The deputy never claimed to know what he saw outside Stephen, Minnesota – but ufologists called it one of the most significant UFO sightings ever
In the moments after the Marshall County Sheriff’s Deputy woke up in his car in the middle of the night on a dark road, the front of his vehicle showing obvious damage, it was the only thing he was sure too.
“I don’t know what happened,” he told a county dispatcher over the radio while waiting for an ambulance. “Something hit me.”
Johnson’s call to dispatch arrived at around 1:40 a.m. about 16 miles from Stephen, Minnesota. Johnson didn’t know it yet, but he had been unconscious for about half an hour. The deputy was known to carefully set his watch to match the clock on his cruise vehicle’s dashboard before every shift – but when he woke up, his watch and clock were 14 minutes late.
Details of the crash have become stranger. Johnson told the dispatcher that just before the crash he saw a luminous orb about 8 to 12 inches in diameter and hovering 3 or 4 feet above the ground. The last thing he remembered was driving into the light and seeing the orb enter the car through its windshield before leaving.
The incident left the car’s windshield and a headlight shattered, and both antennas bent. Skid marks from the vehicle were visible over 800 feet. After being examined by a doctor, Johnson was diagnosed with ‘welder-like’ eye burns similar to those suffered by people exposed to bright lights.
Investigators were brought to the scene, but were never able to determine the cause of the accident.
November 9, 1979 The shattered windshield of the Johnson Squad car was driving the night of the incident. November 6, 1979 Regene Radniecki, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Those directly involved in the events of the night could not be reached – some relatives told the Grand Forks Herald that after 40 years of cold calling they have become reluctant to discuss what has become of it. known as the “Val Johnson Incident”. “
But Johnson’s damaged patrol car, which last year found a permanent home at the Marshall County Historical Society Museum after being loaned there by the county for decades, remains the museum’s biggest attraction – and in recent years, interest in the car and its history have only grown, said Kent Broten, chairman of the historic company.
âI think a lot of this is due to the internet,â he said. “There’s a lot of stuff on the internet, and people sometimes call about it, and they send their thoughts on what happened, or sometimes they just come over to see the car, and then they go.”
All eyes on Warren
Johnson never actually claimed to have seen a UFO. Just a few years ago, he would have claimed that he did not know what he had seen.
But while the Val Johnson incident sparked international interest in Warren, a community of around 1,500 residents about 30 miles from Grand Forks, UFOs were at the forefront of everyone’s concerns.
Residents of the area have met the excitement with mixed reactions.
“Some said they were there then, and it was all overkill – that everyone had UFO fever back then,” said Chad Lewis, a self-proclaimed “weirdo researcher” who has written extensively on the incident. and spoke about it many times at the museum. “And then I spoke with other people in the community who – and they were down to earth people, rural people, they weren’t quick to come up with a trick for advertising – they believe them. stories, and they believe Val had seen something. ”
September 11, 1979 Val Johnson, standing where he said he was engulfed by a flash of light, indicated the magnitude of the beam as night approached. The night is clear and humid. The only sound that rises from the prairie plain is the hum of the cricket. The only person traveling on the far section of the highway is Val Johnson. September 10, 1979 Stormi Greener, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Eventually, however, the world changed and the Val Johnson incident went from a sensational title to an unusual point in local history.
But in recent years, the incident has again attracted interest. Broten, who has worked for the historical society since before the incident, said the first 20 years the damaged patrol car was on display in the museum were much quieter than the next 20.
Now, he said, guests often tell him that this is their main attraction at the museum – some visitors have told him they make the trip every year to see the car, and others have said that they had traveled hundreds of kilometers to verify it. off their road trip bucket list.
He doesn’t believe the interest is specific to the Val Johnson incident. Instead, he said, it seems young people generally tend to be more interested in paranormal and unexplained encounters than previous generations.
“Younger generations have more access to information on things like this than in the late 1970s, on extraterrestrial things – and I’m not saying that’s it, it was just an unidentified object that this day is not explained, “he said. . “But with different movies and different things, it’s probably just a different affair than it was 40 years ago.”
Today, the Val Johnson incident is considered to be one of the most important events in ufology – pronounced you-fology – due to the fact that the incident caused damage to the vehicle, which the report was somebody else. one as credible as a sheriff’s deputy, and independent investigators examined the car and found no explanation, Lewis said.
The features of the case – the waste of time, the faded memory, Johnson’s strange injuries, the bright light – would all become common elements of future “sightings,” but at the time of the Val Johnson incident, Lewis was stated that these details were not widely associated with UFO encounters.
“Today you could find that easily if you wanted the hoax, or if you wanted to replicate some of the things that other people were reporting, but at the time it was not well known,” he said. he declares. “If he was looking to make this up, he would have been hard-pressed, and unless he was very interested in UFO literature and folklore, he probably wouldn’t have known.”
Lewis believes Johnson’s meeting was paranormal in nature – but he agreed that, as many skeptics pointed out at the time, there are other plausible explanations, although none can be proven.
Some believed Johnson was driving his vehicle on County Road that night and made up the event to cover up his misconduct. Many of those supporting this theory say it is supported by the fact that Johnson refused to take a polygraph test (Johnson has said he does not want to fuel the fervor surrounding the incident).
Others believe what he encountered was actually a more land-based ship – possibly a drug smuggling plane into the state from Canada.
Whatever happened that night, Lewis said many would be surprised at how often people in rural areas like northwestern Minnesota sometimes notice strange things in the night sky.
“I think many readers would be surprised to find that if they had the experience of seeing something strange in a rural area where you have such a good view of the sky, they are not alone,” he said. he declared. âMost of the people who spoke to me said, ‘I’m not saying what it was, it was really weird. I’ve never seen anything like it – it could have been a military plane, I guess, it could have been a top secret plane, but it’s something I’ve never seen. I think people are not aware of how often these reports have become. ”