UFOs Northwest Homepage
History of UFOs
Sighting Reports
Audio Clips
Close Encounters
Pilot Sightings
Report a Sighting
UFO Events
UFO Organizations
Important Links
About Us
Contact Us

An Unidentified Anniversary - Elk River UFO Crash?

By Mike Marsh - The Daily World (
Thursday, November 26, 2009 9:47 AM PST

Archived Image of 1979 Article About Alleged Elk River UFO Crash.
Archived Image of 1979 Article About Alleged Elk River UFO Crash.

Map and Overview Map of Sighting. Sighting Occurred near Westport, Washington Which is About 100 Miles West-Southwest of Seattle.
Map and Overview Map of Sighting.
Sighting Occurred About 3.5 Miles Southeast of Westport, Washington.
Westport is About 100 Miles West-Southwest of Seattle.

The first hint that something unusual had occurred in the skies over Grays Harbor on Sunday, Nov. 25, 1979, came in to the sheriff’s office around 11 p.m. On the line was a Westport man reporting that a low-flying object with a fiery glow had just exploded in the vicinity of the Elk River mudflats. 

Other reports soon followed.

One Aberdeen resident who was driving west on Highway 12 near Elma described seeing a “green and white flash” pass overhead, while a Hoquiam woman driving through Central Park phoned air traffic controllers at Bowerman Field to report that a plane heading southwest appeared to be on fire.

“At first I thought it was a plane crashing,” another witness told The Daily World on November 26. “It had big windows, but no flashing lights. It looked like a very low-flying aircraft.

“It was traveling from the northwest to the southwest and was kind of falling,” the Central Park resident continued, explaining that she was watching television at the time and saw the object through a living room window. “It was bright like mercury lights, but it wasn’t making a sound.”

“It startled me,” she added. “I thought to myself, I think I’ve just seen a UFO.”

In the days that followed, searches conducted by the Sheriff’s Office and the Civil Air Patrol turned up nothing. The Federal Aviation Administration, local airports and military officials all said there were no reports of overdue or missing aircraft.

By Wednesday, Nov. 28, all searches had been called off and The Daily World concluded that whatever it was that crossed the skies above Grays Harbor and seemingly crashed near the Elk River might “remain a mystery indefinitely.”

Thirty years later, the mystery lives on and the incident continues to intrigue, especially UFO investigator James Clarkson.


As the chief investigator for the Washington state chapter of the Mutual UFO Network — a national organization with more than 4,000 volunteers who document and invesitgate calls that come in to the National UFO Reporting Center Hotline — James Clarkson deals with several hundred UFO sightings per year.

But since Clarkson joined MUFON in 1986, it’s the UFO sighting on Grays Harbor in 1979 he has taken particular interest in. He has spent hours upon hours conducting interviews and gathering information, searching for clues and evidence and giving presentations at public libraries and UFO conferences.

Coincidentally, Clarkson was a rookie cop with the Aberdeen Police Department in November 1979, but admits that he “did not even know the crash had happened” until 1986.

“It was seven years after the event, but it was still a big topic of discussion,” recalled Clarkson, who now lives in Olympia. “I kept hearing it over and over in one version or another. Everyone seemed to know about the Elk River crash.

“As time went on I found out it was the subject of several news stories in The Daily World,” he continued. “So I checked into it at the library and I just about fell over. The headline was ‘UFO wreckage in Elk River?’”

With his curiosity piqued, Clarkson began conducting interviews.

“There was a consistent perception among the witnesses that this was a vehicle that was out of control and possibly burning,” said Clarkson, who says some of his fellow officers began kiddingly referring to him as the UFO Cop. “They were all concerned that something was crashing and they all decided they needed to call somebody because it might be some sort of an emergency.”

Given the details and the consistency of each witness’s story, Clarkson believes it was a credible UFO sighting. But don’t read too much into it, he says.

“Don’t assume aliens or little green men,” he explained. “A UFO is no more, no less than what the acronym says. It’s something in the sky that because of shape or color, aerodynamic characteristics or maneuvering appears to be an unknown. It doesn’t have an obvious explanation. It’s an unidentified flying object.”

And while a credible UFO sighting makes for a good story, says Clarkson, it’s what happened in the aftermath that would get a conspiracy theorist’s blood boiling.


“I sometimes jokingly refer to the Elk River crash as Grays Harbor County’s Roswell,” said Clarkson, referencing speculation that a UFO crashed in Roswell, N.M, in 1947. “It has many of the same elements.”

First, something crashed that night.

“You can’t change the fact that all of these witnesses saw a large flaming object come down out of the sky somewhere in the hills near the Elk River Bridge,” Clarkson said.

Second, since Clarkson began investigating the crash, he’s become convinced there was a military presence in the area.

A former logger told Clarkson that he showed up for work one morning after the crash and military personnel wouldn’t let him go to his logging site; another man saw military cargo helicopters in the area; and a former Elma police officer, who was off-duty at the time, told him he saw army trucks going down the highway toward Westport. There was even a man who saw a military person making a frantic call from a pay phone near Westport before speeding off in unmarked sedan.

“What I tend to believe is that most of the people got most of it right,” Clarkson said. “And if they did, then we have a military cover up.”

“If something came down up there, it’s either a missile or an experimental aircraft that belongs to us or another country,” he continued. “Or it’s an extra-terrestrial vehicle.”

Whatever the explanation, Clarkson believes it would have been a difficult public relations problem for the military, so the strategy would be to “get in there quick, clean it up, get out and pretend you were never there.”

“I’ve never had anybody say, ‘No the military wasn’t there,’” said Clarkson, who has made repeated efforts to get information through the Freedom of Information Act. “The military haven’t denied it.”

But they had. On December 14, 1979, Ralph Paduano, an information officer at Fort Lewis, told The Daily World that the Army is “not guarding anything in the Elk River and we aren’t doing anything about UFOs that I know about.”

“Of course they weren’t guarding anything,” said Clarkson. “They were long gone by then.”


In a final twist to the story, Clarkson interviewed one witness who told him that one night following the crash, he pulled his car over near the John’s River Lodge when he saw several other people looking up at the sky.

According to Clarkson, the man described seeing a strange spectacle of lights. There was one very large light, he said, being trailed by half a dozen small lights, like a mother duck with her ducklings. The big light was in the middle and the other lights hovered around it. Then they took off in all directions at fantastic speeds and the big light left over the ocean.

“I refer to it as the ‘other’ search party,” said Clarkson.

In the end, Clarkson, who retired from the Aberdeen Police Department in 2000 after a 20-year career, can’t say for sure what it was that crossed the sky back in November 1979. It’s a credible UFO sighting, he says, and there’s a strong case that there was a military response, but time is the enemy of any investigation and the mystery may never be solved.

Clarkson remains optimistic.

“Although many years have gone by,” he said, “I haven’t totally given up the notion that there might be someone out there who has a key piece of information.”

Someone or something?

“Do I think we are being contacted, monitored, visited?” Clarkson asks. “Yes I do. ... That’s what keeps me motivated.”

Motivated to keep digging for information and motivated to find evidence proving there are other intelligent life forms in the universe.

“If there was a report of actual contact, it would rate up there as one of the biggest stories of all time,” Clarkson said. “I guess all of us UFO investigators secretly hope to be the one who proves that we’re not alone.”