Published: 1:04 AM 10/31/2015
a strange cigar-shaped aircraft hovering over Random Island...
Kevin Curley, The Packet
It’s late October and the streets will soon be filled with ghosts, goblins and all kinds of paranormal creatures.
But most millennials probably aren’t aware Clarenville is home to its own supernatural experience some 37 years ago.
Though, according to the movies, kindly government officials dressed in black usually wipe our memories of this sort of thing, they didn’t get to Const. Jim Blackwood and a dozen other locals who happened to bear witness to a strange cigar-shaped aircraft hovering over Random Island in October 1978.
When the 25-year-old Blackwood responded to the call from the group on Marine Drive, he assumed it was a simple case of the b’ys getting into the moonshine and letting their imaginations run wild.
But, what Blackwood ended up seeing made him a minor celebrity and the subject of ridicule on the force, so much so that after leaving Clarenville he rarely spoke of the incident.
“I went down and the craft was hovering between Clarenville and Random Island, right on the water. It was only a couple hundred feet off the water. It was there for good two hours before it left,” the now retired Blackwood told The Packet from his home in Nova Scotia.
“I activated the roof lights of my police car and it activated lights at the same time.”
Chester Lethbridge and his wife were among those gathered on the water. They asked him why he would do such a thing. Blackwood explained he was trying to make contact.
“He said he didn’t want to make contact, and he didn’t want to know what was in there and then took off,” Blackwood said.
Using a special telescope for drug surveillance, the once skeptical Blackwood had an up close view to something he can’t explain to this day.
“Chester (Lethbridge) had binoculars. But this thing was a lot better with 60 times’ magnification. I got to see it close up. It didn’t come any closer to us and as it started to leave it went up slow, taking forever to rise — then vroom — gone like a shooting star,” Blackwood said.
Clarenville became Newfoundland’s own Roswell as UFO fever gripped the town for years to come. The old timers hockey team changed their name to the Clarenville UFOs, the local Holiday Inn had a weekend for two UFO special and local auto dealers held extraterrestrial-themed car sales.
“We didn’t see the thing after that. But we did have a lot of calls prior to that. At that particular time there was a flight from Jordan heading to Toronto that happened to see it and it was picked up by radar in Gander. It was a big issue at the time,” Blackwood said.
Blackwood was driven half crazy getting blitzed with media requests. Predicting the ribbing from fellow officers and friends, he refused to talk at first, but eventually the staff sergeant informed him that the powers that be in St. John’s wanted him to grant all interviews. He ended up spending the next couple weeks talking to every major newspaper and media source across the country.
“For two solid weeks all I did was answer the phone and get paid for it. I was on CBC, NTV and BBC. You name it and I was on it,” Blackwood said.
Blackwood is an aircraft enthusiast with a working knowledge of all kinds of planes. He is confidently convinced the hovering object the size of a Boeing 737, was not something from around here.
“I’m familiar with aircrafts of all shapes and sizes. But the metal on it was not like aircraft metal. It was very dull and not shiny at all. It wasn’t even smooth. It was very coarse looking,” he said.
“The technology was way beyond what we had then and still way beyond what we have now.”
Before the incident, Blackwood was not the type to watch the skies. In the years that followed he didn’t develop any kind of interest in little green men.
“Some people would go right hog wild into them, but I never bothered. It was a once in a lifetime thing,” he said.
After leaving the Clarenville detachment, the years of ribbing, ridicule and “Mork and Mindy” jokes deterred him from mentioning the incident to anyone when returning home to Nova Scotia in the mid 1980s.
The National Research Council in Ottawa had an upper atmosphere research facility responsible for UFO reports.
An NRC agent named A.G. MacNamara responded to the reports saying the planet Jupiter is brilliant in mid-October when near the Mediterranean Sea.
“I tore a strip off him. He had this big explanation, but he didn’t talk to me or talk to any of the other 12 witnesses,” Blackwood said. “He just surmised this on his own. There was this guy doing a paper on it. I told him what I thought of him. How the hell can a planet cast a shadow on the water? How can it come down that close that it can block out Random Island?”
Though he hasn’t brought the topic up voluntarily with anyone in decades, he is still contacted by UFO researchers and enthusiasts. He recently recounted his experience with world-renowned professional ufologist Stanton Friedman, an original civilian investigator of the Roswell incident. The TV series “Close Encounters,” which re-enacts alien encounters, has an episode planned on Blackwood’s experience.
Though the experience garnered him some celebrity, on the whole it caused him more grief than it was worth.
So this Halloween season, if you happen to spy a strange looking object over the water near Random Island, maybe just chalk it up to swamp gas and carry on, or else the men in black might show up at your door.