Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cash-Landrum Theory & Analysis: Unpublished 2002 Wim van Utrecht Article

Cash-Landrum UFO Identified? A "Lost" Case Analysis from 2002

UK researcher Isaac Koi discovered references to  a 17 page publication on the Cash-Landrum incident by  Wim van Utrecht of Belgium: Cash-Landrum UFO identified?

 Koi writes,
"It turns out that the relevant item by Wim van Utrecht was in fact NOT published, only prepared in draft and sent to some colleagues. However, Wim has kindly provided the last version of that draft item (18 pages, at at 2002) and said that I should feel free to inject this text into the new discussion. Wim has asked that if I do inject his draft article, I should include some notes by him."
Isaac put me in touch with Wim, who agreed to let me share his article here with his requested modifications. Wim considers this article unfinished, and may have further comments on the case due to recent developments. His original article presents an interesting theory and an excellent discussion of the original investigation. Some of his 2013 thoughts on the case can be found as an informal afterword.


by Wim van Utrecht


In 1994 a research and publication project by the name of CAELESTIA was founded. Its purpose: to identify "Unidentified Flying Objects". Its modus operandi: to collect data on rare natural phenomena and man-made contraptions apt to generate UFO reports. In seven years’ time, a vast documentation was gathered on what were coined "UFO prone stimuli". Part of CAELESTIA's collection deals with atmospheric reflection- and refraction phenomena such as rare halos and spectacular mirages. In collecting these data we found evidence of another, most peculiar, optical phenomenon: luminous streaks or patches of light that were not related to the sun or the moon, and could not be explained in terms of mirages or manifestations of the aurora. A closer look at these sightings revealed that the reported phenomena were caused by the reflection of flames on clouds of ice crystals. The light source responsible for such a reflection can be a flare from an oil refinery, petrochemical plant or gas well, but also the glow from a blast furnace or from any major fire. But the biggest surprise came when we decided to re-examine thousands of reports of unusual aerial phenomena from around the world and it transpired that a substantial number of these reports could be explained by this apparently forgotten meteorological phenomenon.

Flame Reflections - a general description

NOTE:  The “flame reflections” that I refer to in the article are actually part of a broader phenomenon that I have since called “Artificial Light Pillars in High Cloud”. A six-part article on these light pillars can be found here: Light Pillars in Cirriform  Clouds.

Usually flame reflections appear as pale grey or bright orange-red streaks or bars of light, oriented vertically. They can last for minutes, even hours, disappearing and reappearing just like a light that is switched on and off. Reports have been collected for any time of the year but with a clear preponderance for cold winter nights. The length and brightness of the streaks depend on the distance between the observer and the light source, and on the height and thickness of the reflecting layer (mostly flat, hexagonal ice plates, floating in 7 to 10 km high cirrostratus). The clouds that contain these ice particles are often so thin that they are invisible to the naked eye. It is suspected that flame reflections can also occur close to the ground, for instance when a temperature inversion forces ice crystals that are formed at the basis of power plant plumes to expand in a horizontal direction. Trapped between a layer of cold air near the ground and a layer of warm air on top, such an ice-crystal layer will take the aspect of a huge horizontal mirror.

The most spectacular reflections occur when flaring takes place at a petrochemical complex. Flaring is sometimes necessary to release pressure from the pipes or to burn off commercially non-profitable gases. Often, such activities are reserved for holidays and weekends, but not seldom they can last a full week or even longer. In principal, flaring is limited to an absolute minimum because of the dangers involved and the serious pollution they entail. Gas flaring adds to the carbon dioxide loading on the atmosphere and represents approximately 5% of world gas production which is wasted.1 An engineer employed at one of the petrochemical plants in Antwerpen assured us that a flare from a fire stack can blaze up to heights of 60 metres and more. Exceptionally, heights twice that much have been observed. Such enormous flames constitute the brightest, artificial light sources on the planet. Together with large fires and heavily lit fishing boats (two additional ground-based light sources known to have caused atmospheric reflections), they rank among the four primary types of lights recorded by the Defence Meteorological Satellite Program during a six month time period in 1994-1995.2 The mirrored image of a flare can be seen up to distances of 85 km, but in most instances distances between 10 and 40 km were noted. The reason why flame reflections are rarely reported from shorter distances is believed to be due to the fact that objects or lights in the sky are more readily spotted when they are close to the horizon. Living 8 km southwest of a large petrochemical complex in the port of Antwerp, the author had the opportunity to observe and photograph the phenomenon for himself.

Written references on flame reflections are extremely rare. Most standard works on geophysical anomalies and optical phenomena fail to mention them. 3,4,5,6 Yet, it is clear from the scientific literature that they have been with us since the beginning of the industrial era.7 Because of their comet-like appearance, they were initially referred to as "gas comets". An 1887 article from the American Meteorological Journal describes their appearance as "bright streaks or bars of light ( ... ), measuring on an average one-quarter of a degree in width and from 5 to 15 degrees in length ( ... ) of a decidedly red color".8 According to the same article, the actual size of the streaks, seen at an air line distance of 15.5 miles (25 km) from the gas wells that caused them, was measured to be 2.5 miles long by 350 feet in diameter, or, roughly, 4 km by 100m! In addition, CAELESTIA's re-evaluation of thousands of sightings revealed that flame reflections can be much more spectacular and diverse than was previously assumed, making it even more difficult to understand why an atmospheric phenomenon of this magnitude has remained nearly undiscussed for a complete century.

A typical pillar-shaped reflection in cirriform clouds caused by the bright light of a gas flame at the Dow Chemical plant in Terneuzen, The Netherlands. The picture was taken on January 7, 2007, by amateur astronomer Klaas JOBSE who spotted this bright specimen from Oostkapelle, 32 km (19.9 miles) northwest of Terneuzen. © Klaas JOBSE

The UFO link

One of the things we found while analysing UFO reports that were caused by flame reflections, was that witnesses and/or ufologists often resort to expressions closely allied to UFO lore and space age terminology. Descriptions such as "cigar"- or "rocket-shaped objects" are commonly encountered. Because of the thickness of the reflective layer (a cloud of ice-crystals), the mirrored images often appear as 3-dimensional, sometimes leading observers to describe them as "solid objects". 

