by Colin Bertram August 21, 2018 (history.com)
• On a hot and humid evening of August 19, 1952, Scoutmaster D.S. “Sonny” DesVergers, 30, was driving a group of Boy Scouts home when he saw a bright light flash over Military Trail near West Palm Beach, Florida, in a dense palmetto grove in the South Florida Everglades. DesVergers pulled onto the shoulder of the highway entered the grove with a machete and a flashlight to take a closer look, leaving the young scouts in the car.
• DesVergers reached a clearing in the grove and immediately smelled a nauseating smell. Then he felt an oven-like heat coming from above. Looking up he saw that he was standing beneath a hovering object – circular, 30 feet in diameter with a height of 10 feet, a convex dome, and the bottom edge was lit with a phosphorescent glow.
• DesVergers saw and heard the hatch on the “ship” open. A red, flare-like light came from the side of the craft and slowly moved toward him. As he slowly moved backward, he covered his face with his hands as the red ball of light grew into a red mist engulfing him until he lost consciousness.
• When he awoke an hour later, DesVergers was leaning against a tree and his eyes burned. He ran back to the highway where he was met by the boys and local authorities. One of the boys said that he had seen a semi-circle of white lights descending into the trees, and then a red light. That’s when the boys ran to a nearby farmhouse to call the Palm Beach County deputy’s office. The deputy on the scene said, “In all my 19 years of law-enforcement work, I’ve never seen anyone as terrified as [DesVergers] was.”
• DesVergers and the boys were questioned at the Sheriff’s Office. The hair on DesVergers’ forearms was singed, his skin burned, and there were three tiny burn holes in the bill of the scoutmaster’s cap.
• The incident eventually made its way to the lead UFO investigator for the US Air Force and Blue Book chief, Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, who would later call the event “the best hoax in UFO history”. DesVergers was painted as an opportunist and media-hungry conman who sold his story to The American Weekly newspaper the following year.
• Ruppelt’s team took grass and soil specimens at the site. When tested, agronomists noted that while the soil remained intact, the root structure of the plants and the lower leaves were charred black and deteriorated by heat.
• The DesVergers incident remains one of the most intriguing UFO cases in the Air Force’s now-declassified Project Blue Book. The Air Force was never able to prove the incident was a hoax, and to this day, it is still unsolved.
On a humid, August night in 1952, scoutmaster D.S. “Sonny” DesVergers emerged burned and barely coherent from a dense palmetto grove in the South Florida Everglades. He claimed he had encountered an unidentified flying object that discharged a fireball, which left him singed and barely able to see.
Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, chief UFO investigator for the U.S. Air Force, would later label the event “the best hoax in UFO history.” But the DesVergers incident remains one of the most intriguing cases from Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s now-declassified investigations into UFOs—because it wasn’t just a sighting incident, but one involving a purported attack. To this day, it’s still unsolved.
Cue appropriately spooky “X-Files” music.
A series of investigations conducted by the U.S. Air Force between 1952 and 1969, Project Blue Book was tasked with scientifically analyzing UFO-related incidents to determine whether they were a threat to national security. Some say the project was commissioned to find rational explanations for these mysterious phenomena, to help quell a growing Cold War-era public hysteria over unidentified objects in the sky. UFO fever reached such intensity that in April 1952, four months before the DesVergers incident, LIFE magazine published a story called “Have We Visitors from Space?”
Pulling over to inspect a bright flash of light
As Ruppelt would later chronicle in his 1956 book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, on the evening of August 19, 1952, hardware-store clerk and Scoutmaster DesVergers, 30, was driving a group of Boy Scouts home when he saw a bright light flash over Military Trail near West Palm Beach, Florida.
Thinking it may be a downed plane or car accident, DesVergers pulled onto the shoulder of the highway so he could take a closer look. Armed with a machete and flashlights, he entered the palmetto grove near where he saw the lights, leaving the three boys in the vehicle with instructions to alert the residents of a nearby farmhouse if he did not return in 15 minutes.
According to the declassified documents, after about four minutes of hacking through the bush DesVergers entered a clearing in the grove. The first thing he described was an acute, nauseating smell and then the feeling of somebody or something watching him. He next experienced a sensation of oven-like heat coming from above. Looking up, DesVergers said, he could not see any stars as he was standing beneath a hovering object.
The object was circular, DesVergers recounted, dull black, with no seams, about 30 feet in diameter with a height of 10 feet, a convex dome atop it and the bottom edge lit with a phosphorescent glow.
Enveloped by a red mist
What happened next is what separates DesVergers’ encounter from thousands of other UFO sightings: As he slowly moved backward, he recalled, he heard a noise like metal against metal, “like a hatch opening,” after which a red, flare-like light came from the side of the object and slowly moved toward him. (DesVergers constantly referred to it as a “ship” when recounting the tale to the authorities) As he placed his hands over his face—fists closed, hand over each eye—the red ball of light grew into a red mist, engulfing him. It was then, he recounted, that he lost consciousness.
When he awoke, DesVergers said, he was leaning against a tree, but could not see properly as his eyes burned. Scrambling back through the palmettos, his eyesight slowly returning to normal, he burst, incoherent, out onto the highway, where he was met by the boys and local authorities.
‘I’ve never seen anyone as terrified as he was’
The three scouts, Bobby Ruffing, 12, David Rowan, 11, and Chuck Stevens, 10, remained in the car after DesVergers entered the grove. Later, in recounting what he witnessed to authorities, Ruffing said he initially saw a semi-circle of white lights descending into the trees. Ruffing also recounted seeing a red light through the brush, as did Rowan and Stevens, who told of also seeing DesVergers’ flashlight through the trees before going dark. That’s when the scouts headed to the nearby farmhouse for help; a Palm Beach County deputy and Lake Worth constable responded to the farmer’s call for assistance.
Returning to the site of the abandoned vehicle almost an hour after DesVergers first said he saw the lights, the officers and scouts witnessed the scoutmaster emerge from the palmettos, waving his machete and babbling incoherently. “In all my 19 years of law-enforcement work, I’ve never seen anyone as terrified as he was,” the deputy is recorded as saying in Ruppelt’s investigation.
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