The Missing Evidence (2014): Season 1, Episode 5 - Nevada Triangle - full transcript

The Sierra Nevada has one of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes in America. It is a land of extremes - from mountain peaks to scorching deserts - and the ultimate destination for thrill seekers. The Sierra Nevada is also a graveyard for over 2,000 crashed planes, including that of billionaire adventurer Steve Fossett. This is over 20 times more than the number believed to have been lost in the Bermuda Triangle. UFO expert Jeff Gonzales believes that the answer lies in the notorious Area 51. Rumours of captured alien technology have persisted since the Roswell incident in 1947. Gonzales believes that the testing of advanced alien technology is interfering with earthbound navigation systems. Aviation archaeologist Peter Merlin also thinks that Area 51 is responsible, but that the strange goings-on in the Sierra Nevada have nothing to do with alien technology. Standing over the wreckage of a military plane, he explains that Area 51 is a testing ground for advanced military aircraft - and prototypes are always more prone to accidents. That does not, however, explain the high number of civilian crashes. Researcher Kelly Redmond at the Desert Research Institute believes that the geology of the Sierra Nevada holds the key. The mountains rise to over 14,500 feet but plummet rapidly to the depths of Death Valley, 285 feet below sea level. Redmond believes that the contrast between such dramatic altitudes creates freak storms, but abnormal weather cannot explain the plane crashes that have occurred during perfect flying conditions. Zach Tolby at the National Weather Service in Reno believes that he has found the final piece of the jigsaw. He claims that the topography and weather conditions of the Sierra Nevada combine to create unpredictable downdrafts capable of causing aircraft to fall out of the sky.

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Narrator: THE SIERRA NEVADAS.

ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL
AND DRAMATIC PLACES IN AMERICA.

A LAND OF EXTREMES--

FROM SNOW-COVERED MOUNTAIN PEAKS
TO SCORCHING DESERTS.

BUT THESE MOUNTAINS HOLD
A TERRIBLE SECRET.

Man: IT'S ALMOST LIKE A HAND
IS PUSHING ON YOU

AND STEALING AWAY YOUR AIRSPEED.

Narrator: A MYSTERIOUS FORCE
THAT HAS TAKEN COUNTLESS LIVES

OVER THE PAST 60 YEARS.

Man: IF WE MARKED
ALL OF THE CRASH SITES,

THIS MAP COULD NOT HOLD
ALL THE PINS.



[APPLAUSE]

Narrator:
BUT IT TAKES THE DISAPPEARANCE

OF BILLIONAIRE STEVE FOSSETT
IN 2007

BEFORE THE EXTENT OF THE MYSTERY
BECOMES CLEAR.

Man: WHILE WE WERE SEARCHING
FOR STEVE FOSSETT

WE FOUND SEVERAL OTHER
AIRCRAFT
THAT HAD CRASHED IN THE
AREAS

THAT WERE REPORTED MISSING, BUT
THE PLANES HAD NEVER BEEN FOUND.

Man: THERE ARE LITERALLY
HUNDREDS OF PLANE CRASHES

IN THE SURROUNDING AREA.

IT'S AN INTRIGUING MYSTERY.

Man: INSTRUMENTS FAIL,
COMPASSES GO HAYWIRE,

AND IN THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO

THE IGNITIONS
OF JET ENGINES FAIL.

Narrator: SO WHY HAVE SO MANY
PILOTS LOST THEIR LIVES



AND OTHERS VANISHED
WITHOUT A TRACE?

AND WHAT IS THE MISSING EVIDENCE

THAT COULD EXPLAIN
THE DISAPPEARANCES?

WE EXPLORE THE PHENOMENON
ON THE GROUND, IN THE AIR,

AND IN THE WORLD'S MOST
SOPHISTICATED WIND CHAMBER

TO DISCOVER THE DEADLY TRUTH

BEHIND THE AREA THAT HAS BEEN
DUBBED "THE NEVADA TRIANGLE."

THE SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAIN RANGE
STRETCHES 400 MILES

ACROSS THE STATE LINE
BETWEEN CALIFORNIA AND NEVADA.

IT HOUSES THREE OF AMERICA'S
MOST FAMOUS PARKS:

YOSEMITE, SEQUOIA
AND KINGS CANYON.

PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER FLOCK
TO ENJOY THE STUNNING SCENERY,

FROM THE EMERALD GREEN WATERS
OF LAKE TAHOE

TO THE RUGGED FORESTS.

BUT FOR THRILL-SEEKERS,

THE MOST DRAMATIC AND COMPELLING
ASPECTS OF THE SIERRA NEVADAS

ARE THE SKIES ABOVE THEM.

Bill Schroeder: I STARTED FLYING
IN THE SIERRA NEVADAS

ABOUT 1970.

A COUPLE OF THINGS MAKE IT
VERY SPECIAL AROUND HERE.

NUMBER ONE, IT'S CHALLENGING,

AND I THINK THAT PILOTS
NEED TO BE CHALLENGED.

THE OTHER THING I LIKE
ABOUT FLYING HERE

IS JUST THE BEAUTY OF THE AREA.

YOU KNOW, YOU GET UP
IN THE EARLY MORNING

AND COME OUT HERE
WHEN IT'S NICE AND COOL,

CLEAR, VISIBILITY
TOTALLY UNLIMITED.

YOU CAN TAKE A TURN
TO THE RIGHT,

TAKE A TURN TO THE LEFT,
AND WHAT DO YOU HAVE?

JUST BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAINS.

Narrator:
BUT ON SEPTEMBER 3, 2007,

THE DISAPPEARANCE
OF A FAMOUS PILOT

WOULD THROW A SPOTLIGHT ON
THE MOUNTAINS' TERRIBLE SECRET.

Reporter: AVIATION OFFICIALS
ARE LOOKING FOR ADVENTURE PILOT

AND WORLD RECORD HOLDER
STEVE FOSSETT.

Narrator: BILLIONAIRE ADVENTURER
STEVE FOSSETT TAKES OFF

FROM A PRIVATE AIRSTRIP

ABOUT 30 MILES SOUTH
OF CARSON CITY, NEVADA,

IN A SINGLE-ENGINE AIRPLANE.

HE NEVER RETURNS.

Man: WE ARE NOT GOING TO REST

UNTIL WE BRING THIS TO WHAT WE
FEEL IS A SUCCESSFUL CONCLUSION.

Narrator: FOSSETT IS
AN EXPERIENCED AVIATOR

WHO LIVES TO BREAK
AVIATION RECORDS.

IN 2002 HE BECOMES
THE FIRST PERSON

TO FLY SOLO ACROSS THE WORLD
IN A HOT AIR BALLOON,

AND A FEW YEARS LATER,

HE DOES THE SAME
IN A SINGLE-ENGINE AIRCRAFT.

Steve Fossett:
SO THIS IS A PRIME RECORD.

I'VE WANTED IT FOR A LONG TIME.

Narrator: TO COMMEMORATE
THE HISTORIC EVENT,

BOTH AIRCRAFT ARE HOUSED

AT THE SMITHSONIAN'S
NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM.

HOW COULD A MAN WITH MORE THAN
100 WORLD FLYING RECORDS

TO HIS NAME

DISAPPEAR ON A ROUTINE FLIGHT
IN HIS OWN BACK YARD?

THE MYSTERY CAPTURES THE
ATTENTION OF THE WORLD'S MEDIA.

Schroeder:
I THINK IT BECAME A BIG STORY

BECAUSE OF THE FACT
OF HIS REPUTATION.

REPUTATION AS AN AVIATOR,
AS AN ADVENTURER

THAT SUDDENLY JUST DISAPPEARED,

AND I THINK THAT'S WHAT
KIND OF SHOCKED THE WORLD.

Narrator:
FOSSETT'S DISAPPEARANCE TRIGGERS

THE BIGGEST AND MOST EXPENSIVE
SEARCH EVER UNDERTAKEN

FOR A CIVILIAN
IN PEACETIME AMERICA.

Reporter: AIRCRAFT ARE
CONTINUING TO CRISS-CROSS

OVER AN AREA OF ABOUT
17,000 SQUARE MILES

OF NORTHWEST NEVADA.

Narrator: AVIATION SAFETY EXPERT
BILL SCHROEDER

WAS ONE OF THE LEAD COORDINATORS
ON THE SEARCH.