Witnesses close to the flame have reported ''tear-drop" shapes and circular patches or balls of light. In one well-documented case, competent observers at different locations provided descriptions that differed markedly. In nearly all cases the phenomena were either pale white, red-orange or yellow, at times with pink or blue edges or halos. The colours depending, not only on the type of gases that are burnt off (more hydrogen means more blue and yellow), but also on the way in which the ice-crystals are scattered within the cloud (a flat horizontal layer will generate crisp and bright images, whereas a cloud of uniformly scattered ice-particles will produce weak, grey or amber-white reflections). Some witnesses mentioned seeing flames inside the reflected image. Others claimed that the light was so bright that "it hurt the eyes". Variations in intensity are also commonly reported and can be attributed to the pulsatory movement of the flames. Movements have been described as well, usually over very small angles, both horizontally and vertically. Various observers claim that the "object" disappeared with an unbelievable speed (a similar illusion is commonly reported by people who mistook the moon for a UFO). On occasions, vertical cigar-shaped lights were seen in slanted positions or were seen to shift to the horizontal before they "sped off'. Some of the lights were said to have changed shape or split up. Much of this sounds like typical UFO behaviour, but the majority of these effects can be explained by ripples or holes in a slowly moving ice-crystal layer. Much like the reflection in an unpolished or broken mirror.

Especially in cases where oil refineries are involved, the phenomenon is sometimes accompanied by a loud roaring sound, "as if someone was using a huge flame thrower". High-pitched noises and sounds similar to gases escaping under pressure have also been reported. Infrasound was recorded in connection with a start up procedure of a petrochemical plant near Marseille in 1981.9

CAELESTIA has gathered over 200 sightings of flame reflections and of UFO reports that are suspected to have been caused by them.11 Meteorological conditions (humid air, cold weather and little wind) prevail in nearly all spectacular cases of flame reflections. They were also present at Huffman, Texas on December 29, 1980. 

The Cash-Landrum incident

That evening one of history's most important UFO events took place. In one of his early accounts, UFO veteran and - now retired - aerospace engineer John Schuessler, summarizes this major classic as follows12:

"Betty Cash (52), Vickie Landrum (57) and Vickie's grandson Colby Landrum (7), were driving home to Dayton, Texas, on the Cleveland-Huffman road just north of Lake Houston. It was 9 o'clock at night and the road was deserted. The first indication of something unusual was the presence of a very intense light several miles ahead just above the pine trees. Betty remarked about the unusual brightness, but temporarily lost sight of it due to the many trees along the road.
Suddenly, hovering over the road only a short distance ahead was an enormous diamond shaped object. 'It was like a diamond of fire”, Vickie said. The glow was so intense they could barely stand to look at it. Vickie at first thought it was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and expected Jesus to come out of the fire in the sky.
In addition to lighting the whole area like daytime, the UFO periodically belched flames downward. Fearing they would be burned alive Betty stopped the 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass without leaving the road. They all got out of the car to get a better look at the UFO. Colby was terrified and dove back into the car, begging his grandma to get back in, too. Vickie did and comforted Colby.
Betty stood momentarily by the driver's door and then walked forward to the front of the car. After much pleading by Vickie, Betty finally returned to the car. The door handle was so hot she used her leather coat as a hot pad to open the door. Although the winter night air had been about 40°F (= 4.4°C), the heat from the UFO caused the witnesses to sweat and feel so uncomfortable that they turned on the car's air conditioner.
Each time the object would shoot flames downward it would rise. As the flames stopped it would drop in altitude. The intense glow, however, never changed. In addition, the threesome heard an irregular beeping sound throughout the sighting.
Finally, the flames stopped, the object rose to the southwest, and was lost from sight. Vickie and Colby commented that several helicopters could be seen above and beyond the UFO".

A diamond-shaped object

In 1998, Schuessler's many years of involvement with the Cash-Landrum incident inspired him to write a book about the case13.This 323-page document offers useful insights about the different phases of the experience and the actual aspect of the phenomenon. Close reading of the report revealed that the first thing the witnesses saw was "a red glow" near the horizon. Shortly thereafter they could make out "a vertical streak of red" that "appeared to be miles away", but "stood out clearly in the sky". To Vickie, it looked like "a long streak of fire", while Betty thought that "perhaps a new shopping centre had opened in a nearby town and that a searchlight was being used to draw a crowd". "But", Betty added, "Whatever was in the sky didn't move around the way a searchlight does".

So far so good: the red glow near the horizon, the appearance of "a vertical streak of red" and the position (near the horizon) are totally consistent with the reflection of a distant flame. We know that the witnesses were driving south on the New Caney-Huffman road east of Lake Houston, with the "object" hovering in front of the road, between the trees. This means they were looking south. So, in order to confirm our suspicion, it is crucial that we find the source of the reflection in that direction. A glance at the map of East Texas reveals that there are plenty good candidates: the area south and southeast of the New Caney-Huffman road, between Houston city and Port Arthur, is strewn with oil refineries and petrochemical works (see map). The industrial sites near Baytown, Deer Park and Channel View are among the most important petrochemical complexes in the world. It is likely that flaring was taking place there during the week between Christmas and New Year, and that most installations had shut down to converge gasses to a main fire-stack, producing a huge flare that lit up the entire sky. With many employees taking a few days off, this period of the year is an excellent opportunity to start this type of operation.

Back to our story now. Schuessler's report goes on to state that: "in a matter of just several minutes, [the UFO] had grown from a small red streak on the horizon to a fiery looking thing the size of a car" (whatever that may mean). Not without a certain sense for the dramatic Schuessler continues: "Then, with no warning at all, the sky seemed to split open and the object came angling down directly in front of them, settling swiftly between the trees just ahead of them and above the highway. It seemed enormous! 'Oh my God!' Betty shrieked, 'What is that thing?' ( ... ) The fiery object was only a few hundred feet in front of them, and they were rapidly getting closer to it. It towered above the trees with the bottom coming more than half way down into the trees. Although it was still well above the highway, strips of flames blasted down from the bottom, virtually blocking the way, and a roaring sound bombarded their ears".

We should not forget that, at this stage, the tension in the car was increasing by the second, even to such a point that a state of sheer panic and hysteria was reached. Schuessler's report states that Betty and Vickie were "shaken and frightened", ''wondering if the world had come to an end praying to God thinking they were going to die", while Colby was "hysterical, frantic, and crying", nearly pulling Vickie's clothes off. A state of panic does not make good witnesses. Furthermore, the trio had been driving for miles through dark forest. In such conditions, even the light of bright stars and planets has caught countless drivers by surprise. With the chances being good that the initial "glow" and the consecutive "streak of red" were due to flaring activities taking place at one of the oil refineries or petrochemical works east of Houston, it would be unwise to bring unearthly visitors into the picture at this stage, be they Jesus or E.T. It seems more rational to acknowledge that, under the right conditions, flame reflections can be extremely spectacular. In several reports from our collection, witnesses have indeed used expressions such as "very bright" and "blinding" to describe the lights they saw. Unfortunately, scientific estimates of the brightness of flame reflections are rare.14 As for the description given by the Cash-Landrums of flames "blasting down from the bottom of the object", this too is compatible with the mirrored image of a pulsating flare. Flames that blaze up from a fire-stack should appear to gush down in the mirrored image. Fig. 1 gives an idea of what may have happened.

