A perilous close-call encounter with an unidentified flying object becomes entangled with the world’s most existential road movie.
Rockport, Texas – On Oct. 18, 1973, a routine military helicopter flight became an unforgettable close encounter in the skies over Texas.
At a height of 1,200 feet, four Naval aviators suddenly found they were on a collision course with a speeding UFO that suddenly left the helicopter they were flying in peril.
The pilot suddenly yelled that he had lost control of the his aircraft – the pull of a large, metallic, saucer-shaped object was causing extreme interference with the controls of the helicopter.
The Naval Reserve copter was halfway between Chase Field Naval Air Station, near Beeville, Texas, on a flight to the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi. Captain Tracy Fenton was onboard as crew commander.
On this flight, Lt. Douglas Kowalski was at the controls and Sgt. John Hammond, flight medic, sat next to crew chief Robert Chappell.
They were flying at approximately 90 miles an hour when Chappell spotted a curious red light to the east.
Thinking it was a warning light on top of a radio or TV tower, or possibly a distant plane, Chappell watched for a minute of so before alerting Captain Fenton.
After another minute or so of observation, Chappell yelled a danger alert to the crew as it appeared the light was headed straight for them – on a collision course.
Suddently, everything in the cockpit turned green from a stream of bright light coming from the craft heading toward them.
The compass began to spin wildly as Kowalski struggled to bring the chopper to a lower altitude.
The helicopter then shot upwards at an estimated speed of 1,000 feet a minute – a rate of climb which was beyond the pilot’s control.
“The guys inside the helicopter were throw around like we hit a severe pocket of turbulence,” Kowalski said later. “It was like we hit turbulence, but the unidentified object was already heading off to the west. It was already over the Orange Field area when our chopper began to settle.”
When the crew finally landed at the Corpus Christi station, each member filed a report with military superiors, giving details of the strange encounter. All agreed the entire episode lasted between five and six terrifying minutes.
After an investigation, officials could find no reasonable explanation for the sighting and near collision.
The encounter, and the subsequent investigation, was dubbed “The Vanishing Point Case,” and quickly dropped into the government’s doughnut hole of unexplained sightings reports.
The case may have remained hidden and forgotten were it not for a Houston-based writer doing research on stange occurences in the Lone Star state.
Jimmy Trousdale was intrigued when he found references to The Vanishing Point Case among other government documents he requested under the Federal Freedom of Information Act.
His curiosity lead Trousdale on a search for the people named in the case. He succeeded in locating Kowalski and Fenton, who were both retired by then. Both of the former military men agreed to lenghly interviews, and recounting the strange event.
Trousdale later quoted from the interviews in Strange Southland, a book he published in 2001.
In a chapter devoted to the Vanishing Point Case, Trousdale described it as “truly spectacular and unexplainable. These men saw something in the sky that acted in a manner which we would expect an alien spacecraft to behave. The most amazing part of the story is, it was reported by four credible witnesses, experienced military men with an impresive number of flight hours – not a rookie among them. In my opinion, this is one of the best UFO encounters on record.”
However, in that same chapter Trousdale wrote, “Why was it called The Vanishing Point Case? The obvious reason is the government planned to make it go away – file it away and forget about it – let it vanish from public record.”
The truth is, the lead investigator in charge of looking into the incident, Maj. George Swain, was a film buff who had become enamored with the counter-culture movie of the same name, released just a couple of years prior to the incident which involved pilot Kowalski.
Both the UFO incident and the movie contained helicopters – and the helicopter pilot involved in the encounter had the same last name as the main character in the film.
Swain assigned the name, The Vanishing Point Case, as a tribute to both the helicopter pilot Kowalski, and the pill-popping, hard driving anti-hero Kowalski from his favorite movie.
And though it may be sad that the details of this fantastic encounter remained hidden from the public for 30 years, the possibility is great that any knowledge of this story would have been buried forever had Maj. Swain ever attended a viewing of John Water’s 1972 transgressive film comedy Pink Flamingos – Dean Terry