HE RECALLS HOW THE TERRAIN
MADE THEIR JOB INCREDIBLY TOUGH.

Schroeder: IT'S VERY DIFFICULT
TO FIND AIRCRAFT

THAT GO INTO CANYONS,
THAT GO IN BETWEEN THE TREES.

FROM THE AIR IT'S REALLY HARD
TO SEARCH.

Narrator:
WHEN FOSSETT SAYS GOODBYE
TO HIS WIFE THAT MORNING,

HE REFERS TO HIS FLIGHT
AS "A SUNDAY DRIVE."

HE TAKES OFF FROM A PRIVATE
AIRPORT 60 MILES SOUTH OF RENO.

THE SUNDAY DRIVE IS SO ROUTINE

THAT FOSSETT DOESN'T EVEN BOTHER
TO CALL IN A FLIGHT PLAN--

AN ERROR THAT WILL SERIOUSLY
HAMPER THE SEARCH TEAMS.

Schroeder: A PERSON
OF HIS STATURE IN AVIATION--

I DON'T KNOW WHY HE DIDN'T
TELL SOMEBODY

EXACTLY WHERE HE WAS GOING
TO BE GOING,

I REALLY DON'T KNOW.

Narrator: WITH NO IDEA
OF THE DIRECTION FOSSETT TOOK,

THE TEAMS ARE FORCED TO SEARCH
OVER 30,000 SQUARE MILES,

AN AREA EQUIVALENT
TO THE STATE OF MARYLAND.

Schroeder: WE HAD OUR
AIR NATIONAL GUARD INVOLVED

IN THE SEARCH AS WELL,

TO SEE IF, UH, IF THEY COULD
FIND ANYTHING ON THE DRY LAKES.

WE HAD OTHER PILOTS,
BELIEVE IT OR NOT,

THAT DECIDED THEY WERE
GOING TO HELP,

AND NO ONE COULD FIND HIM.

Narrator: FOR MORE THAN A MONTH
THEY COMB THE MOUNTAINS

BY AIR AND ON FOOT.

AND ALTHOUGH THEY FIND NO SIGN
OF STEVE FOSSETT,

THEY DO FIND PLENTY OF EVIDENCE

THAT THE SKIES
ABOVE THE SIERRA NEVADAS

COULD BE TREACHEROUS.

Schroeder: WHILE WE WERE
SEARCHING FOR STEVE FOSSETT,

WE FOUND SEVERAL OTHER
AIRCRAFT
THAT HAD CRASHED IN THE
AREAS

THAT WERE REPORTED MISSING,

BUT THE PLANES
HAD NEVER BEEN FOUND.

FAMILIES HAD GONE
FOR YEARS AND YEARS

WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT HAPPENED
TO THEIR RELATIVES.

Narrator: ONE OF THOSE
FAMILY MEMBERS IS WILLIAM OGLE,

WHOSE FATHER CHARLES DISAPPEARED
43 YEARS EARLIER.

Reporter: THE YEAR WAS 1964.

CHARLES OGLE, A BUSINESSMAN

AND EX-MILITARY PILOT
FROM CALIFORNIA,

FLEW A SINGLE-ENGINE PLANE
OUT OF OAKLAND HEADED FOR RENO.

Narrator: FOR DECADES, WILLIAM
AND HIS FAMILY WONDERED--

DID HE ABANDON THEM,
OR WAS THERE AN ACCIDENT?

43 YEARS ON AND THE SEARCH
FOR FOSSETT'S PLANE

RAISES THE POSSIBILITY THAT OGLE

IS ALSO A VICTIM
OF THE SIERRA NEVADAS.

COULD ONE OF THE WRECKS
BE HIS FATHER'S?

William Ogle: IT WOULD BE NICE
TO SORT OF HAVE THE CLOSURE

SO THAT YOU KNOW
THAT HE DIDN'T JUST RUN OFF.

I MEAN, AN ACCIDENT,
SOMETHING HAPPENED.

Narrator: UNFORTUNATELY
IT IS BAD NEWS.

THE PLANE'S REGISTRATION NUMBER

DOESN'T MATCH
HIS FATHER'S AIRPLANE.

BUT AT LEAST THE FINDINGS
GIVE HOPE

THAT OGLE'S DISAPPEARANCE
IS MORE LIKELY ACCIDENTAL.

AS THE NUMBER
OF CRASHED AIRPLANES

UNEARTHED BY FOSSETT'S MANHUNT

CONTINUES TO GROW ALARMINGLY,

THE PRESS DUB THE AREA
"THE NEVADA TRIANGLE."

THE NEWS IS NO SURPRISE

TO AVIATION ARCHAEOLOGIST
PAT MACHA.

Pat Macha:
THE NEVADA TRIANGLE, THE NAME

CAME FROM
THE STEVE FOSSETT SEARCH.

SUDDENLY THIS ELEMENT
OF MYSTERY,

WHY CAN'T WE FIND HIM,

OH, THERE'S SO MANY
OTHER WRECKS IN THIS AREA.

Narrator:
PAT MACHA HAS SPENT 50 YEARS

STUDYING THE SIERRA NEVADA
PHENOMENON,

AND HE IS NOT SURPRISED
BY THE COMPARISON.

THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE
IS INFAMOUS--

YET WITHIN IT, THERE HAVE ONLY
BEEN ABOUT 30 UNSOLVED CASES

OF AIRCRAFT OR MARINE
DISAPPEARANCES

SINCE THE LATE 1800s.

THE SO-CALLED NEVADA TRIANGLE
FALLS WITHIN AN AREA

BETWEEN THREE CITIES:
RENO, LAS VEGAS AND FRESNO.

AND WITHIN IT THERE HAVE BEEN
FAR MORE DISAPPEARANCES.

Macha: THERE WEREN'T DOZENS

BUT HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS
OF AIRCRAFT

OVER THE YEARS
IN THE MOUNTAINS.

IF WE MARKED
ALL OF THE CRASH SITES,

THIS MAP COULD NOT HOLD
ALL THE PINS.

IT WOULD BE SO LOADED
YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE IT.

Narrator:
PAT HAS DOCUMENTED MORE THAN
2,000 WRECKS IN THE AREA.

OVER THE LAST 50 YEARS,

THAT'S CLOSE TO THREE CRASHES
EVERY MONTH.

YET IT IS ONLY RARELY

THAT THESE PLANE CRASHES
ATTRACT HEADLINES.

ONE OF THE EXCEPTIONS

IS THE 1969 HAWTHORNE NEVADA
AIRLINES FLIGHT 708,

THE SO-CALLED GAMBLER'S SPECIAL.

Macha: THE STORY
OF THE GAMBLER'S SPECIAL

IS A VERY INTERESTING CASE.

THERE WAS
THE HAWTHORNE NEVADA AIRLINES,

AND THEY HAD TWO DC-3 AIRCRAFT,
AND THEY WOULD FLY ROUTINELY

FROM LONG BEACH TO BURBANK
TO HAWTHORNE, NEVADA.

AND PEOPLE COULD FLY UP THERE,
THEY COULD PARTY AND GAMBLE

AND THEN FLY BACK HOME
LATE THAT NIGHT AND,

OR EARLY THE NEXT MORNING.

Narrator:
BUT ON FEBRUARY 18, 1969,

THE COMMERCIAL AIRLINER,

CARRYING 32 PASSENGERS
AND 3 CREW MEMBERS, DISAPPEARS.

Macha: RADIO CONTACT WAS LOST.

THE AIRCRAFT DID NOT ARRIVE IN,
AT BURBANK AS SCHEDULED.

SO A SEARCH WAS
IMMEDIATELY LAUNCHED.

Narrator: BUT THE TRAGEDY
TURNS INTO A DISASTER

WHEN FIVE OF THE SEARCH AIRCRAFT
ALSO CRASH INTO THE MOUNTAINS.

THE COUNTRY IS SHAKEN
BY THE RISING DEATH TOLL.

Macha: THE PRESS, UH,
REALLY LATCHED ON TO THAT STORY

BECAUSE IT WAS SO INTERESTING
AND COMPELLING.

THE SEARCH IN THE FIRST PLACE,

AND THEN TO LOSE SO MANY
SEARCHERS IN THE PROCESS.