Figure 1. Simplified diagram (not to scale) showing how the light of a combustion flame can breflected from cloud of ice particles with a smooth basisThe sharply defined, mirrored image icaused by light reflected directlfrom a thin layer of icplates athbottom of the cloud. Thmuch weaker area on top of this mirrored imag(secondary reflection) is caused by light that is reflected and refracted by scattered ice particles in higher areas of the cloud.

The flame reflection hypothesis implies that the Cash-Landrums did not encounter a solid, fire-spitting object but merely a reflection thereof As early as February 1, 1981, Betty and Vickie made an audio tape recording describing the incident. In these early statements, Betty makes no mention of a fire or flames. She merely points out that "the lights were bright", whereas Vickie asserted that "The whole road ahead and around it (was) glowing as if by fire". "I believe it was fire because it glowed down and let up a little", she added. One month later, during an interview with Schuessler & physicist Alan Holt, Vickie changed that statement to "It was fire.( ... ) The fire was fire, like flames from a bonfire or something".

A comparison between the different narratives revealed several more glaring contradictions in the witnesses' stories. This does not necessarily mean that the witnesses themselves are unreliable, but it does prove that by the time the investigators interviewed them, their rendition of the events was already infested with inaccurate memories and gross exaggerations. Illustrators have added to the confusion by making artists' impressions that depict a metallic, spindle-shaped object with blue lights or portholes around the centre. Yet, no such description can be found in the initial interviews (the blue lights popped up when ufologist Leo Sprinkle placed Vickie under hypnosis in the Summer of 1981). Reliable indications that there really was a metallic object blocking the road are actually very difficult to find. On page 9 of his book, Schuessler writes that, "by shielding their eyes, they could see beyond the brilliant luminescence what appeared to be a greyish, metallic structure", and on the next page it is pointed out that, when Betty raised her left arm to shield her eyes, "she still couldn't make out any details on the object". In Betty's own tape-recorded statement she recalls that "We stopped and tried to see what it looked like. We could not get up close enough to detect what the figure was". However, in the Schuessler & Holt interview one month later, Betty is quoted as having said "It was a huge ... a bright silver. .. an aluminous thing". As for Vickie and Colby, they never even mentioned seeing a metallic object. The words they use to describe the "object" behind the flames are "a real bright diamond shape" (Colby) and "oblong in a vertical direction" (Vickie). Obviously, there is no consensus about the true aspect and colour of the flame spitting "object". Even when the flames had died out, they could not distinguish a precise shape. Schuessler writes to this effect that "Even though flames were no longer coming out of the object, it still glowed like a piece of red hot iron on a blacksmith's anvil", while Vickie tells us all they could see at that moment was "a long white light".

More problems surfaced when we tried to find out how the phenomenon disappeared. Schuessler asserts that, when Betty had gotten back in the car, all three witnesses noticed how, suddenly, "another mass of flames shot down from the object and in an instant, it rose swiftly above the trees, almost out of their line of vision". According to Vickie "it was just like something reached down and picked it up". Elsewhere, Schuessler describes how the phenomenon "appeared to tilt over on its side and began to move slowly (sic) away south, away from them, in the direction of Galveston Bay", in other words exactly in the direction of the petrochemical works. A "suggested UFO flight path", drawn by the investigators on a map of the area, shows a south-southeastern trajectory, whereas Vickie claimed that ''the object went up and off to the right", i.e. to the southwest. Despite these discrepancies, one thing seems clear: the phenomenon disappeared more or less in the witnesses' line of sight. In consequence, the movement away from the witnesses can equally well be interpreted as a decrease in intensity or size. This interpretation is reinforced by the fact that, later on, when driving eastward on the FM1960 to Dayton, the UFO was seen again in the same direction as before, now looking like "an oblong ball, glowing red", but fainter and more to the right of the car, to finally become visible in the rear window and rear mirror view. This means that, towards the end of the sighting, the phenomenon was again situated in the direction of the petrochemical works near Channel View and Baytown, making you wonder if it ever "left" its original position in the first place. 

About the tilting motion it is interesting to note that this feature has been described in various UFO reports that might be linked to flame reflections. MINNAERT has shown that, when a light source strikes a rippled surface (like a street lantern or the headlight of a car reflecting off an undulating water surface or a rugged asphalt road), this can cause the reflected image to change orientation from a vertical to a slanted position. 15 Likewise, it is conceivable that, when a reflection reaches the boundary of the cloud, it will seem to tilt and then disappear.

Figure 2. Map of the area east and northeast of Houston indicating the route followed by the Cash-Landrums and the location of the most important oil refineries and petrochemical works.

Mysterious sounds

Besides the helicopter roar and "a shrill beeping sound at irregular intervals, so loud that it hurt their ears", the witnesses also reported a loud whooshing sound associated with the flames. They described it as "similar to the noise made by air brakes on a truck", and "sounding like air, like a pressure, like a flame thrower". This description fits our picture amazingly well. It is exactly what gases, squeezed through a labyrinth of pipes, and a blazing combustion flame, sound like! In January 1981, a cracking unit at an oil refinery near Marseille, France, made such a noise that alarmed citizens from neighbouring communities called the police. At the same time an infrasound caused windows to tremble over a distance of 20 km from the complex. 16 As for the shrill beeping sound, is it possible that flaring activities had resulted in an accident and that the beeping came from some alarm-device or from fire engines, police cars or ambulances heading towards the place of the accident? In that same line of thought, the helicopters may have been rescue helicopters, not necessary military ones as Schuessler et al had always assumed.

But how can it be that sounds can be heard so distinctly over a distance of 35 km? The answer is once again given by Prof Minnaert17. In the original Dutch version of his highly esteemed three part work on natural phenomena, Minnaert explains how temperature inversions are not only instrumental in the formation of a stable horizontal ice-crystal layer, but also have the remarkable property of refracting sound waves back to earth. The result is that loud noises can be heard in places miles away from where they originated. Minnaert refers to this anomalous propagation of sound as the acoustic equivalent of a mirage.

The secondary effects and additional witnesses

But what about the physical and physiological effects? And how to explain the stories of other witnesses claiming to have seen strange lights that night? Let's take a closer look at the evidence presented in Schuessler's book.


All witnesses agree that the phenomenon emitted heat. In total, four specific effects are mentioned: a general feeling of heat; hand burns from touching the car, fingerprint indentions in the dashboard of the car and the discovery of an area of melted asphalt on the road.

About the first effect Schuessler writes: ''the heat from the UFO caused the witnesses to sweat and feel so uncomfortable that they turned on the car's air conditioner". Is it not simply possible that the panic that had taken the best of the witnesses was the real cause of these sensations? Were they hyperventilating? We should not forget that both Vickie and Betty were convinced they ''were going to die", that ''the world had come to an end" and that "Jesus was about to come out of the sky". People have started to sweat over less than that.

