Some years ago, I had lunch with a lady acquaintance of mine who insisted that crop circles are tangible evidence of alien communications. She had done a weekend study course on the subject, and assured me that they were signs left by extra-terrestrials, either seeking to communicate with us or with each other.
I told her that I try to take a rational approach to such things. If I find a slate in my garden, I assume that it has fallen from the roof. I do not consider the possibility that the fairies have transported it there during the night to provide a flat surface for dancing lessons. But I bit my tongue as she expounded her beliefs although I could not but help expressing my scepticism. (And indeed, a few days later, a man in the West Country was fined for making crop circles and destroying the farmer’s wheat in the process).
However, one should always keep an open mind. History abounds with the persecution of people who advanced incredible, unpopular, or ‘heretical’ explanations and asked awkward questions. Darwin was mocked, Galilleo lived his last ten years under house arrest, and Socrates was executed. The fact that all three are now regarded as giants in their respective fields should be a lesson for everyone who would rush to judgement on matters not immediately obvious of rational explanation. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to believe that aliens who possess the technology to travel to our planet, would not find a more efficient and less ambiguous way of communicating with us or each other.
I was still musing on the apparent willingness of people to believe in such arcane and far-fetched explanations, when I happened to see a television programme about a mysterious event that happened more than sixty years ago. In 1947, a British passenger plane disappeared during a scheduled flight between Buenos Aires and Santiago. The last radio contact, just a few minutes before the flight was due to land in Santiago, contained a mysterious word transmitted by Morse code, ‘STENDEC’, repeated twice and having no obvious explanation. An air search over the known route found no trace of the plane and its eleven passengers and crew. The complete disappearance of the aircraft, together with the inexplicable message prompted theories of alien abduction. A magazine devoted to UFOs was even named Stendek.
Then, years later, a report was received that parts of an aircraft and some human remains had been found on a glacier below one of the highest mountains in the area. A team from the Argentinean army and an air accident investigator went to the site, and found bits of the fuselage, wheels, propellers and engines confirming that it was, indeed, the missing plane. The questions then posed were, why did it crash, where had it been for the last fifty years and what on earth did STENDEC mean? Already there is enough material for another ‘Close Encounters...’ film. However, careful investigation and analysis produced a highly plausible, and in my opinion, far more thought-provoking explanation of what had happened than any possibility of alien abduction.
The aircraft had crashed into the glacier much higher up the mountain setting off an avalanche which buried it immediately. With succeeding snowfalls, it was absorbed into the glacier that flowed slowly down the mountain. The plane re-appeared fifty years later when the ice melted on the lower slopes. The state of the one propeller found indicated that it had been operating normally on impact, so it seemed as if the aircraft had just flown into the mountain. Of course, it should not have been there at all. It should have flown west from Mendoza, over the Andes where the mountains were not too high, and then south to Santiago. On this occasion since the weather was poor, the crew elected to climb above it to 24,000 feet. At that altitude they were above the highest peaks, so it is believed that they decided to fly directly southwest towards Santiago, taking them over the high mountains.
It was quite unusual then to fly so high, and almost nothing was known about the jet stream, that high altitude tube of air usually travelling west to east at a velocity of more than one hundred miles per hour. The known weather conditions were consistent with a jet stream at the time, and provided the key to the tragedy. As the aircraft ascended, it entered the jet stream. If the crew even felt anything, they would have assumed it to be normal turbulence. In any event, they could not see the ground, and since their airspeed remained unchanged, they had no way of knowing what had happened. But because they were flying through an air-stream which itself was moving at around 100 mph against their direction of travel, their speed over the ground was reduced by that amount. When the navigator, by dead reckoning, calculated that they had cleared the mountains, they started their descent, and radioed their imminent arrival. But the jet stream had slowed them down, and instead of descending into Santiago, they flew straight into mount Tupungato, fifty miles away.
So, the explanation for the disappearance and subsequent reappearance had nothing to do with UFOs, aliens or the Bermuda Triangle effect. It was a tragedy resulting from an inadequate understanding of upper atmosphere weather conditions. It also proved the power of simple, logical deduction, and confirmed again the principle of William of Occam’s famous Razor: look for simple and rational explanations first; only when they have been exhausted, invoke the extraordinary, unknown or supernatural. Admittedly, the mysterious STENDEC has never been satisfactorily explained, but as this was transmitted by Morse-code, errors in transmission and/or reception could be at the root of the mystery.
I wrote to my friend, summarising the story of the disappeared flight. I said that to me, the beautiful way that straightforward scientific explanations had been found to account for virtually all of the facts was far more wonderful and fascinating than the thought that aliens were responsible. The danger of the modern preoccupation with UFOs, horoscopes and the occult is that more and more we seek supernatural explanations for the problems that perplex us. The difficulty with that is that people will start to invoke supernatural solutions with uncalled-for and possibly tragic results, when we should really be applying good old-fashioned common sense.
