|A Northrop F-89C Scorpion, like the one flown by Moncla and Wilson. (credit: Flight Collection)|
The channel that connects Lake Superior with the other Great Lakes flows through the Soo Locks near Saulte Ste. Marie, Michigan. On one side of the channel is the U.S., and on the other side is Canada. The fact that this area is on a U.S. national border makes it a restricted airspace. As such, it was monitored by the Air Defense Command in 1953.
On the evening of 23 November 1953, an Air Defense Command Ground Intercept radar controller at Truax AFB became alerted to an "unidentified target" over Soo Locks. He sounded the alert, and an F-89C Scorpion jet was scrambled from nearby Kinross Field. The jet was piloted by 1st Lieutenant Felix Moncla, Jr., with 2nd Lieutenant Robert Wilson in the rear seat as radar operator.
Ground Control vectored the jet toward the target, noting that the target changed course as the F-89 approached it at over 500 mph. Lt. Wilson had problems tracking the target on his onboard radar, so ground control continued to direct the jet to the target. For thirty minutes, the jet pursued the radar blip and began to close the gap as the UFO accelerated out over Lake Superior.
As Ground Control watched, the gap between the two blips on the radar screen grew smaller and smaller until the two blips became one blip. Ground Control thought that Moncla had flown over the target and that the two blips would separate again as he moved past it.
That didn't happen. Suddenly, the single blip flashed off the screen and the radar screen was clear of any return at all.
Frantically, Ground Control tried to contact the F-89 by radio. There was no response. Marking the last radar position, Ground Control dispatched an emergency message to Search and Rescue. That last sighting was about seventy miles off Keweenaw Point in upper Michigan, at an altitude of 8,000 feet, approximately 160 miles northwest of Soo Locks.
After an all night air/sea rescue search, not a trace of the plane or the men was ever found. No debris, no oil slick, nothing was ever found.
Officials at Norton Air Force Base Flying Safety Division issued a statement that "the pilot probably suffered from vertigo and crashed into the lake." However, this was merely speculation and was based on hearsay reports that Moncla was prone to vertigo.
The Air Force explained the unknown radar target at first as a Canadian DC-3, then later as a RCAF jet. Canadian officials responded that there were no Canadian aircraft in the airspace over the lake at any time during the chase. The Air Force finally stated that the F-89 had exploded at high altitude, ignoring the fact that this would have left a lot of debris on the lake surface.
NICAP investigators found that mentions of Moncla's mission - chasing an unidentified target - had been obliterated from official records. Project Bluebook files simply listed the case as an "accident."
Off the record, those that were present in the Ground Control radar room that day have expressed other opinions. They think that whatever the F-89 was chasing directly caused the disappearance of the jet...