As for the second claim, Betty stated that she had to retract her right hand when she touched the fender and had to use the tail of her leather jacket to open the door, while Vickie had burned herself while laying her hand on top of the car. An alternative interpretation could be that the vision of a large, flame-like apparition, coupled with the touch of cold metal, caused a false sensation of burning. It is known that feelings of cold and heat are in essence very similar and can easily be confused if the nature of the object causing the sensation is not immediately clear. Fact is that there is no direct evidence, photographic or medical, of these burns.

The third indication of emitted heat is Vickie's claim that, as she clutched onto the dashboard when Betty stepped on the brakes, she noticed it had gone soft and that there were indentions where she had touched it. But how can we be so sure that these deformations were not already there before the encounter. A photograph in Schuessler's book shows a small dent in the dashboard that could have been caused by almost anything. 

During a first visit to the sighting location two months after the incident, the investigators discovered an area on the asphalt road where the surface appeared to have been melted and resolidified. This area was found at a distance of approximately 135 feet (40 meters) from where the Cash-Landrums had stopped the car (we assume Schuessler is referring to the first stop). This approximate distance is in itself remarkably accurate since neither Betty nor Vickie could tell the investigators exactly where the encounter had taken place (during separate visits ''they both were able to take us to nearly the exact same location" Schuessler writes). Schuessler assures us that ''this damaged area contrasted very well with the old cracked road surface that runs for miles through the East Texas Piney Woods", but photographs or precise measurements of this remarkable evidence are not included in the book and the question remains whether the investigators did indeed search other areas of the New-Caney-Huffman road for similar "traces". Actually, the superficial description we get is in no way different from a routine restoration of a battered stretch of asphalt road. Moreover, it is difficult to understand how a flame-spitting object could have melted the surface of the road leaving the surrounding pine trees intact.

Betty Cash, Feb. 22, 1981
Vickie Landrum, July 1981

Physiological traumas

Back home from their frightening trip, all three witnesses experienced feelings of heat and suffered from an inexplicable thirst, vomiting and diarrhoea. In addition Betty felt lumps forming on her neck and head. In the days that followed, it transpired that Betty's condition was much worse than that of Vickie and Colby.

When she got home, Vickie didn't tell anyone what had happened, not even her husband. Only a waitress, who is an employee of Betty, got to hear the details. When Vickie's husband came home late in the afternoon the next day and asked why she and Colby were so red, she replied that they had gotten chapped by the wind out at the cafe that morning. When he asked what was wrong with Betty, she said she thought Betty had blood clots. On January 2nd 1981, Vickie drove Betty to Parkway General Hospital in Houston where she was admitted with a severe headache, a swelling of the face, a swelling of the eyelids, a swelling of the skull on the top of the head and hair-loss. In spite of this condition, and although she was in much pain, both women refrained from telling the medical staff about the incident right away. Why did they keep this terrifying experience to themselves? Is it possible that, initially, Betty and Vickie were themselves doubtful that their health problems were connected with the UFO incident? Both women were in their fifties and extremely shaken up by the encounter. It is known that a state of extreme anxiety can cause physiological problems as well, especially in the menopause.

There is no reason to doubt the seriousness of the physiological traumas suffered by the witnesses and by Betty in particular. The question is to know whether the link that has been made with the unidentified phenomenon is watertight or remains uncertain. Schuessler writes to this effect that Vickie, when she got home the night of the incident, "couldn't understand why Colby was so sick" and that "perhaps it was something he had eaten at the truck stop in New Caney". "It never occurred to her that his condition could have been connected in any way with their encounter on the highway", Schuessler adds. If the witnesses themselves had doubts, then why is Schuessler so keen on making a connection? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that, in 1980, Schuessler headed Project VISIT, a small team of engineers, scientists and medical specialists that acts as "a clearinghouse for all UFO incidents involving medical injury or alleged entry into a UF0"18 UFOs causing medical injury are of course exceptional stuff. Is it not possible then that, when Schuessler finally got the opportunity to investigate such a case, his enthusiasm took him in tow?

There is another element that raises questions. Asked about Colby's facial redness, Vickie told Schuessler & Holt that Colby's face was "like it was sunburned". Contrary to what many believe, the qualification "sunburned" has rarely ever been associated with UFO sightings. However, it did feature as a typical UFO after-effect in Spielberg's very popular movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, released three years before the incident.

Printed in Schuessler's book are photos of “sores and scarring" on Vickie's hands taken 8 months after the incident. At first sight these sores and scars bear much resemblance to normal skin problems that affect many people over their fifties. Whatever their exact nature, the link with the UFO incident is definitely not an established fact.

The most striking piece of evidence consists of two photos of Betty showing hair-loss. This particular symptom was examined by a dermatologist shortly after the incident. It was believed that the problem was alopecia areata, a baldness disorder that may or may not be permanent. Schuessler discredits this diagnosis instantly by adding that "later investigations revealed this diagnosis was suspect", giving no details as to why this was so. Once again, we are left with the impression that Schuessler puts everything to work to connect the health problems of the witnesses with the UFO incident: doctors who make statements in favour of his viewpoint are quoted at large and are praised for their "outstanding care", other opinions are mentioned only in passing.

Examinations carried out in the two years that followed the incident revealed no serious damage to Betty's eyes. An EEG and CAT Scan in that same period showed no abnormalities and X-rays of the chest and sinus cavity revealed nothing unusual. A neurologist vaguely asserted that the headache "might have been caused by severe tension". End May 1981, one of the doctors who treated Betty, found many sores and scarring on her skin but could see no obvious blisters. Results of blood and urine tests carried out in late 1981 were negative. In mid 1982, a bone marrow biopsy revealed necrosis and decreased iron storage, but it is not clear how these symptoms can be linked to radiation exposure. It was not until 1983, after ongoing complaints of chest pains, that lumps were found on Betty's right breast. Despite a chemotherapy treatment both breasts were removed. Referring to Betty's medical history prior to the incident, Schuessler mentions that, as early as 1979, Betty complained of "a little bit of chest pain". Yet, he chooses to believe that it was the UFO that caused the cancer. Other misfortunes during the years that followed the encounter include a heart attack, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a nasty fall in the bathtub. Again, there is no reason to blame UFOs for all this. The cause of the heart attack for example is easy to trace back to a bypass surgery which, Schuessler himself informs us, Betty underwent in Alabama "sometime in 1977", i.e. three years before the encounter.

The first diagnosis of "radiation exposure" came from a dermatologist who examined Betty in November 1981, nearly a year after the event. The only indications at that time being "some intermittent chest pain, non-cardiac in origin" and "an impression of radiation dermatitis". Schuessler concludes from this that ''there is no doubt that she was exposed to radiation during the encounter". Quite a bold statement, especially if we know that Betty already suffered from chest pains the year that preceded the encounter.

