Late in December 2013, I was excited to see that the Cash-Landrum case was being featured on a new television series.
Close Encounters S01E03 “Second Coming” (Discovery Canada)
SECOND COMING: DECEMBER 29, 1980: Betty Cash, Vickie Landrum and her grandson Colby are driving home after visiting a bingo hall in Dayton, Texas. On a country road, they encounter a large, diamond-shaped craft shooting fire out of its base. The heat is so intense it melts the vinyl of their vehicle's dashboard. They report seeing at least a dozen military helicopters in pursuit of the object. All three suffer physical symptoms similar to radiation poisoning and spend a decade pressing the U.S. government for answers. Part 2: SPACE ROCK: MAY 20, 1967... Stefan Michalak's extraordinary encounter.
Before Close Encounters aired in the US on the Science Channel, "John Carter" at the French site, UFO SCEPTICISME posted, "Curt is going to have a field day pointing out the many errors in the narrative and the depiction of the UFO."
The Close Encounters show is not broadcast in the USA, but I have seen photos from the show and the very brief glimpse of the depiction of the case in their online preview. Wow! I was unaware of the lightning bolts or the UFO stopping the car, but knew that their choice of a angular flaming diamond with rectangular windows neither looked or acted like what the witnesses described. While they are getting many things, wrong, this series is less sensational than many others. Still, they strongly suggest the ET origin of the UFOs by their overly dramatic portrayal of them as bizarre structured vehicles. (Instead of the indistinct lighted shapes they usually are.)
There's a far worse show airing now in the States, "Unsealed Alien Files" It is so comically extreme in its fringe UFO claims as to make the new Canadian show seem factual. ("Hangar 1" has since joined the pack, chiefly different in that it carries a pedigree, claiming the stories are based on MUFON case files. )
John Carter provided a link to the show on YouTube, where I was able to watch it. There were many inaccuracies. Here are the ones I observed on the first viewing:
- 4 door car instead of 2
- Event was not in Liberty County, Huffman is in Harris County, the sighting area also may have partly occurred in Montgomery County
- They were not lost
- States object observed for more than an hour- false. Their series of encounters was about 17 minutes, with the object seen from a distance before and afterwards- maybe 35 minutes total if we stretch it.
- The re-enactment has the UFO hovering over the car, covering it in flames- false. It was supposedly 130 feet away, and they only felt it radiate heat.
- UFO depiction- inaccurate. The UFO appearance is controversial, but just relying on case literature, it is larger and IF there were lights or windows, they were small and indistinct.
- Lightning- inaccurate. There have been theories suggested that the encounter was some kind of electrical event but it is not what the witnesses themselves described.
- Interference with car's electrical system- Betty Cash did claim that in April 1981, but not the initial reports, a point of controversy in the case seldom discussed.
- Panicked attempts to restart he auto- false.
- Vickie burns hand on door handle- false, only Betty, and they depicted that incorrectly
- The description and depiction of the flames produced is inaccurate
- Dashboard impression- overly dramatic depiction. The photographs of the impressions show mild indentations, not evidence of melting.
- Witnesses reported seeing helicopter-like objects. No, they were specific that they saw helicopters.
Another shortcoming was to abbreviate the encounter, which continued as they observed the UFO from several other locations on their way home. Also, the entire aftermath of the case, the hospitalization, investigation and legal struggle were shortchanged. Part of that is due to the structure of the show, usually fitting two cases into a half hour, leaving room for commercial breaks. They are left focusing just on their namesake, the "Encounters" part of the story.
How does this happen?The show rounded up a good collection of UFO authorities to discuss the cases. I checked with Chris Rutkowski, asking about how the lightning got in there. He told me the producers asked him to speak about the case despite him not being an expert in it. He was repeating the story from memory, partially based on an account where the UFO was producing sparks. Mark Rodeghier (an expert in UFO vehicle interference cases) also talked about the case, and he apparently misspoke, mixing the witnesses' names about who burned her hand opening the car door. The Discovery Canada show apparently used their erroneous descriptions without fact checking the case records. Chris had similar objections on the coverage of a case in the second part of the program, Michalak's Falcon Lake incident, which he has personally investigated.
The show has been renewed for a second season. Australian ufologist Bill Chalker appeared on episodes on season one. Posting about his season one involvement on Facebook:
"Once again the 'recreations' are dramatic and entertaining and hopefully will encourage enquiring minds to dig into the actual data about the case. As I have extensively researched and investigated both cases I have issues with the fidelity of the "dramatic recreations" with the facts of both events. In both cases I know I supplied extensive material which gave detailed illustrated and photographic evidence and data, so some of the "recreation" deviations from the actual facts of each case are puzzling to me. But given the entertainment format I am consoled by the likelihood that the shows may encourage interest in these striking cases."
Chris Rutkowski also commented:
" I found the recreations entertaining, but not particularly accurate. I also gave them voluminous case records and was puzzled by their "creative licence" when the stories aired. I have no idea where some of their presented info came from. I know I am responsible for one error when I misspoke on a case detail, but the facts I supplied from files were sometimes distorted. That's showbiz!"
Television is not in the history businessClose Encounters is dramatic, to be sure, but far less sensationalistic than other shows of this type. Programs like this are chiefly concerned with putting a truth-flavored spooky story on the screen. Ratings and advertising revenue are what matter. Accuracy is a tertiary consideration at best.
I hope that some viewers will be interested and read about the cases featured. Most viewers however, will not, just be briefly entertained by the television UFO mind candy.