THIS IS NOT UNCOMMON, HOWEVER.

WHAT IS UNCOMMON
IS THAT THERE WERE FIVE LOST

IN THE SEARCH FOR ONE.

Narrator: IT'S NOT UNTIL
THE FOLLOWING SUMMER

THAT THE WRECKAGE
OF THE GAMBLER'S SPECIAL

IS DISCOVERED
NEAR MOUNT WHITNEY,

WHEN THE RECEDING SNOW REVEALS
THE SCALE OF THE TRAGEDY.

Macha: THE NATURE OF THIS IMPACT
WAS TERRIBLE.

AND THE AIRCRAFT DISINTEGRATED.

Narrator: THE WRECK IS FOUND
ON THE EAST-FACING CLIFF

ON MOUNT WHITNEY.

THERE ARE NO SIGNS OF MECHANICAL
OR ELECTRICAL MALFUNCTION.

THE OFFICIAL INVESTIGATION
CONCLUDES

THAT THE CAUSE OF THE CRASH
IS BAD VISIBILITY.

BUT LIKE FOSSETT, THE PILOT
WAS VASTLY EXPERIENCED

AND WAS FAMILIAR
WITH THE TERRAIN.

ONE MONTH AFTER IT STARTS,

THE SEARCH FOR STEVE FOSSETT'S
PLANE IS CALLED OFF.

Schroeder: IT WAS ABANDONED
BECAUSE OF THE FACT

THAT WE JUST HAD SEARCHED
SO LONG, SO MANY AREAS,

COVERED THESE AREAS
NOT JUST ONCE, TWICE,

THREE OR FOUR TIMES,
AND WE WEREN'T GETTING ANYTHING.

Narrator:
IT SEEMS THAT STEVE FOSSETT'S
DISAPPEARANCE

WILL HAVE TO JOIN
THE GROWING LIST OF MYSTERIES

WITHIN THE NEVADA TRIANGLE.

THE HUNT TO EXPLAIN THE
STAGGERING NUMBER OF ACCIDENTS

CONTINUES.

AND JUST LIKE
THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE,

THE NEVADA TRIANGLE
IS GENERATING

SOME EXTREME THEORIES.

UFO ENTHUSIAST BILL BIRNES

BELIEVES THAT THE HIGH
NUMBER
OF CRASHED AIRCRAFT IN THE
AREA

IS DUE TO THE FACT
THAT THE TRIANGLE'S FOOTPRINT

INCLUDES THE SECRET BASE
KNOWN AS AREA 51.

Bill Birnes: SO RIGHT OVER
THOSE MOUNTAINS OVER THERE,

THE FAMOUS, THE HISTORIC,
THE MYSTERIOUS AREA 51.

THE LEGEND IS THAT ALL THE WAY
BACK FROM THE 1950s,

AT LEAST THROUGH MIDDLE 1990s,

YOU COULD BE SHOT ON SIGHT
IF YOU CROSSED THE BORDER.

Narrator: THE HIGH LEVEL
OF SECRECY SURROUNDING THE BASE

ATTRACTS PLENTY OF CONTROVERSY--

CONTROVERSY THAT
CAN BE TRACED BACK

TO THE SO-CALLED
ROSWELL INCIDENT.

Birnes: IN JULY 1947,
SOME PEOPLE SAY

THAT HUMAN HISTORY CHANGED

BECAUSE A FLYING SAUCER
OR A FLYING WEDGE-SHAPED OBJECT

CRASHED OUTSIDE OF ROSWELL.

INITIALLY WHEN THE ARMY
SAW THE MATERIAL,

THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHAT THEY HAD.

ALL THEY KNEW WAS
IT WASN'T FROM THIS WORLD.

THEN THEY DECIDED

IF WE CAN'T FIGURE IT OUT
WHAT IT IS OURSELVES,

LET'S GET SOME
OF THE TOP ENGINEERS,

THE TOP SCIENTISTS,
THE TOP METALLURGISTS,

LET'S BRING THEM TO AREA 51
IN COMPLETE SECRECY.

Narrator: IN 1994 THE PENTAGON
RELEASES A REPORT

EXPOSING THE ROSWELL INCIDENT

AS NO MORE THAN
A DOWNED WEATHER BALLOON.

BUT BILL STILL BELIEVES
THAT ALIEN TECHNOLOGY

IS THE REASON BEHIND
AIRCRAFT DISAPPEARANCES

AND CRASHES IN THE AREA.

Birnes: WHY ARE THERE SO MANY
PLANE CRASHES IN THIS AREA,

THE NEVADA TRIANGLE?

WELL, ONE THEORY IS THIS:
THAT BECAUSE UFOs,

EITHER THE ONES WE'RE TESTING

OR THE ONES THAT DON'T COME
FROM HERE,

FLY AROUND IN THIS
ELECTROMAGNETIC ENVELOPE,

INSTRUMENTS FAIL,
COMPASSES GO HAYWIRE,

AND IN THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO,

THE IGNITIONS
OF JET ENGINES FAIL.

Narrator: THE MYSTERIOUS
REPUTATION OF AREA 51

HAS ITS ROOTS IN THE 1950s,

WHEN THE CIA PARTNERS WITH
THE LOCKHEED AVIATION COMPANY

TO BUILD AND TEST AIRCRAFT.

THEY NEED TO KEEP
THEIR NEW VENTURE TOP-SECRET,

SO THEY CHOOSE THIS REMOTE
LOCATION IN THE NEVADA DESERT.

NAMED SIMPLY
BY ITS MAP COORDINATES,

AREA 51 SPARKS THE IMAGINATION

OF MANY CONSPIRACY THEORISTS
IN THE UNITED STATES

AND AROUND THE WORLD.

PETER MERLIN IS A WELL-KNOWN
AERONAUTICAL HISTORIAN

WHO HAS BEEN STUDYING AREA 51
FOR 30 YEARS.

HE ALSO THINKS THAT
THE HEAVILY GUARDED BASE

IS BEHIND MANY OF THE CRASHED
PLANES LITTERING THE AREA.

Peter Merlin: WE'RE BEING
WATCHED RIGHT NOW

BY AREA 51 SECURITY.

THEY DETECTED US COMING IN USING
ROAD SENSORS THAT ARE MAGNETIC

TO DETECT ANY METAL OBJECT
COMING BY, LIKE A TRUCK.

HE'LL BE WATCHING US
THE WHOLE TIME NOW

AS LONG AS WE'RE OUT HERE,

'CAUSE WE'RE VERY CLOSE
TO THE BORDER OF AREA 51.

Narrator: BUT MERLIN HAS NO TIME
FOR TALK OF ALIEN TECHNOLOGY.

Merlin: I THINK THE IDEA
OF ALIENS BEING INVOLVED

WITH ANY PLANE CRASHES
IN THIS AREA IS JUST RUBBISH.

Narrator: MERLIN IS DRAWN TO
THIS PART OF THE NEVADA TRIANGLE

FOR EVIDENCE THAT POINTS TO
A FAR LESS EXOTIC EXPLANATION.

Merlin: THIS IS DEFINITELY
WRECKAGE FROM AN F-4 PHANTOM II.

WE'RE LOOKING AT A PART
FROM THE SIDE OF THE AIRCRAFT;

IT'S THE AIR INTAKE
FROM ONE OF THE ENGINES.

AND THERE'S A PIECE UP HERE
THAT'S GOT A PART NUMBER

THAT'S VERY DEFINITELY
AN F-4 PART NUMBER.

Narrator: PETER MERLIN HAS BEEN
HUNTING DOWNED AIRCRAFT HERE

FOR DECADES.

Merlin: WE'RE VERY CLOSE
TO THE CRASH SITE OF AN F-4D.

THERE'S AN F-4E

IN TEMPAIT MOUNTAIN
ACROSS THE VALLEY.

THERE'S AN F-16 DOWN IN RACHEL.

UH, BRITISH HARRIER CRASHED
OVER THE MOUNTAINS THERE.

UH, IN RAILROAD VALLEY

YOU'VE GOT TWO F-15s
THAT COLLIDED IN MID-AIR.

ALL OF THIS TOOK PLACE DURING
ROUTINE TESTING AND TRAINING.

AND THESE ARE JUST THE CRASHES
I CAN THINK OF

OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD.

THERE ARE DOZENS MORE
JUST IN THE LOCAL AREA

AND HUNDREDS
IN THE SURROUNDING DESERT.

Narrator: HE THINKS THE REASON

FOR THE HIGH NUMBER
OF MILITARY CRASHES IS OBVIOUS.

Merlin: THIS IS A PLACE
WHERE
HIGH-TECH AIRPLANES ARE
TESTED,

WHERE COMBAT PLANES ARE USED
IN MOCK EXERCISES

LIKE AIR-TO-AIR COMBAT
OR AIR-TO-GROUND COMBAT.

ALL OF THESE ARE
EXCEEDINGLY HAZARDOUS.

IT'S NOT AT ALL SURPRISING
TO HAVE LOTS OF CRASHES.

Narrator:
ONE OF THOSE EARLY CRASHES

IS THE LOCKHEED U-2 SPY PLANE
IN 1957.

IT IS THE FIRST AIRPLANE
EVER TESTED IN AREA 51

AND VERY LIKELY THE SOURCE
OF THE INITIAL RUMORS

THAT LINK AREA 51
TO CAPTURED ALIEN TECHNOLOGY.

THE U-2 SPY PLANE PROGRAM

IS PARTIALLY DECLASSIFIED
IN 1998 BY THE CIA.

ALTHOUGH NOT MENTIONING AREA 51,

THE FILE CONTAINS DETAILS
OF AN INCIDENT IN THE 1950s,

WHEN THE PROTOTYPE FLIES

AT ALTITUDES
NO ONE BELIEVES POSSIBLE.

THE SIGHTINGS OF
THE UNUSUAL WINGED AIRCRAFT

PROMPT MANY REPORTS
OF UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS

IN THE AREA.

WHAT THE LOCALS ARE
ACTUALLY SEEING ISN'T ALIEN,

BUT A MARVEL OF HUMAN INGENUITY.

Merlin: I'VE BEEN RESEARCHING
THE HISTORY OF AREA 51

FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS.

I'VE NEVER SEEN
ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER

TO SUGGEST THERE'S ANYTHING
TO DO WITH EXTRATERRESTRIALS.

IT'S ALL ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY
BUILT RIGHT HERE ON EARTH.

Narrator: IN 2013,
AFTER DECADES OF BEING CALLED

"THE MOST FAMOUS MILITARY
INSTITUTION THAT DOESN'T EXIST,"

THE CIA FINALLY RELEASES
HUNDREDS OF DECLASSIFIED PAPERS

CONFIRMING THE EXISTENCE
OF AREA 51.

THE DOSSIER DETAILS TESTING
OF ADVANCED AIRCRAFT,

BUT OF COURSE MAKES NO MENTION
OF ANY UFO-RELATED RESEARCH.

Merlin: I THINK SOMETIMES PEOPLE
PREFER TO BELIEVE THE MYSTERY.

I'VE HAD PEOPLE
LITERALLY TELL ME

THAT THE MORE THEY LEARNED

ABOUT WHAT WAS ACTUALLY GOING ON
AT AREA 51,

THE LESS INTERESTED THEY WERE.

Narrator:
MILITARY ACCIDENTS CAN ACCOUNT

FOR A LOT
OF THE CRASHED AIRCRAFT

FOUND IN THE VICINITY
OF AREA 51--

BUT THEY DON'T ACCOUNT
FOR THE CRASHES

IN THE SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS.

MOST OF THE CRASHES
AND DISAPPEARANCES

IN THAT AREA
OF THE NEVADA TRIANGLE

ARE CIVILIAN AIRCRAFT.

JIM NOWLIN'S STORY IS TYPICAL.

ON A SUNNY SPRING DAY
IN MAY 2013,

JIM NOWLIN IS TAKING HIS FRIENDS
OUT FOR A RIDE IN HIS AIRPLANE.

Jim Nowlin: MY FRIEND HAD
SET IT UP MANY WEEKS IN ADVANCE

AS A BIRTHDAY PRESENT
FOR HIS GIRLFRIEND

TO DO A TOUR AROUND LAKE TAHOE,

WHICH I'VE DONE MANY,
MANY OF THOSE.

I'D BEEN FLYING OVER THE SIERRA
MOST OF MY LIFE,

SO I DIDN'T REALLY THINK THERE
WAS GOING TO BE ANY ISSUES.

WELL, WHEN WE TOOK OFF
IT WAS BUMPY--

NOTHING THAT I CONSIDERED
AT ALL UNSAFE.

I'VE BEEN IN SOME PRETTY GOOD
TURBULENCE OVER THE YEARS.

Narrator: JIM FLIES OUT
OF THE MILD TURBULENCE

AND BACK INTO CALM
WEATHER CONDITIONS.

BUT SECONDS LATER,
HE LOSES AIRSPEED,

THE GROUND RISING
QUICKLY BELOW HIM.

Nowlin: IT'S ALMOST LIKE,
YOU KNOW,

A HAND IS PUSHING ON YOU AND
STEALING AWAY YOUR AIRSPEED.

IN AVIATION THERE ARE TWO THINGS
THAT ARE IRREPLACEABLE:

THAT'S AIRSPEED AND ALTITUDE.

IF YOU HAVE THE RIGHT
COMBINATION OF THE TWO,

THEN YOU CAN HANDLE
MOST ANYTHING.

IF YOU HAVE ONE OR THE OTHER
TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU,

THEN YOU'RE IN TROUBLE.

I MEAN, IT SLOWED ME UP SO MUCH

THE AIRPLANE WAS NO LONGER
CAPABLE OF FLYING.

THE LAST THING I REALLY REMEMBER
WAS THERE'S SOME TALL TREES

BACK BEHIND US OVER THERE

I STILL HAD ENOUGH AIRSPEED

WHERE I COULD MANEUVER
THE AIRPLANE TO SOME DEGREE,

AND I WAS BOUND AND DETERMINED

I WAS GOING TO STAY
OUT OF THOSE TREES.

Narrator: LUCKILY FOR JIM,

HE AND HIS PASSENGERS ALL
SURVIVE WITHOUT SERIOUS INJURIES

AND ARE RESCUED WITHIN HOURS
OF THE CRASH.

BUT COULD HIS EXPERIENCE
CAST LIGHT

ON THE FATE OF STEVE FOSSETT?

IN OCTOBER 2008,

OVER A YEAR AFTER THE SEARCH FOR
FOSSETT'S PLANE IS CALLED OFF,

A HIKER MAKES A DISCOVERY.

Man: I SAID, "OH, MY GOSH,
WHAT'S THAT?"

AND IN THE DIRT
WITH THE PINE NEEDLES,

IN THE DIRT I SEE
LIKE AN I.D. CARD.

Reporter:
TONIGHT AT THE COMMAND POST,

OFFICIALS ARE WAITING
FOR DAYBREAK

SO THAT GROUND CREWS CAN TRY

TO CONFIRM THE SIGHTINGS
FROM THE AIR

OF POSSIBLE WRECKAGE
OF AN AIRPLANE,

PROBABLY THE LONG LOST MISSING
PLANE OF PILOT STEVE FOSSETT.

Narrator: A FEW DAYS LATER,
INVESTIGATORS REACH

THE MANGLED WRECKAGE
OF FOSSETT'S PLANE

OUTSIDE OF MAMMOTH LAKES,
CALIFORNIA,

JUST 65 MILES SOUTH
FROM WHERE HE TOOK OFF.

Man: WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED
THUS FAR

IS INDICATIVE
OF A HIGH-IMPACT CRASH

WHICH APPEARS TO BE CONSISTENT
WITH A NON-SURVIVABLE ACCIDENT.

Narrator: THE INITIAL
INVESTIGATION REVEALS

THAT AT THE TIME OF HIS CRASH

HIS PLANE WAS
IN PERFECT WORKING ORDER.

WHATEVER BROUGHT HIM DOWN,

IT WASN'T ALIEN TECHNOLOGY
OR MECHANICAL FAILURE.

THE NEVADA TRIANGLE
HAS CLAIMED ANOTHER PILOT

IN MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES.

WITH NO CLUES EMERGING
FROM STEVE FOSSETT'S WRECKAGE,

THE NTSB PURSUES A NEW CULPRIT:
THE WEATHER.

AND IT TURNS OUT,
THE WEATHER HERE

IS AMONG THE MOST COMPLEX
AND UNPREDICTABLE IN AMERICA.

THE SIERRA NEVADAS
ARE 400 MILES OF GRANITE

THAT VARY IN ELEVATION.

THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF PEAKS
HIGHER THAN 12,000 FEET,

AND AT THOSE HEIGHTS,
WEATHER CAN CHANGE VERY RAPIDLY.

Zach Tolby: WE JUST ISSUED
A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING

FOR CENTRAL WASHOE COUNTY.

Narrator:
ZACH TOLBY, A METEOROLOGIST

AT THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
IN RENO, NEVADA,

BELIEVES THAT THE UNPREDICTABLE
WEATHER CONDITIONS

OVER THE MOUNTAINS

ARE THE KEY TO UNRAVELING
THE NEVADA MYSTERY.

Tolby:
THE SIERRA NEVADA IS UNIQUE

BECAUSE IT'S VERY CLOSE
TO AN OCEAN,

AND WE GET STRONG STORMS
OUT OF THE EASTERN PACIFIC

DURING THE WINTERTIME.

Narrator: AND WHEN THOSE STORMS
HIT THE UNUSUAL GEOGRAPHY

OF THE SIERRA NEVADAS,

THE HUGE FLUCTUATIONS
IN ALTITUDE AND TEMPERATURE

CAN INTENSIFY THE STORM.

Tolby: THE THUNDERSTORMS FORM

WHEN THERE'S INSTABILITY
IN THE ATMOSPHERE,

AND A LOT OF TIMES FOR US
THAT'S DAYTIME HEATING,

WHICH CREATES THAT INSTABILITY,

AND THE COOLER AIR UP,
UP IN THE ATMOSPHERE,

AND SO AS THAT WARM AIR RISES
AND THEN CONDENSES,

IT ACCELERATES UP.

Narrator:
WITH ITS PEAK SOARING TO OVER
14,000 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL,

MOUNT WHITNEY IS
THE HIGHEST POINT IN THE U.S.A.

OUTSIDE OF ALASKA.

YET AT THE FOOT OF THE MOUNTAIN
LAYS DEATH VALLEY--

AT 282 FEET BELOW SEA LEVEL.

AS THE COOL STORMY AIR
FROM THE OCEAN

FLOWS OVER THE HIGH
MOUNTAIN PEAKS,

IT IS MET BY THE HOT, HUMID AIR
RISING FROM DEATH VALLEY.

THE COMBINATION CAUSES
SUDDEN AND INTENSE STORMS.

[THUNDER]

BUT PREDICTING WHERE AND WHEN
THEY OCCUR IS FAR FROM EASY.

Tolby: SOME WEATHER IS
MORE PREDICTABLE THAN OTHERS.

WE KNEW TODAY THAT THERE WAS
GOING TO BE THUNDERSTORMS

IN THE AREA.

WHERE EXACTLY THOSE ARE GOING
TO BE AT ANY ONE POINT

IS REALLY CHALLENGING.

Narrator: COULD THESE
UNPREDICTABLE STORMS

BE BEHIND SOME OF THE HUNDREDS
OF PLANE CRASHES

IN THE SIERRA NEVADAS?

AT THE NEVADA
DESERT RESEARCH INSTITUTE,

CLIMATOLOGIST DR. KELLY REDMOND
HAS ACCESS TO 60 YEARS

OF HISTORICAL WEATHER DATA
FOR THE UNITED STATES.

Kelly Redmond: WE STORE WEATHER
AND CLIMATE DATA FROM THE PAST

BECAUSE IT TURNS OUT
IT HAS TREMENDOUS VALUE.

THE PAST IS, IS A GUIDE
FOR THE FUTURE.

Narrator: THE ARCHIVE
IS ALSO A CRITICAL TOOL

FOR AIR CRASH INVESTIGATORS.

IT CAN REVEAL LOCAL WEATHER
CONDITIONS AT THE PRECISE TIME

SOME OF THE MOST FAMOUS
DISAPPEARANCES OCCURRED.

KELLY LOCATES THE WEATHER DATA
FOR FEBRUARY 18, 1969,

THE DAY THE GAMBLER'S SPECIAL
CRASHED.

HE DISCOVERS
THAT IT'S HIGHLY LIKELY

THAT THE WEATHER PLAYED
A CRITICAL ROLE IN THE DISASTER.

Redmond: SO THESE DARKS COLORS
HERE ARE 70, 80, 90% HUMIDITY.

SO THIS MEANS THAT THE CLOUDS

WERE PROBABLY PRETTY PREVALENT
AT THE TIME,

AND ONCE THEY GOT INTO 'EM
IT'D BE PRETTY HARD TO GET,

TO GET BACK OUT OF THEM.

[WIND HOWLING]

YOU KNOW, YOU SORT OF FEEL

LIKE YOU'RE GOING
INTO THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

YOU'RE, YOU'RE GOING FROM
RELATIVELY BENIGN CONDITIONS

TO UNEXPECTEDLY
NOT SO BENIGN CONDITIONS,

AND THIS IS IN THE DARK.

[THUNDER]

Narrator: KELLY REDMOND
NOW EXAMINES WEATHER DATA

FOR SEPTEMBER 3, 2007: THE DAY
STEVE FOSSETT DISAPPEARED.

COULD HE HAVE BEEN TRAPPED IN
SIMILARLY DISASTROUS CONDITIONS?

Redmond: WHAT I'M
LOOKING AT HERE IS A MAP

OF WHAT THE CONDITIONS WERE
ON SEPTEMBER 3rd OF 2007.

SEPTEMBER IS NOT A MONTH OF
VERY STRONG STORMS, TYPICALLY.

AND THEY SHOW THAT THE FLOW,
UH, OVER THE SIERRA NEVADA

WAS MODERATE WINDS
OUT OF THE SOUTHWEST

TO THE, TO THE NORTHEAST.

BUT THIS DOESN'T STAND OUT TO ME

AS BEING PARTICULARLY
STRIKINGLY STRONG

LIKE YOU SEE
IN THE WINTER MONTHS.

Narrator: THE WEATHER DATA
SHOWS THAT STEVE FOSSETT

TAXIED DOWN THE RUNWAY
ON A CLEAR DAY.

OTHER PILOTS FLYING THAT DAY

ALSO REPORTED THAT IT WAS
A BEAUTIFUL DAY TO FLY.

BUT EVEN ON CLEAR DAYS,

SMALL METEOROLOGICAL ANOMALIES
CAN STRIKE.

KELLY FINDS
NEW SIGNIFICANT EVIDENCE

IN THE WEATHER DATA
FOR THAT DAY.

Redmond: THERE WAS A LITTLE
HITCH IN THE WIND DIRECTION,

WHICH SORT OF INDICATES
THAT A LITTLE IMPULSE

MIGHT HAVE BEEN MOVING THROUGH
IN THE ATMOSPHERE.

THE KIND OF THING YOU NORMALLY
WOULDN'T CATCH

OR WOULDN'T PAY
MUCH ATTENTION TO.

THIS SEEMS TO ME
A KIND OF A TYPICAL THING

THAT HAPPENS IN MOUNTAINS,

WHERE WEATHER CAN CHANGE VERY
DRAMATICALLY, VERY SUDDENLY,

ESPECIALLY IN THE LEE
OF A LARGE RANGE

LIKE THE SIERRA NEVADA

WHERE THERE WAS, UH,
A WIND SYSTEM

COMING THROUGH AT THE TIME.

Narrator: SUCH LOCALIZED CHANGES
IN WIND DIRECTION

ARE INVISIBLE TO THE NAKED EYE,
BUT THEY CAN BE LETHAL.

METEOROLOGIST ZACH TOLBY
KNOWS ALL TOO WELL

ABOUT ERRATIC
LOCALIZED WIND CONDITIONS

IN THE SIERRA NEVADA.

Tolby: ARE WE CLEAR
FOR A BALLOON LAUNCH?

OKAY, THANKS. BYE.

WE SEND UP A BALLOON
TWICE A DAY;

ONCE AT 4 A.M.
AND ONCE AT 4 P.M.

WE DO THIS ALONG WITH ABOUT 800
OTHER SITES WORLDWIDE

AND ABOUT 90 SITES AROUND THE
UNITED STATES AND NORTH AMERICA.

Narrator:
THESE REGULAR READINGS HELP TO
CALCULATE THE WEATHER FORECAST.

KEY TO THEIR ACCURACY

IS THE BEHAVIOR OF WIND
IN THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE.

Tolby: THE MEASUREMENTS
FROM THE BALLOON

TELL US A LOT ABOUT WIND.

THEY ACTUALLY PHYSICALLY MEASURE
THE WIND WITH A GPS.

Narrator:
THE BALLOON DATA REVEALS
THAT WIND SPEED AND DIRECTION

CAN VARY CONSIDERABLY
AT DIFFERENT ALTITUDES.

AT THE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN
THESE DIFFERENT LAYERS,

THE WIND CAN INTERACT
IN VERY UNEXPECTED WAYS.

Tolby: WHEN THE REALLY STRONG
WINDS COME OVER THE SIERRA

AND THEY CREATE A WAVE CLOUD,

UM, BENEATH THAT THE WINDS CAN
GET REALLY TURBULENT,

AND THOSE KIND OF WINDS

ARE REALLY, REALLY CHALLENGING
TO PREDICT.

Narrator:
MOST OF US HAVE EXPERIENCED
TURBULENCE DURING AIR FLIGHTS.

BUT MOST AIRCRAFT NAVIGATE
THROUGH THESE WINDS

WITHOUT ANY SERIOUS PROBLEMS.

BUT IN 1977 A METEOROLOGIST,
DR. THEODORE FUJITA,

PROPOSES A PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN
WEATHER PHENOMENON

THAT HE THINKS
MIGHT TRANSFORM BAD WEATHER

INTO SOMETHING
POTENTIALLY DEADLY.

FUJITA IS KNOWN AS "MR. TORNADO"

FOR HIS WORK ON THE DETAILED
BEHAVIOR OF TWISTERS.

Announcer: AERONAUTICS
AND SPACE REPORT.

Theodore Fujita: WHAT I'M REALLY
DOING IS, UH, TRYING TO PINPOINT

WHICH PARTICULAR THUNDERSTORMS
MIGHT PRODUCE TORNADOES.

Narrator: FUJITA'S WORK
WITH TORNADOES REVEALS

THAT WHEN HOT AND COLD AIR
ARE MIXED IN A RAINSTORM,

INTENSE, LOCALIZED DOWNDRAFTS
CAN BE CAUSED

BY THE RAPIDLY COOLING AIR.

David Hinton:
WHAT THEODORE FUJITA FOUND

FROM FLYING SMALL PLANES
IN AREAS

THAT HAD BEEN HIT
BY TORNADOES AND SEVERE STORMS,

HE FOUND PATTERNS
IN BLOWN-DOWN TREES

THAT WERE NOT APPROPRIATE
FOR A TORNADO.

SO HE COINED THE TERM
"MICROBURST."

MICROBURST DOWNDRAFT.

Narrator: FUJITA'S THEORY IS

THAT WHEN RAIN-COOLED AIR
SINKS SUDDENLY,

IT CAN HIT THE GROUND AND
SPREAD OUT IN ALL DIRECTIONS,

AND CAN LAST BETWEEN
5 TO 15 MINUTES.

FUJITA SUGGESTS
THAT THESE DOWNDRAFTS

COULD BE TO BLAME FOR
A SERIES OF AIRPLANE CRASHES.

Hinton: A DOWNDRAFT IS BASICALLY
AIR FLOWING DOWNWARD.

AND IT CAN ALSO BE
THE MICROBURST,

WHICH WAS THE KILLER TYPE
OF DOWNDRAFT

FOR TRANSPORT AIRCRAFT
FOR MANY YEARS,

WHICH IS INDUCED
BY PRECIPITATION.

Narrator:
THE IDEA IS HOTLY DISPUTED
FOR THE BEST PART OF A DECADE

UNTIL, ON AUGUST 2, 1985,
TRAGEDY STRIKES.

IN THE MIDST OF A THUNDERSTORM,
DELTA FLIGHT 191 DESCENDS

TOWARDS DALLAS-FORT WORTH
INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.

LESS THAN A MILE
FROM THE RUNWAY,

THE JET INEXPLICABLY PLUMMETS
INTO TWO WATER TANKS,

SETTING OFF
A DEAFENING EXPLOSION.

137 PEOPLE DIE.

20 MORE SUSTAIN
SERIOUS INJURIES.

[SIRENS]

AS NASA ENGINEER DAVID HINTON
EXPLAINS,

THE CRASH TURNS OUT TO BE

ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT
IN AVIATION HISTORY.

Hinton: DELTA 191 WAS
A VERY IMPORTANT EVENT,

A VERY TRAGIC EVENT,

AND IT OCCURRED JUST AS THE
FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION,

NATIONAL AERONAUTICS
AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION,

THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY WAS
BEGINNING A PROGRAM TO SOLVE,

TACKLE AND SOLVE THIS PROBLEM.

Narrator:
BUT DELTA AIRLINES FLIGHT 191

FINALLY PROVIDES
THE MISSING EVIDENCE

TO SUPPORT FUJITA'S THEORY.

AS THE AIRPLANE APPROACHES
THE RAIN COLUMN,

A DOWNDRAFT HITS THE AIRPLANE,
WHICH PUSHES IT DOWN,

CAUSING IT TO INSTANTLY
LOSE AIRSPEED AND CRASH.

TRADITIONALLY, PILOTS ARE
ALERTED TO THESE SITUATIONS

BECAUSE THEY CAN SEE
THE RAIN COLUMN AHEAD OF THEM.

BUT SOMETIMES THE COOL AIR
COLUMNS CAN BE INVISIBLE.

Hinton:
ONE OF THE VERY DANGEROUS
ASPECTS OF MICROBURSTS,

PARTICULARLY IN THE HIGH PLAINS
REGION OF THE COUNTRY,

IS THAT IT'S POSSIBLE
FOR ALL THIS PRECIPITATION

TO EVAPORATE BEFORE
IT REACHES THE SURFACE.

THAT'S PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS
BECAUSE THERE'S NO VISIBLE RAIN.

THE PILOT MAY SEE CLEAR SKIES,
A CLEAR PATH, BUT THERE COULD BE

A VERY DANGEROUS MICROBURST
IN FRONT OF THE AIRCRAFT.

Narrator: THE FATAL CRASH
OF DELTA AIRLINES FLIGHT 191

FORCES THE AVIATION COMMUNITY
TO IMMEDIATELY PUSH FOR RESEARCH

INTO NEW TECHNOLOGY

THAT COULD WARN PILOTS
OF MICROBURSTS IN THE AREA.

THE SOLUTION IS A RADAR BEAM

THAT DETECTS CHANGES
IN WIND SPEED AND DIRECTION

THAT IS NOW INSTALLED
IN THE NOSE

OF EVERY COMMERCIAL AIRCRAFT.

IT GIVES THE COCKPIT CREW
A WARNING

BEFORE ENTERING A MICROBURST.

Hinton:
SO THIS IS A RADAR SYSTEM.

THE TRANSMITTER THAT GENERATES
ESSENTIALLY THE MICROWAVE ENERGY

THAT'S GOING TO EXIT
THE AIRCRAFT

IS SENDING IT
THROUGH A WAVE GUIDE

DOWN THROUGH THIS SYSTEM
AND BACK OUT TO THE RADOME,

WHICH IS THEN STEERED LEFT,
RIGHT OR UP OR DOWN

TO PROJECT THE RADAR BEAM
WHERE WE WOULD LIKE IT TO GO.

THEN A REFLECTED BEAM IS
PICKED UP BY THE SAME ANTENNA.

SO THEY TRANSMIT, LISTEN,
TRANSMIT, LISTEN;

IT'S A PULSE SYSTEM.

PICKED UP AGAIN BY THE SIGNAL,
BY THE RADOME

THROUGH THE WAVE GUIDE
BACK INTO A RECEIVER.

Narrator: BUT MANY
IN THE AVIATION COMMUNITY

DON'T THINK THESE RADAR SYSTEMS
ARE POSSIBLE.

Hinton: DELTA 191,
AS TRAGIC AS IT WAS,

LED TO A TREMENDOUS URGENCY

TO DEVELOP THE SOLUTIONS
TO THE PROBLEM.

AT THE TIME OF THAT ACCIDENT

THIS SYSTEM
FOR WIND SHEAR DETECTION

WAS SIMPLY NOT AVAILABLE.

THERE WERE PEOPLE WHO THOUGHT
IT MIGHT NOT BE FEASIBLE

TO PUT IN A SMALL RADOME,

ALL THE PROCESSING
AND THE QUALITY OF THE BEAM

REQUIRED TO EXTRACT
THE WIND SHEAR.

THIS PROGRAM DEVELOPED
THESE RADARS

THAT ARE NOW INSTALLED,

SO THE PROBLEM HAS BEEN SOLVED

BECAUSE OF THE URGENCY
WITH WHICH THE FAA, NASA,

THE AIRLINES AND OTHERS PUT
INTO DEVELOPING THIS SOLUTION.

Narrator: BUT EVEN WITH
THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY INSTALLED,

PILOTS STILL HAVE TO
REMAIN VIGILANT.

Hinton: ONE CANNOT BE CERTAIN

ABOUT THE CURRENTS
OVER A MOUNTAIN.

THE PILOT OF AN AIRCRAFT

DOESN'T HAVE
PERFECT INFORMATION;

IT'S SIMPLY NOT AVAILABLE
AS TO WHAT THE WIND IS DOING

AT THAT MOMENT IN THAT LOCATION.

Narrator: IN RAINSTORMS,
DOWNDRAFTS AND MICROBURSTS

CAN BE POTENTIALLY FATAL.

BUT ON THE DAY
STEVE FOSSETT DISAPPEARS,

THERE ARE NO STORMS.

COULD THERE BE SOMETHING UNIQUE

ABOUT THE MOUNTAINOUS REGION
OF THE SIERRA NEVADA

THAT CREATES A SIMILAR EFFECT?

THE DOWNDRAFT THAT BROUGHT DOWN
THE DELTA AIRLINES FLIGHT

HAPPENED IN THE MIDDLE
OF A STORM

AND ON PERFECTLY FLAT TERRAIN.

BUT STEVE FOSSETT HAS CRASHED

INTO THE HIGH MOUNTAINS
OF THE SIERRA NEVADA

UNDER CLEAR SKIES.

THE QUESTION IS CAN THESE
MICROBURSTS STRIKE WITHOUT RAIN?

THE FIRST CLUE THAT THEY MIGHT
DATES FROM 1933

WHEN TWO GERMAN GLIDER PILOTS
MAKE AN EXTRAORDINARY DISCOVERY.

WHEN HANS DEUTSCHMANN
AND WOLF HIRTH

GLIDE NEXT TO A MOUNTAIN RANGE
IN GERMANY,

THEY DISCOVER THAT WHEN
A MOUNTAIN DROPS AWAY

TO A HOT PLAIN,

THERE IS
A SURPRISING PHENOMENON.

WHEN WINDS BLOW
INTO THE MOUNTAIN,

THE AIR IS PUSHED UP
AND OVER THE PEAK.

THE COOL AIR DROPS QUICKLY
TOWARDS THE GROUND.

IN THE PUNISHING HEAT
OF THE PLAINS

SURROUNDING THE SIERRA NEVADAS,

THE AIR IS RAPIDLY HEATED
AND RISES BACK UP.

AS THE WARM AIR HITS
THE COOLER AIR AT HIGH ALTITUDE,

THE PROCESS IS REPEATED,

CREATING WAVES
OF HOT AND COLD AIR.

AS A GLIDER PILOT, RUSSELL HOLTZ

REGULARLY SEEKS OUT
THIS STRANGE PHENOMENON

IN THE SIERRA NEVADAS,
KNOWN AS A "MOUNTAIN WAVE."

Russell Holtz: THIS AREA IS,
HAS SOME OF THE BEST WEATHER,

BEST CONDITIONS FOR SOARING.

WE CAN GET REALLY HIGH,
WE CAN GO REALLY FAR.

Narrator: SOME GLIDERS,
LIKE RUSSELL'S, HAVE NO ENGINES,

SO THEY NEED A TOW PLANE
TO REACH THE RIGHT ALTITUDE.

THEN THEY ARE RELEASED.

ONCE SET FREE THEY RELY PURELY
ON THE RISING WIND CURRENTS

TO KEEP THEM UP.

Holtz: ALMOST ALWAYS
THE AIR'S IN MOTION,

SOME OF IT'S MOVING UP AND DOWN,
SO YOU...

IF A GLIDER STAYS
IN THE, UH, UP PART,

IN THE AIR THAT'S MOVING UP,

THEN WE CAN STAY UP
INDEFINITELY.

SAME THING YOU SEE BIRDS DOING.

Narrator: IN CLEAR SKIES,
CURRENTS ARE INVISIBLE,

SO GLIDER PILOTS HAVE TO BE
EXTREMELY AWARE

OF THEIR SURROUNDINGS.

Holtz: AND ALL THE DATA
YOU'RE GATHERING--

VIA CLOUDS, YOUR WIND DRIFT,
WHAT YOU'RE FEELING,

WHAT THE INSTRUMENTS ARE SAYING,

SO ALL THAT YOU TRY TO PUT
INTO A MENTAL MODEL

OF WHAT THE AIR IS DOING...

THE MORE YOU KNOW
ABOUT THE SAFER IT IS

TO BE ABLE TO USE IT
FOR YOUR ADVANTAGE.

THERE'S A NICE LITTLE BUMP.

THERE'S THAT LINE OF CLOUDS
PARALLEL TO THE MOUNTAINS;

WE'RE GONNA GET
ABOUT A QUARTER OF THE DISTANCE

BETWEEN THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN
AND THE MIDDLE OF THE CLOUD.

THAT'LL BE THE,
WHERE THE BEST LIFT WILL BE.

THE AREA UNDERNEATH
THESE CLOUDS;

THERE CAN BE A ROTOR,

IT CAN BE REALLY TURBULENT
GETTING UP INTO IT,

AND IF WE GET
UP ABOVE THOSE CLOUDS

AND GET INTO THE ACTUAL WAVE,
IT'LL BE VERY SMOOTH,

VERY SMOOTH CONDITIONS,
JUST NO TURBULENCE AT ALL.

FEELS LIKE YOU'RE NOT MOVING.

Narrator: FOR A GLIDER,
MOUNTAIN WAVES

OFFER THE THRILL
OF EXTREME SPORT.

BUT FOR AIRPLANES
THEY CAN BE TREACHEROUS.

Holtz: POWER PILOTS MAY NOT FLY
IN THESE CONDITIONS

JUST BECAUSE THEY HAVE NOT
EXPERIENCED THEM.

THEY'RE NOT USED TO FLYING
IN THIS MUCH WIND.

Narrator: AND THE WINDS
CLOSEST TO THE MOUNTAINS

CAN BE THE MOST LETHAL
FOR AIRPLANES.

TO BETTER UNDERSTAND
THE MOUNTAIN WAVE,

CLIMATOLOGIST KELLY REDMOND
EXPLAINS

THAT WE FIRST NEED TO UNDERSTAND

THE SIERRA NEVADA'S
UNIQUE TOPOGRAPHY.

Redmond: ONE FACTOR
ABOUT THE SIERRA IS THEY,

THEY COME UP GRADUALLY
ON THE WEST SIDE

AND THEY DROP VERY STEEPLY
ON THE EAST SIDE.

AND SO WHEN THE AIR IS CLIMBING
THE SLOPE ON THE WEST SIDE,

IT'S KIND OF CLIMBING AT A,
AT A FAIRLY GENTLE SLOPE.

AND THEN IT HAS AN ABRUPT BREAK
THAT'S SHAPED LIKE THIS.

IT HAS AN ABRUPT BREAK
WHERE IT CAN GO DOWNHILL,

AND THIS CAN CAUSE LOTS
OF DIFFERENT WAVE PHENOMENA

IN THE ATMOSPHERE.

Narrator: STUDYING THE FLOW
OF WATER IN A RIVERBED

CAN HELP VISUALIZE
JUST HOW TURBULENT

THESE DOWNHILL WINDS CAN BECOME.