Betty died on December 29, 1998, exactly 18 years after her frightening experience. ''Never a year passed that she wasn't hospitalised and treated for complications arising from that initial extensive radiation exposure", Schuessler writes in an in memoriam for The MUFON UFO Journal.19 Yet, Schuessler's own data clearly show that at least several of Betty's hospitalisations following the UFO incident were almost certainly related to earlier complaints of chest-pains and heart-problems. The conclusion that "Betty died of health problems associated with the injuries that were caused by her close encounter with a UFO" is speculative to say the least.

Additional eyewitnesses

Four additional UFO reports were collected from the State of Texas between March and August 1981. All four describe unidentified aerial objects seen during the night of December 29th. One of these sightings took place between 7 and 9 p.m. at Dayton, where 23 year old J.M. witnessed a triangular object with white and blue lights on the comers, a bright red light in the middle, and two "brilliant cutting torch white lights shining out from the aft end". During the sighting a rumbling noise was heard. This is not much to go on, but any experienced UFO investigator will agree that such a description is pretty much consistent with the sound and standard lighting configurations of an airplane or helicopter. Another incident occurred seven miles west of Dayton. No details are known except that "a big light" was seen for a short period of time. A third story involves a couple driving back to Dayton from New Caney and seeing "a bright light ' like a car' in the sky". The fourth sighting was reported by an employee at Houston's Methodist Hospital who witnessed a silent, huge ''vehicle" just south of Cleveland. Inside were ''three humanoids with 'Roman noses', wearing silver suits and helmets". On page 77 of his book, Schuessler mentions December 29 as the date of this fantastic encounter, whereas his personal notes made from a telephone conversation with the witness (page 318), mention "after work (around midnight) in late Dec 1980". Since the account on page 77 uses exactly the same phrasing and rough details as the telephone notes, the question arises how Schuessler can be so sure that the exact date was December 29th.

Details about these incidents of "related UFO activity" are sketchy to say the most. The information given here is all we get and is of no help whatsoever in trying to figure out what really happened that night.

In the course of 1981, five more groups of witnesses came forward who confirmed having seen the fleet of helicopters reported by the Cash-Landrums. A state police officer and his wife driving east on the FM 1960, i.e. away from the sighting location and the petrochemical complex, saw about 12 twin rotors fly over in groups of three with their searchlights on. The couple reported no unknown object. A more extensive eyewitness account comes from a mother and daughter living in Crosby (location indicated on map in Fig. 2). At about 9 p.m. on the night in question they saw a large number of helicopters coming in from all directions, but most of them from Houston and from the northwest, hovering over the area with bright searchlights. In addition, they saw a big glow ("must be a forest fire; but I never could see any flames") just over the top of the tree line in the direction of Huffman (northwest). This is odd, because the mother stated that most helicopters were hovering southeast and southwest of their home, which means that they were nowhere near Huffman, but rather in the direction of Channel View and Baytown! The fact that these witnesses mention a glow in the direction of Huffman seems puzzling. Confusion with the moon is ruled out because the latter was far beneath the horizon at that time. One possibility is that they saw the glow from refineries and blast furnaces in the Cleveland area. These are only about 45 km to the north and, given the special meteorological conditions of that night, should have been visible as a pulsating glow over the pinewoods in the direction of Huffman. Note that, here too, no object was sighted. The only problem that remains is why these witnesses did not report seeing a much brighter glow in the direction of Channel View and Baytown. Both mother and daughter recalled that one of the helicopters was hovering close to the ground near a tree, only 140-150 feet ( 45 m) from the house. Perhaps their view was hampered by nearby trees or buildings (a map of the sighting location would have made it possible to verify this). Another possibility is that their attention was focussed on the helicopters that were hovering so close by in that direction

A highly sensational, second-hand story came from a helicopter pilot who was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, at the time of the incident. This man claims there was a "special alert" at the base that night and that all pilots were called on a mission to find "an unusual aircraft", to "try to force it to land", "mark the spot, radio in and wait for other people to move in". Which, according to the pilot, was also what happened. There is one problem with this story: the man in question admits that he was "half-drunk" when he took off from Fort Hood, making you wonder if, apart from being an irresponsible pilot, this anonymous and irretraceable witness is not just a spinner of tall tales.

In January 1984, attorney Peter Gersten, not only the driving force behind such workshops as "Healing Your Inner Alien"20, but also an advocate of the hypothesis that UFOs may well be high-tech Nazi achievements which have their base on Antarctica21, filed a $20 million suit in federal district court. The motion charged that the presence of helicopters pointed to federal complicity where the physiological and psychological damage suffered by the Cash-Landrums was concerned. The government denied any responsibility and, despite a thorough search, were unable to identify the "army helicopters" sighted that night. All this is of course interpreted as a cover-up, either of aliens trespassing U.S. territory, or of military pilots test flying some new experimental craft that apparently never flew again in the twenty years that have elapsed since then. If ufologists keep interpreting official responses given to them by the military as devious attempts to hide the truth, one wonders why they bother to file requests in the first place. 

By way of conclusion

Schuessler has done well to document this important case, but despite a report of no less than 323 pages, with a selection from nearly 10,000 pages of information collected during the investigation, important shortcomings were found. Elementary data about the possibly related UFO reports are not included and little information is given on the astronomical and meteorological situation of the night in question. Another problem is the absence of clear topographical maps (the one detailed map printed in the book has its "roads' curves deleted for simplicity"). Yet, knowing the exact azimuth and elevation of the phenomenon for each phase of the sighting, would have made it much easier to verify our hypothesis.

We can also question Schuessler's one-sided interpretation of the physical and physiological evidence and ask ourselves why an investigator of high esteem is reluctant to call our attention to contradictions and exaggerations in the witnesses' stories. Schuessler personally believes, not only that aliens are living among us, but also that they make secret use of our earth's resources. According to an interview with a popular magazine that focuses on the supernatural, Schuessler is of the opinion that the government is well aware of these alien missions and has ordered the military to keep a close eye on the plunderings ...22

Taking all this into account, the flame reflection hypothesis offers a much more economical explanation for the phenomena encountered by the Cash-Landrums. The visual and auditive characteristics of the phenomenon, the meteorological situation, the probability of flaring taking place at a petrochemical plant precisely in the witnesses' line of vision, all point in the direction of this widely ignored meteorological anomaly. 

Wim van Utrecht
(September 2002)

The author wishes to thank  Dr. Ronny Blomme of the Royal Observatory at Brussels for his valuable advice and for proofreading the manuscript; Heino Bardenhagen for sending us his excellent photo series; Dr. Eric H0G of the Niels Bohr Institute for Astronomy, Physics and Geophysics at Copenhagen for sending us his investigative notes on the gas platform sightings in the North Sea; Jos Hermans for sending us a copy of his investigation report on the 1979 Berchem case; anomaly researchers Marc Hallet, Eric Maillot, Claude Mauge and Jacques Scomaux for their pertinent remarks and numerous photocopies; Kwinten van Weverberg for , Walter Van den Eynde for searching the Internet for background info on East Texas; Guy Jacobs of FINA Antwerpen, Gui Winkelmans of FINA OLEFINS ANTWERPEN and other anonymous sources at the FINA and BASF complexes for technical data on flaring activities.

Notes and references

1  Internet message concerning the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Initiative led by the World Bank Group in collaboration with the Government of Norway, April 2002.

2  EL VIDGEChristopher D. et al, ''Night time Lights of the World: 1994-95", articlsubmitted to the ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing on February 11, 2000.

3  GREENLER, Robert, Rainbows, Halos, and Glories, Cambridge University Press1980.

4  CORLISS, William R.RarHalos, Mirages, Anomalous Rainbows and Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights and Related Luminous Phenomena, The Sourcebook ProjectGlen Arm, 1984.

5  MINNAERTDr. Marcel, Dnatuurkunde van 't vrijveld -1, en 3, Thiem & Cie, Zutphen, 1968 Part I of this standard work is also available in English as Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air, Dover, 1954, and Light and Color in the Outdoors, Springer-Verlag, New York1993.

6  LYNCH, David K. & LIVINGSTONWilliam, Color and Lighin Nature, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

7  See for example:
American Meteorological Journal, February and March 1887;
Popular Astronomy, March and May 1908;Zenit, the NetherlandsSeptember 1975, May 1977 and September 1977 (first known colour photos of flame reflections);Aarde &KosmosMarch 1977;GANTOIS, J.MDE LOORE, Prof. C.W.H.UFO's en andere vreemde natuurverschijnselenThieme & CieZutphen1979.
And for 
related phenomena: 
Ciel et Terre, 1887:119-120187-188; L 'Astronomie, 1888:392-393 and hllp://m\ \\. html (about clear reflections from landscape elements off clouds);
Nature, April 51930; Monthly Weather Review, February 1935; WeatherFebruary 1973; GREENLER, RobertRainbows, Halos, and Glories, Cambridge University Press1980,1991Journal of Meteorology, February 1999 and http://\n\w.nctppl. fi/-jarmom:haloguid/halogal. html (about atmospheric light columns from artificial light sources);- MENZELDonald H. & BOYD, Lyle G., The World of Flying Saucers, Doubleday Co, New York, 1963 (about atmospheric reflection and refraction phenomena in general);SCORER, Richard & VERKAIKArjenSpacious Skies, David & CharlesLondon, 1989 (photo of atmospheric reflections caused bthe lights of Japanese fishinboats);WeatherMarch 1970 (photo of a diamond-shaped reflection below cloud caused by sunlight reflectefrom the St. Lawrence River);
Weather, Jul1972 (about ice-crystal displays from power plants);Journal of Applied MeteorologyAugust 1978 (about specular reflections from plate crystals usinan active laser radar system).

8  HOOK, JosepA., "AeriaReflectionover Burning Gas Wells" in American Meteorological Journal, February 1887.

9  "Mini-Enquetes en 1981 et 1982 »in NotTechnique n° 14 , GEPAN, Toulouse, 1987, ppl.Ol.l3.

10  UFO investigators often interpret descriptions of beams of light emanating from a light source and moving in the direction of an observer, as proof of a highly personal encounter between an unknown intelligence and a favored witness. It seems more reasonable to accept that such witness-centred effects are caused by optical phenomena associated with the observer's position (much like in the case of a solar halo or a rainbow).

11 (Passage deleted, numbering kept to preserve author's formatting.)

12  SCHUESSLER, John F., "Cash-Landrum Radiation Casein The MUFON UFO Journal No. 165November 1981.

13  SCHUESSLER, John F., The Cash-Landrum UFO Incident, Geo Graphics Printing Co., La Porte1998. If not indicated otherwise, quotes were taken from this book.

14  We found only one example: on October 20, 1983 a circular flame reflection of a diffuse orange color was seen by a meteorologist from a Danish gas platform in the North Sea. In this case a total integrated brightness of about magnitude -9 wainferred (the moon has an integrated brightness of mag 13). Source: H0G, Eric (Copenhagen University Observatory)Internet messages and personal correspondence.

15  MINNAERT, Dr. Marcel, Dnatuurkundvan 'vrije veld1, pp. 27-30.

16  "Mini-Enquetes e1981 et 1982 »in NotTechniqun° 14GEPAN, Toulouse, 1987pp. 1.0-1.13.
17  MlNNAERT, Dr. Marcel, Dnatuurkundvan 'vrije veld2, pp. 25-33.

18  SCHUESSLER, John F., "Cash-Landrum radiation case" in ThMUFON UFO Journal No. 165, November 1981

19  SCHUESSLER, John F., "Betty Cash dies on anniversary of encounterin The MUFON UFO Journal No370, February 1999.

20  GREENWOODBarry, Just Cause, January 25, 1998.

21  KLASSPhilip J.Skeptics UFO Newsletter# 51, May 1998, p. 3.
22  "DCash-Landrum zaak" in X Factor No. 30, 1998.

- - -
Additional Light Pillar Photographs
- The German photos included at the end are not a good example of the type of pillar that, I think, caused the CASH/LANDRUM report. Most of the pillars that are shown in these pictures are reflections from unshielded city lights in low cloud (ice mist). What we need for the CASH/LANDRUM report is a mirrored image of a big flame in cirriform cloud. Flames from a gas well or a petrochemical complex may have been responsible for the twin pillars in the bottom picture, but I never managed to establish that with certainty. 

Photo 1 A typical example of atmospheric reflections, photographed by Heino BARDENHAGEN at Helvesiek, Germany, on January 28'-h, 1998. Flares and spotlights from an industrial site south of Hamburg, approximately 40 km east-northeast of Helvesiek  are thought to have been responsible for this display. In total 9 reflections were photographed that night, appearing and disappearing at different azimuths and elevations between the southeast and the east-northeast. Most of the streaks are flanked with fainter specimenwhich often appear only on time-exposures and remain invisible to the naked eye.

Light pillars, reflection source unconfirmed.

Photo 2 – Another photo by Heino BARDENHAGEN, taken 30 minutes after the previous shot. The reddish streaks on this photo were almost certainly caused by flares from a twin well-head at the Liineburger Heide, approximately 75 km southeast of Helvesiek The great distance between the photographer and the light source explains why the reflected images appear so close to the horizon. Note the dark saucer-shaped object on top of the two pillars of light. In reality this "objectis nothing but a small gap in the cloud-deck

Considering the Light Pillar Theory, 2013

Comparing the phenomena to the event

Not good for the light pillar theory is what SCHUESSLER writes next on pp. 11 and 12 of his book, namely that, after Betty had observed the phenomenon from outside the car, "the object (...) rose swiftly” then “appeared" (sic) "to tilt over on its side” before it “began to move slowly south in the direction of Galveston Bay" (which is actually in the SSE). However, according to the November 1981 issue of The MUFON UFO Journal, Betty stated that: "after 15 minutes or so, the object began drifting upward to the right of them in a direction that looked to be somewhere in between Humble and Houston" (which would be somewhere in the SW). Also, it is not entirely clear to me how to picture the object tilting on its side then moving slowly to the south when it already was in the south. Perhaps changes in brightness and length of the light pillar created the illusion of the "object" tilting and moving away from the witnesses.  The upward movement is not necessarily a problem: if the altitude of the ice-crystal cloud changes, the reflected image will drop or rise accordingly (consecutive photos of light pillars do indeed show changes in elevation). One possible explanation for the rising, tilting and moving away is that the reflection encountered a gap in the cloud.

Next, after following a “very curvy” portion of the road, the witnesses “turned right at the intersection" (i.e. going south again) where "they could see the UFO and helicopters ahead" (MUFON UFO Journal, Sept. 1983). So we have the phenomenon in the south again (interestingly it is now described as looking “like a vertical elongated light”). On p. 16 of his book, SCHUESSLER continues: “Betty turned east on the Huffman-Eastgate Road (…), The object and the helicopters were now much farther off to their right”. And in the Sept. 1983 issue of The MUFON UFO Journal: “At FM 1960”, which is the Huffman-Eastgate Road, “they turned left and sped home to Dayton and lost sight of the object out the rear window before they reached Dayton”.  So when driving east to Dayton the UAP was first to the right, then fell behind them. This is compatible with a fixed light source just south of Lake Houston.  

I did find a possible candidate light source on Google Earth: a chemical plant 34.5 km (21.4 miles) south of where the Farm-To-Market Road makes a turn and becomes the Huffman-New Caney Road (i.e. where the “streak of fire” was first seen). With its vast petrochemical/refining infrastructure, the Houston area has a long history of flaring activities creating strange lights in the sky. As a veteran investigator of UFO reports SCHUESSLER should have been aware of that.

Summarizing all this we could say that we have an “object” that remained pretty much in the same spot during a period of about 20 minutes. If SCHUESSLER had only measured the azimuth and elevation for one of the times the witnesses were not driving (like when Betty pulled over at the cemetery) we would have something tangible to work with.  

Despite the fact that there are quite a few shortcomings in the manuscript, there is no doubt in my mind that the first phase of the CASH/LANDRUM incident was indeed caused by an atmospheric reflection of a bright flame.

Additional Examples

The 2009 video from Paris, France (not Paris, Texas) that Gilles Fernandez linked to at UFO SCEPTICISME shows artificial light pillars near the zenith. These are usually caused by unshielded city lights (mostly broad-beamed high-intensity floodlights at soccer fields or spotlights illuminating monuments) that reflect off of a relatively thin layer of ice-crystals (with no ice-crystals beneath, otherwise the pillars would have been much longer). 

© Joël BAVAIS 

Another spectacular example of light pillars near the zenith can be found at the CAELESTIA photo gallery of Artificial Light Pillars.  This is the type of display that was responsible for the famous 1991 sightings at Montreal (more about that at CAELESTIA:    

© Wim van Utrecht

NOTE: Please check the "Comments" section below for further discussion.
Also see the the link below for Wim's response, clarifications and further analysis:


  1. For what it's worth, there are two major oil refineries within 30-50 miles of where we live, so I'm accustomed to seeing the large flares from waste burn off when driving past them, and from home the flare light shining on and through the clouds that can sometimes look like light from a major wildfire raging in the nearby mountains. The temperature here goes to freezing and below in winter, and we see rainbows and halos around the moon and sun from ice crystals in the air.

    I've never seen (nor has anyone here with whom I've shared the piece) the pillars of light or other reflective phenomena as described and attributed to refinery flares (among other sources) by van Utrecht.

    By the way, we've never felt heat near the refineries. After all, the big flares are occurring very high above our heads and heat rises. A strong downdraft would be needed to feel heat from them. Any lower-to-the-ground burn offs must take place deep inside the refinery grounds, not near the perimeter, because we've never seen them. These are likely too far away to feel their heat from outside (these refineries take up as much square mileage as a military base).

    So, it seems unlikely to me the witnesses might possibly have felt heat from a refinery (if anyone wants to jump to that conclusion). And, the explanation that the heat experienced was merely an imagined sensation caused by witness panic after seeing a "flame-like" object is a very long and thin stretch by van Utrecht. I, for one, can't take that at all seriously.

    I'm not saying the atmospheric phenomena van Utrecht describes don't exist and can't happen. Instead, I suspect they are more rare (probably why they're so obscure) than he states, and might require not only relatively unusual, ephemeral atmospheric conditions but also a local terrain that is somehow conducive to creating them. Therefore, they might occur in some locations but not in others, which is why they've not been seen in our area that anyone can remember. This doesn't automatically rule them out as an explanation for the Cash-Landrum case. But rather seems to indicate we should be cautious about reaching any conclusion based on van Utrecht's material.

    1. purrlgurrl, I tend to agree with you, but I simply am not familiar enough with the phenomenon to say. Obviously, it doesn't fully account for many other elements in the case, but I'm glad Wim has taken a serious look at it, and considered that there was a genuine event at the core of the story. I'm hoping Wim will offer further opinions once he's had a chance to absorb more of the recent material.

      Oh, before I forget, thanks for describing the characteristics surrounding a refinery area, and the effects you've seen. Its always good to have details like that to better understand the terrain in a scenario.

  2. As much as I like the hypothesis offered, I have to consider it a lot probability solution. Houston, Texas is not really an area where ice crystals can form except at high elevations. I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida and the weather is comparable. You get cold nights but not as cold as more northern climates where this can occur.
    As an aside, I noticed that weather underground indicates the weather in Houston was "Overcast" that night. I always thought it was clear for some reason.
    Do I have something wrong here?
    If the sky was "overcast", could it be possible that a flame could have been bright enough to reflect off the clouds? I recall seeing a large building (that was spotlit) reflect on an overcast sky in the early 1970s. Just something to consider.

    1. Wim Van Utrecht Replies:

      "Hi Tim,

      Tim writes "Houston, Texas is not really an area where ice crystals can form except at high elevations". That's right, but the explanation I suggested for the CASH/LANDRUM sighting IS about “Artificial Light Pillars in HIGH Cloud”, not about light pillars forming in ice mist or in ice-crystal layers drifting a couple of hundred meter above the ground. From Table I at one can deduce that the reflections we are concerned with occur at altitudes roughly between 3 and 7 km (10,000 and 23,000 feet), and naturally halfway between the observer and the light source. We are talking about elongated mirrored images of very bright lights (like the 100 feet high flames that can be seen when gases are burned off at petrochemical plants). Nothing to do with lights illuminating a low cloud deck, but everything with billions of tiny ice-crystals plates tumbling down and forming a gigantic mirror in the sky. Contrary to what I assumed when I first started studying this phenomenon, the reflections can also occur in the Summer (see the aforementioned table). Low latitudes are not a problem either.

      In an earlier mail to Curt, I wrote that the Houston area had a long history of flares at petrochemical plants creating strange lights in the sky (see also note 3 at Actually, light pillars in high cloud have been observed over refineries since the early years of oil production. Attached is a PDF file of a couple of observations that were published in the Texas Observers’ Bulletin during the 1930s and 1940s.

      Also from the Houston area is this picture - out of focus, alas - of a series of light pillars photographed from the George Observatory at Houston:

      Just to point out that I’m not inventing things here.

      Very best regards,


      I've uploaded Wim' PDF attachment of the Texas Observers’ Bulletin at

    2. I stand corrected regarding such effects being visible in Houston. I am impressed and feel a bit more confidence in this potential explanation.

      Something not addressed is the weather that night. Was it cloudy or clear? It appears to have been an overcast sky based on weather underground. I thought I had read it was cold and clear?

    3. Tim, I finished surveying the early case articles, here's every mention I could find that might relate to cloud conditions:

      Landrum said once home she saturated herself and Colby with baby oil because they both were sunburned about the face and neck. “I thought maybe we’d been chapped by the wind or something because we’d been out most of the day,” she said. “there wasn’t no sun that day. it was real cloudy. it couldn’t have been sunburn from the sun.”
      The Courier (Conroe Texas) story by Cathy Gordon Feb. 22, 1981

      John F. Schuessler: “…the sky was relatively clear and the rain had stopped…”
      1981 CUFOS Symposium

      Narration- not JS quote:
      “It was a cold cloudy evening on Dec. 29…”
      The Houston Chronicle, TX, Sept 25, 1981

      John F. Schuessler: “The day of 29 December 1980 had been damp and overcast in Texas.”
      "Light from the third-quarter Moon, supplemented an airglow from the lights in the surrounding area, made the sky bright and the visibility good."
      Brookesmith, Peter, ed. The Age of the UFO. Orbis Publishing, London, 1984, p.
      The Unexplained Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time, Vol 9, Issue 107, 1982.
      (Later collected in The Age of the UFO, P. Brookesmith, 1984)

      LL Walker: “...I looked a little bit closer and you could see some lower lights back off in the distance quite a ways back. I'd say about % of a mile — real good visibility that night...”
      MUFON Journal October 1982 (from the 1982 interview)

      J. Schuessler:
      "The weather ranged from clear and hot to cold, damp, windy, and chilly. Houston, Texas air contains a lot of moisture which acts like little crystals that catch all light from the city, moon and cars and reflect it in an airglow manner that leaves the sky very light much of the time. A deep, dark night in the Houston area is unusual. pg 5

      "The weather on December 29, 1980 was chilly. The witnesses reported the intermittent misty rain earlier in the day. By evening that had stopped. The clouds were high and broken and the moon was in the third quarter. The air was damp and full of moisture. The airglow of Houston was bright. The conditions were correct for being able to see helicopters flying at night. pg. 6"
      MUFON Journal September 1983 (John Schuessler)

      John F. Schuessler:
      “The sky had partially cleared and the moon was visible in the night sky.”
      “Because of the light of the moon and the helicopters’ running lights, the craft were clearly visible.”
      Fate Magazine, May 1984 (Volume 37, No. 5 Issue 410) Clark Publishing Co. pg 32-36 (Victims of a Close Encounter

      This is how it was reported, but then, we've seen that what was said about the Moon didn't check out.

  3. Tim, thanks for stopping by. I'm hoping Wim will reply to your comments and question.
    Thanks also for your help in documenting the Moon visibility on Dec. 29, 1980, for the article:

  4. Light Pillars is an interesting theory, and the photographs of them are striking. Of course, we don't have any information on how long an exposure is required to capture one clearly on film, so how brilliant one of them would appear to the naked eye has to be considered. Nevertheless, for all these bizarre photos, has there been one other instance of a witness to an proven light pillar ever claiming it descended in front of them, belching flames, and exuding intense heat with a deafening roar and intermittent beeps? If light pillars are common enough to have this many photographs of them, then it would seem reasonable to expect that here and there we would find reports of events somewhat similar to the Cash-Landrum incident.
    In the Cash-Landrum case, the road was virtually north-south, so their viewing angle did not change during the main encounter. Are there facts establishing how far off the line of sight the light pillar phenomenon can vary and move? If the C-L case had been something like a light pillar, then for Mr. van Utrecht's theory to work he would need an explanation for how this optical-effect could come in from the left..stop over the road and hover up and down for several minutes..then rise again and move off to the right. The witnesses looked directly south during the main encounter, but a few minutes later, driving to another point of view, they were looking basically westward, and still could see the object, now surrounded by helicopters. Furthermore, the intense heat described so clearly by the witnesses, enough to heat the car door handle, is something that I suspect negates any attempt to rationalize the light pillar explanation (and Purrlgurrl's direct experience of never feeling heat from refineries near her is about as evidentiary as it can get.)
    For this phenomenon to be force-fitted onto the C-L case requires far to many pseudo-explanations and fixes (such as the helicopters being there, but on a speculative 'rescue mission' (if so, wouldn't the news channels be full of the story?))
    It's an interesting phenomenon in itself, and a good article as far as pointing out how vertical 'light pillars' can occur and might be misinterpreted. But Mr. van Utrecht seems to be trying to selectively choose aspects that he thinks might be stretched-to-fit this case, and pushing aside others that would blow the theory. At best, his closing comment, "..there is no doubt in my mind that the first phase of the CASH/LANDRUM incident was indeed caused by an atmospheric reflection of a bright flame.", displays how strongly he wants to believe his own theory. But the facts in this specific case do not warrant such conviction, and the article would be better served by not stating such a conclusion in the face of all the holes in the theory as far as explaining away the Cash-Landrum encounter.

    1. I can't answer for Wim, but need to state that "his closing comment" was not in the original article, but from an email describing the case that I took the liberty of including, possibly an editorial error.

      Wim also candidly discusses the places where his theory does not fit so well. He's offering this genuine phenomenon as a possible explanation of the UFO, and is continuing to examine sources of reflection that might have accounted for it.

      One other thing, in Wim's original draft, he included a case that he later found out was caused by another stimulus. He requested I omit the case. Wim has demonstrated that the facts matter, and when he makes a mistake will see that it gets corrected.

      As a footnote, I just want to say that I'm encouraging discussion on this case and welcoming new opinions.