WINNIPEG - Marie Melnick remembers it was somewhere between midnight and 1
a.m. on a cold, cloudy January night earlier this year when she saw something
in the sky she still can't explain.
The retired school teacher from Great
Falls, Man., was out walking her German shepherd dog, Tammy, as she usually
does in the evenings, when suddenly the dog became frightened.
"I'd never seen her react that way to
anything. She didn't make a sound and her ears were standing up very long and
very noticeable," Melnick said in a telephone interview.
What terrified Tammy was a bright
light accompanied by what Melnick describes as a peculiar whining sound.
"As it came closer I could
distinguish there were four bulbs, green, which cast an eerie glow for about
the length of a bed trailer," she says.
But it wasn't a bed trailer because,
Melnick says, it flew away over a nearby farmer's field leaving no traces on
the soft snow.
The incident left Melnick so
perplexed that the next day she contacted the Centre for UFO Studies which
operates out of the planetarium at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature in
The centre, founded by Ed Barker, the
planetarium's art director and production manager, has examined and documented
hundreds of cases like Melnick's since it became operational in 1975.
Barker, an artist, photographer,
designer and ex-pilot, has been with the planetarium since 1967. He says
despite his interest in UFOs and his research on sightings, he still counts
himself among the skeptics.
"It's important that you keep an open
mind and a very skeptical mind because you can be so easily seduced and led
astray by the subject," he says.
Barker's office and telephone at the
planetarium serve as the centre's headquarters. He explains that all the work
he and two others, one a planetarium employee and the other a retired museum
worker, put into the centre is strictly voluntary.
"It's a study group. We don't have
memberships or anything like that," he says.
The centre receives an average of two
to five calls a week from people who think they have seen an unidentified
Barker says unlike Melnick's
experience, most of the reported sightings turn out to be logically explained
events. Low-flying planes, weather balloons, and natural phenomena such as
falling meteors and lightning are commonly mistaken for UFOs.
"I maintain that I can explain
roughly 95 to 98 percent of the sightings. A very small percentage comes in
that we can't explain," he says.
Those events that can't be explained
are the most fascinating, Melnick says. The most interesting and important
unexplained UFO case still remains the Steve Michalak case which occurred 20
Michalak, a 60-year-old hobby
geologist at the time, had been prospecting near Falcon Lake, Man., when he
saw two low-flying objects.
One of them landed and Michalak, who
is now 80 and still a resident of Winnipeg, says he tried to communicate with
whatever it was. Suddenly, however, the object shot off into the sky, spewing
hot gasses over Michalak and burning his chest and legs. He still has the
scars on his legs.
Since the incident, Michalak has
shied away from publicity. Holding the tattered and burned white shirt he wore
that day, he says he's been accused of being drunk and worse.
Barker says a common misconception is
that those who say they've seen UFOs are crazy, liars or both. However, most
people reporting sightings are quite normal and sincere in what they believe.
"I have gotten very few calls from
people who hallucinate, perhaps schizophrenics who are on leave or on
treatment, but they are not difficult to spot," he says.
Schoolteachers, farmers, policemen,
pilots and housewives have been known to call in and Barker says no one seems
to be immune to UFO sightings.