Examine the crop circles for human, not humanoid footprints, and leave science fiction to literature and the media.
I have been absent from this blog for nearly three weeks on account of a trapped nerve in my right arm which makes it almost impossible to type. The problem is still there, but at least the third lot of painkillers I am taking seem to control the discomfort to an extent.
I have, however, been doing more research on the Red Barn affair, and I can now positively assert that Samuel 'Beauty' Smith and Thomas Griffiths Wainewright cannot possibly ever have met in Australia where both had been transported for life.
Wainwright was in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and Smith was in the Sydney area and it is impossible that either could have visited the other even assuming that they were ever acquainted in the first place.
The details of Smith's time in Australia are most interesting, and I am writing an article about him which I hope Genealogists' Magazine will publish in due course.
Here is a picture puzzle. The restaurant is immediately recognizable from the large yellow ‘M’; the language is clearly not English, yet the traffic is driving on the left.
The photograph was taken through a car windscreen since the windscreen wiper and car bonnet are clearly visible. What do you see at the end of the bonnet?
I took the picture through the windscreen of a Rolls-Royce in Osaka, the second city of Japan. I thought the counterpoint of the three cultures, Japanese, American and English, irresistibly droll.
What was I doing cruising around downtown Osaka in a Roller? I was there on business, flogging high-power electronics to the Japanese. My company’s business partner in Japan was an old British trading-house; among other things, including Scotch Whiskey and aeroplanes, they imported Rolls Royce cars. They kept a demonstrator at the Osaka office and used it to visit customers. They also imported Ferraris, and the only time I ever sat in one was in their showroom.
In the last week I have seen three old TV compilations from Top of the Pops from the 1960s; I have also listened to good old Brian Matthew on Sounds of the Sixties. It seems incredible that Brian, now aged 85, is the same person I remember presenting Saturday Club, my first exposure to pop music, on the wireless in the late ‘50s. Brian has a special place in my heart; a few years ago he played my band’s own record, made in 1965, even giving me, as lead guitar, a special mention.
I have heard it said that if you remember The Sixties, you were not there. Well, as someone who was 15 when that decade started and 25 when it finished, I think I’m reasonably qualified to say “B******s” to that. I was there, and I remember it well…
But there were great music – and fashion – changes though that short period of ten years. In 1960, No 1 hits included two by Anthony Newly, Why and Do you Mind; Poor Me, Adam Faith; Shakin’ all Over, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates; Running Bear, Johnny Preston; Three Steps to Heaven, Eddie Cochran; Please Don’t Tease, Cliff and the Shadows; Apache, The Shadows; It’s Now or Never, Elvis, and Only the Lonely, Roy Orbison.
In 1969, there was Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, Marmalade; Albatross, Fleetwood Mack; The Israelites, Desmond Dekker; Get Back, The Beatles; Something in the Air, Thunderclap Newman; Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus, Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg; Sugar Sugar, The Archies; Lily the Pink, Scaffold and Two Little Boys, Rolf Harris…
My original intention in researching this was to say that that period we call ‘The Sixties’ was actually several periods differing greatly from each other. In clothes that was certainly true; smart suits, short hair-cuts and hems below the knee in 1960; pretty much anything in 1969… Had the music changed? In my view, and with some honourable exceptions, much of the later ‘Sixties’ music was quite dreadful, and this is confirmed by watching the TV compilations. Still, there were some great pop anthems, and there was so much ‘music’ produced, that there is enough good stuff to fill an evening’s listening.
I realize this is heresy from someone who spent several years of his life playing in a band, and there was a time when I would have defended to the death anyone who was critical of the music of that period. But just as in the same way that we only seem to remember the long hot summers and pleasurable times of our youth, we glaze over remembering the pop music of the period recalling only the best. In truth, just like in art and literature, there was some great stuff, but the rest was mediocre at best and downright awful at the other end of the scale.
I have now invested several days in the record office at Bury St Edmunds and the British Library following up various ‘issues’ on the Red Barn and previous books on the subject. McCormick cites the Settler’s Sentinel, published in Sydney in 1859 as one of his references. The National Library of Australia has never heard of it, and they are in the middle of scanning literally hundreds of early newspapers and journals.
I have already commented on some astonishing falsehoods in Haining’s book, but the latest twist to the story is the identity of “J Curtis” who wrote the first history of the affair. He was present during the trial and was even mistaken for Corder by one of the provincial newspapers. All of the books on the Red Barn call him ‘James Curtis’, a reporter for The Times. In fact all that we actually know about Curtis comes from a book by James Grant called Great Metropolis published in 1837. He refers to ‘J Curtis’ (not James) and says that he is a short-hand writer not mentioning any newspaper.
Successive books on the Red Barn affair appear to have accepted, without checking, what previous books have asserted as being true.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs