Historical and Preservation Society of Pottawattamie County

County Seat Council Bluffs, Iowa

(Story by Richard Warner.  Dr. Warner serves on the board of directors of the Historical and Preservation Society of Pottawattamie County.)

"Close Encounter" at Big Lake Park

     On the evening of December 17, 1977 something spectacular happened in Council Bluffs.  Over forty years later no one still is sure what it was.

     There’s no question there was a fireball of molten metal in Big Lake Park.  Eleven independent witnesses can confirm that, as well as the Council Bluffs fire department and police department.  How it got there, or what is was, is the unsolved mystery.

     At 7:45 p.m. Saturday evening three young people on their way to the Richman Gordman store on North 16 Street noticed a reddish object about 500-600 feet in the air falling straight down.  It disappeared behind the trees of Big Lake Park followed by a flash of bluish-white light and two “arms of fire” shooting over ten feet in the air suggesting an impact.  The three drove to the park and got out to investigate, arriving to see a glowing orange blob with a bluish crystalline substance in its center on a dike about sixteen feet from the road.  One of them noted it “looked like a great big sparkler.”  Lava-like material was running down the dike appearing to slow as it cooled.  It was too hot to touch and ignited a small grass fire.  

     A couple in their early 20’s saw “a big round thing hovering in the sky below the treetops” and also drove to the park.  They summoned the fire department.  When Assistant Fire Chief Jack Moore arrived on the scene fifteen minutes later the object was still glowing, molten metal covering a six by four foot area and approximately four inches thick.  Chief Moore requested a police cruiser.  He described the material as “some kind of metal” and “you can’t break it and you can’t bend it.”  Eppley Airfield and Offutt Air Force Base were contacted but knew nothing about it, denying that any aircraft crash had occurred; “Offutt officials didn’t seem terribly interested.”

     A third couple also came forward reporting “a bright red object” rocketing to the ground at Big Lake.

     Samples of the metal were analyzed and determined to be a simple high-carbon steel of a type common in manufacturing.

     So what was it that melted in Big Lake Park that night?  Could it have been a meteor?  No, the debris would have been rock, not metal.  Piece of an aircraft?  It would not have fallen in a semi-molten state.  Satellite?  Those are made with light weight metals having high alloy content, not heavy manufacturing metal.  Space junk?  Something falling all the from outer space should have made a significant crater upon impact and wouldn’t have been molten.

     Ruling out aliens for the moment that leaves one explanation— the whole thing was a hoax.  When the first witnesses arrived on the scene just minutes after the impact a “tiny foreign car” with four teenagers paused briefly and asked if “they saw that thing fall out of the sky too?”  The car then drove on.  Glowing  molten metal is hardly a common sight in the city’s park system yet the occupants of this car weren’t curious enough to pause and take a look.  Did they dump the molten metal and shoot off some sort of flare to create the illusion of something falling to earth?  Maybe, but there are some lingering questions.  

     Two foundries existed in Council Bluffs at the time that could produce molten metal of the type found, so it was available.  But how would one transport a 2500 degree substance, particularly in a “tiny foreign car” with four passengers?   And there’s the question of why go through such an expensive and logistically sophisticated plan for a hoax less than a dozen people saw?

     Of course there is one additional possibility.  The reason the event defies earthly explanation may be that it isn’t from earth at all.  Though the thought of aliens blowing up their space ship over Council Bluffs seems a bit far fetched Dr. Jacques F. Valee, a computer scientist who has compiled a database of thousands of sitings, says that there are at least nine other incidents that could be explained by an alien aerial object in distress ejecting molten metal.  What was ejected could have been part of a liquid metal electrical system of flying object’s power plant.  While this technology doesn’t exist on earth at this time it is theoretically feasible and possibly something an advanced culture may employ.