library in Brecksville, with members manning a table where people who might otherwise be reluctant could report sightings. "It's a way to fight the ridicule factor," Clark says. "We got 15 reports — some people came in and talked to us for an hour. We gathered so much material, we haven't fully reviewed all of it yet."
In the end, this is what has kept CUP going — the promise of the next sighting, the search for the one that is going to crack the field wide-open and prove to the world that UFOs exist. From our viewpoint, this is more about validating the members' personal beliefs and hard work than it is about convincing an unbelieving world.
The truth is, looking for definitive, tangible proof of our existence misses the point. We exist on the edge of perception, in the grey zone between dreams and reality, where fact melts into myth. It's no coincidence that so many people describe their sighting as a "life-changing experience." The power of UFOs is in the grip they hold on the human imagination, their capacity to transform a random glance at the sky into something magical, a window onto a mysterious, wondrous universe far removed beyond the day-to-day cares of earthly life.
When the time is right, we will make ourselves known. Until then, true believers can take solace in the reminder that Peter Robbins offered the CUP faithful at the anniversary dinner: "The day the saucers land, who are your friends and neighbors going to call? They're going to call you."