Ascending to the Stars: The Grouse Mountain UFO Incident

Ascending to the Stars: The Grouse Mountain UFO Incident

Grouse Mountain UFO 1900

If you’re a fan of The X Files, you’ve seen Grouse Mountain–possibly without knowing it. In ‘Ascension’ (Season 2 Episode 6), Dana Scully is kidnapped by alien abductee Duane Barry who takes a gondola to the top of a mountain where a rendezvous with extraterrestrials is scheduled. Most memorably, David Duchovny did his own stunt performance climbing around on top of a gondola trying to reach the mountain top. The aliens take Scully instead of Barry, which sets the ball rolling on Scully’s own long subplot storyline in search of what exactly happened to her. The choice of locations for filming these episodes might not be just mere chance, though. This isn’t the first time Grouse Mountain has been connected with a UFO.

Welcome to Grouse Mountain

On February 12, 1954, something tragic (yet very strange) happened on Grouse Mountain that remains unexplained to this day.

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On that particular gloomy day, Second Lieutenant Lamar Barlow left McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington, on what seemed like a routine instrument training mission at 10:25 AM. On board his F86 Sabre were 24 rockets traveling with him on his supersonic flight. But about an hour and a half into his flight, Barlow started his ‘Mayday’ calls over the radio. He was lost, and his compass was malfunctioning. Running low on fuel near Vancouver, Barlow requested an emergency landing shortly after noon, but before a nearby runway could be cleared, contact with the pilot was abruptly cut short.

A newspaper photograph showing the wreckage of Barlow’s F86.

While the exact details of what happened to Barlow and his F86 are impossible to know, what we do know is that Barlow and his plane were traveling at 760 mph at an elevation of 2700 feet (200 feet below the cloud layer) when they flew directly into the side of Grouse Mountain, narrowly missing the cable life by a few hundred feet. When officials arrived at the scene, the snowy mountain was littered with debris spread out over a great distance. Barlow was dead, still strapped inside the seat of his plane. Most of the 24 rockets were retrieved by the military.

Today, Grouse Mountain is cross-crossed with ski slopes and hiking trails. Pilot Richard Dunn of the 427th Squadron was an avid hiker and stumbled across the jet engine (exactly like the ones on his own plane) while hiking in 2007. (Barlow belonged to the 465th Squadron.) Not knowing what he found, he researched the crash and discovered its story. Family members were led by Dunn to the crash site on what would have been his 81th birthday in 2009.

A modern view of an engine from Barlow's plane on Grouse Mountain.

A modern view of an engine from Barlow’s plane on Grouse Mountain.

Officially, it was determined that the crash was the result of Barlow seeing a “radar ghost in the sky” which made him think he was still over Tacoma, Washington. He had no time to respond when Grouse Mountain suddenly came into view. Investigating officers believed it was strange that he would by flying so fast on the descent, but blamed it on inexperience and relying too heavily on the word of radar operators. Yet not everyone thinks that a radar mirage is behind this fatal accident. There are some who believe Barlow was on a secret mission to shoot down a UFO.

While the bombs on board may have been there simply for training with the proper aircraft weight, it has been questioned whether an instrument training mission would really require active bombs. Yet those bombs also led to something else pointed out by the folks at UFO*BC as suspicious: the heavy guard over the crash site. Naturally, you don’t want people and reporters stumbling over unexploded bombs. But there is something puzzling about the unexplained radar echo combined with total instrument failure, so common in UFO reports, unless the Pacific Northwest has its own previously-undiscovered Bermuda Triangle.

Whatever the cause, the events of that day were a tragedy and the wreckage site is now hallowed ground. But I can’t help but wonder if Chris Carter and the crew of The X Files knew about this story when they chose the location for filming. It remains an intriguing mystery which still leaves so many questions unanswered. Unfortunately, the full story was taken with Barlow to his grave.

What do you think? Was it a blip or a bogie? A training mission or intercept gone horribly wrong? Weigh in on Facebook or Twitter, or leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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3 Comments

  1. Chris Savia

    04/11/2014 at 11:00 PM

    An off-topic tangent to your excellent meditation upon Grouse Mountain, but I think there may be a parallel between Grouse Mountain and Mount Chiliad. The similarities are facile and superficial, a mountain with a cable car, but then again GTAV is facile and superficial. Yet drawing upon a plot from the X-Files would suggest a measure of class and erudation… I’m torn.

  2. Coppertop

    04/14/2014 at 7:33 AM

    While I will admit the story’s deliciously weird, there’s just not enough information here to bite into. Were there any other sightings of UFO activity before or after the crash? Or was this an isolated incident?

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