1981 Columbia River UFO Incident: Audio Recording
4:03 a.m., March 17th, 1981. Saint Helens, Oregon. Sergeant Russell Yokum of the Oregon Police Department was driving down Highway 30, situated west of the Columbia River, when a bright light caught his attention. The light was hovering high above the icy waters and traveling upriver towards the Portland Airport, roughly 20 miles away.
What caught the Sergeant’s attention was how bright the light was, especially how it almost seemed to light up the river as if it were day light. Sergeant Yokum immediately called headquarters to let them know about the mysterious light traveling up the river. Within minutes several other law enforcement officials, and civilians, bore witness to the strange activity early that morning. To their amazement, the UFO emitted a high-pitched whirling sound for a few minutes before fading out and disappearing into the darkness.
Luckily for us, the entire radio conversation was recorded by those listening in. Around the 2:00 minute mark of the recording, the whirling sound that the UFO emitted can be clearly heard in the background.\
Source: Sacred-texts.com What Was That Light and Sound Over the Columbia River? by Greg Long It was misty and very cold in the early morning hours of March 17, 1981, as Sergeant Russell Yokum of the Saint Helens, Oregon, Police Department drove on patrol on Highway 30 west of the Columbia River. Saint Helens is a small mill town about 20 miles northwest of Portland. At 4:03 a.m., Yokum's attention was drawn to a bright light that was moving upriver, easterly, toward the Portland Airport 20 miles away. Aircraft passed over here regularly on their way to the airport. But this light was extraordinarily bright, lighting up the river like daylight. Yokum was immediately convinced that the light was not from an aircraft. He radioed headquarters, and drove on to Saint Helens to look at the light from the county courthouse on the banks of the Columbia River, which afforded a clear view. Other law enforcement officers, Ricky Cade and Tom McCartney of the Oregon State Police, and a few citizens, met Yokum at the county courthouse. By this time, Yokum was in radio contact with Donald Askins, who bore the CB handle "Lucky 13." Askins, who was located in a house across the river in Washington state in Ridgefield, southeast of Saint Helens, had picked up the police radio traffic. He said that he, too, had seen the light, and was seeing it now. The light was stationary over the river turning the whole area into daylight. There was initial confusion as the officers in Saint Helens described the light to Askins. They claimed it was bobbing up and down. Askins insisted that the light he saw was stationary. Later, it was proved that the light the officers saw during the first moments of the sighting from the courthouse was a manmade light on Sauvie Island across the river. Fog, variable that night, had created the bobbing effect. Finally, understanding their confusion, the officers turned and looked to the south. There was the light Askins was watching! It was low and standing out starkly over the river where there were few, and only then, faint lights. Askins had heard the light emitting an eerie, extremely loud sound, and the officers set up a portable tape recorder 18 inches from their police radio to record their conversation and the sound, should it recur. Askins volunteered to dangle his CB microphone out of the window of the rented house he was in so that he could transmit the sound to the officers. The police drove to a nearby high bluff that gave them an excellent view. The ensuing 30 minutes, recorded on tape, and presented to the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) for analysis, presents a fascinating, real-life drama of puzzled human beings attempting to understand the unknown. The tape does not indicate who was speaking, but the excitement is palpable. Listen to this sequence -- looking at the light -- in one of these sound formats (780K each). (Real Audio 3.0, AU, Wave, AIFF) "Hey, Lucky! We've got a tape recorder sitting here by our radio whenever you're ready. We'll keep her running. If it starts up again, just key up and we'll record a little bit of it." "Oakey doak." "I just don't want you to think we had a screw loose." "Sometimes I wonder." "Oh, go to bed!" "Now all it is is just an orange glow. That's all I can see." "It's like the sun is just coming up." "It better not be. It's awfully early." "Awfully early for the sun. I don't think the sun would just be in that one spot." And then at approximately 4:29 a.m., the light emitted the sound. What you are about to hear is the actual sound of an Unidentified Flying Object, only one of a few that are known to the public. Listen to this sequence -- it contains the UFO sound -- in one of these sound formats (800K each). (Real Audio 3.0, AU, Wave, AIFF) "I think it's moving out, you guys?" "Well, we're watching. We've moved to a higher vantage point. So you tell us what it does." "Well, listen." Sound of the UFO begins on tape now! "It sounds like it's revving up its engines." "Can you hear it?" "I hope. Because it sure is cold out here." "I hope you're taping this, you guys." "Yes, we are." "It sounds like a power plant diesel motor and a screeching noise in between it there, or with it." After the light "powered down," one officer heard it quietly humming. For another 14 minutes the officers, citizens, and Lucky 13 watched the hovering light. Then at 4:43 a.m., the light went out. One officer said that the light made a "funny whistling sound before it went out." "We heard whatever it was go off, or quit doing whatever it was doing there." "The Coast Guard confirmed they did have it on radar and it did go down." "OK. Are they coming to check it out?" "I don't know. OSP [Oregon State Police] is still talking to them." "I definitely seen it disappear, and all of a sudden there was a big funny noise." "OK. 10-4." What was that light and sound over the Columbia River? Investigators from CUFOS interviewed the officers (Askins couldn't be found). Yokum and Cade said the light was spherical, showing no structure. Cade said it was orange-red in color; Yokum, light orange. The round light had hovered 80 to 100 feet above the river, reflecting light off the water. The estimated size of the light was 30 feet in diameter. Investigators ruled out the moon (wrong direction); a dope smuggling boat (implausible; why light up the area?); a balloon; or an hallucination (too many observers.) CUFOS analyzed the sound recording. The sound displays two strong peaks, or fundamentals, at about 1000 and 3000 hertz (cycles per second), with no even harmonics in the sound. When the tape is played backwards, the data does not change. Both Askins and Yokum heard the sound change pitch, like a turbine winding down, before it vanished at 4:43 a.m. It was then that the UFO blinked out of existence. What was it? Where did it go? This sighting caused a buzz in the local media, but then as no answer was forthcoming, as is usual with UFO sightings, the story died away. We are left these many years later with an audio record of the event, and the testimony of multiple witnesses. Such unexplained spheres of light are not uncommon in the world of UFOs. Such balls of light had been seen for 10 years on the Yakima Indian Reservation (see December 1995 column). Was this glowing, screeching sphere a natural phenomenon, generated by an unusual energy source, perhaps terrestrial in nature? Or something from another place, another world -- extraterrestrial?
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