Redmond: IF YOU THINK
OF THAT WHOLE LINE

OF, UH, ROCK
UNDERNEATH THE WATER,

IT'S SORT OF LIKE
A MOUNTAIN RANGE.

THERE'S NOT A LOT GOING ON

IN THE UPSTREAM SIDE
OF THE MOUNTAIN.

BUT ON THE DOWNSTREAM SIDE

IS WHERE MOST OF THE ACTION
IS OCCURRING.

WE SEE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FLOW
COMING OVER,

AND SOME OF IT COMES OVER,
AND IT COMES DOWN

AND IT JUMPS UP, AND IT GETS
VERY TURBULENT.

Narrator: THE RIVER'S DOWNSTREAM

IS THE MOUNTAIN EQUIVALENT
OF A DOWNDRAFT.

THEY OCCUR BELOW THE CREST
OF THE MOUNTAIN.

THE WINDS ACCELERATE
AS THEY COME OVER THE RIDGE,

CLINGING TO THE SURFACE
AS THEY RACE DOWN THE SLOPE.

ARE THESE POWERFUL DOWNDRAFTS,
UNIQUE TO THE SIERRA NEVADAS,

RESPONSIBLE
FOR STEVE FOSSETT'S CRASH

AND HUNDREDS OF OTHERS
IN THE NEVADA TRIANGLE?

SCIENTISTS AT THE WINDEEE DOME,

THE WORLD'S FIRST
HEXAGONAL WIND TUNNEL FACILITY,

USUALLY STUDY THE EFFECTS
OF WIND ON FIXED STRUCTURES

LIKE BUILDINGS AND BRIDGES.

Andrew Mathers: BUT TODAY WE'RE
DOING SOMETHING A LITTLE UNIQUE.

WE'RE USING THE FACILITY

IN A WAY THAT WE NEVER
ENVISIONED BEFORE.

Narrator:
ANDREW MATHERS AND HIS TEAM
HAVE RIGGED UP A REPLICA

OF STEVE FOSSETT'S PLANE
INSIDE THE WIND TUNNEL.

Mathers: IT'S
A REMOTE-CONTROLLED AIRCRAFT;

IT'S ACTUALLY 1/8 SCALE.

UH, IT HAS ALMOST
THE SAME PHYSICAL PROPERTIES

AS THE SUPER DECATHLON

THAT STEVE FOSSETT WAS FLYING
AT THE TIME.

UM, IT HAS VERY SIMILAR
SCALE MODEL WING SPAN LENGTH.

IT'S A HIGH WING DESIGN, SO
THE FUSELAGE IS HUNG UNDERNEATH

SO THAT GIVES IT SIMILAR
CENTER OF GRAVITY,

SIMILAR FLYING PROPERTIES.

AS WELL IT'S
A SINGLE-PROP AIRCRAFT

WITH THE ALMOST IDENTICAL
POWER-TO-WEIGHT RATIO.

Narrator: THEY HAVE STUDIED
THE METEOROLOGICAL RECORDS

TO RECREATE THE PRECISE
WIND SPEED AND DIRECTION

IN THE REGION WHERE
STEVE FOSSETT LOST HIS LIFE.

Mathers:
OKAY, FANS COMING UP TO 50%.

Narrator: WITH 106 FANS,
EACH INDIVIDUALLY CONTROLLED,

THE TEAM ARE HOPING
TO REPRODUCE THE EFFECTS

OF THE INVISIBLE
AND UNPREDICTABLE DOWNDRAFTS

THAT RESEARCHERS NOW THINK MAKE
THE NEVADA TRIANGLE SO DEADLY.

Mathers:
WE'RE CONFIGURING OUR FANS TO
ACHIEVE THE FLOW THAT WE WANTED,

WHICH WAS A COMBINATION
OF FORWARD FLOW

AS WELL AS DOWNWASH.

UH, SO WE'RE USING
DIFFERENT COMBINATIONS OF FANS

TO ACHIEVE WHAT WE WANT TO.

WE'RE GOING TO TRY TODAY TO USE
SMOKE WITHIN THE AIRFLOW

TO ACTUALLY VISUALIZE
WHAT'S HAPPENING.

Narrator: THE MODEL AIRCRAFT
IS BEING FLOWN

BY A MEMBER OF THE FACILITY.

TO PREVENT THE AIRPLANE
FROM CRASHING,

IT IS HELD LOOSELY IN POSITION
BY RESTRAINING WIRES.

THE REMOTE PILOT
IS HAVING NO PROBLEMS

FLYING THROUGH HEADWINDS

MODIFIED TO APPROXIMATE
THE CONDITIONS

STEVE FOSSETT
HAD BEEN FLYING IN.

SUDDENLY, THERE'S TROUBLE
WHEN A POWERFUL WIND

STARTS BATTERING THE AIRPLANE,
AND THE PILOT LOSES CONTROL.

Mathers: WE CAN CERTAINLY SEE
IN THIS PARTICULAR EXPERIMENT

THAT THE PLANE WAS NOT ABLE
TO OVERCOME DOWNWARD VELOCITY.

SO EVEN THOUGH WE HAD A PILOT
OPERATING THE CONTROLS

AND TRYING TO KEEP
THE PLANE ALOFT--

USING AS MUCH CLIMB RATE
AS POSSIBLE--

HE WAS STILL NOT ABLE
TO OVERCOME

AND WAS STILL DROPPING
IN ALTITUDE.

Narrator:
BY SLOWING DOWN THE FOOTAGE

WE SEE HOW THE PLANE ENGINE
ISN'T POWERFUL ENOUGH

TO OVERCOME THE WIND
FORCING IT TOWARDS THE GROUND.

THE FORCES RECREATED HERE
ARE NO GREATER

THAN THOSE POSSIBLY FACED
BY STEVE FOSSETT.

STEVE FOSSETT
WAS A SKILLED PILOT

WHO BROKE MORE THAN 100 AVIATION
RECORDS AROUND THE WORLD.

BUT HE CRASHED
FLYING HIS AIRPLANE

IN THE SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS,

A PLACE HE KNEW
LIKE THE BACK OF HIS HAND.

AFTER A FIVE-MONTH
INVESTIGATION,

THE NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION
SAFETY BOARD CONCLUDES

THAT A DOWNDRAFT WAS RESPONSIBLE

FOR STEVE FOSSETT'S OTHERWISE
INEXPLICABLE LOSS OF CONTROL.

HOW ELSE COULD A PILOT

WHO ROUTINELY CALCULATED
THE DANGERS OF THE WIND

FALL PREY TO IT?

FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR BILL SCHROEDER

AGREES WITH INVESTIGATION'S
FINAL REPORT.

IN THE SIERRA NEVADAS,
WINDS CAN RUSH DOWN

AT 400 FEET PER MINUTE OR MORE

AND THEN BOUNCE BACK UP AGAIN
EVEN FASTER.

Schroeder: HE WAS IN A 400, 500
FOOT PER MINUTE, POSSIBLY MORE.

HIS AIRCRAFT WAS ONLY CAPABLE,

AT THAT DENSITY ALTITUDE
WHERE HE WAS FLYING,

OF CLIMBING AT 300 FEET
PER MINUTE.

SO HE DIDN'T HAVE THE POWER.

HE COULD NOT GET
OUT OF THE DOWNDRAFT.

Narrator: WHILE FILMING,
BILL'S PLANE IS SUDDENLY HIT

BY AN INVISIBLE DOWNDRAFT.

Schroeder: SEE, WE'RE STARTING
TO GET A LI...

OH, PROBABLY A 200, 300 FOOT
PER MINUTE DOWNDRAFT HERE,

RIGHT AT THIS LOCATION HERE.

Narrator:
TODAY BILL IS HIGH ENOUGH
TO RIDE OUT THE DOWNDRAFT--

BUT AT LOWER ALTITUDES,
CLOSER TO THE MOUNTAIN RIDGE,

EVEN THE MOST EXPERIENCED PILOTS

WILL STRUGGLE
WITH THE RAPID LOSS OF SPEED.

Schroeder: I'M GOING TO CLIMB
UP HERE JUST A LITTLE BIT.

ALL I'M DOING IS I'M AWARE OF IT
AND PAYING CLOSE ATTENTION TO IT

AND GETTING MYSELF
INTO A POSITION

WHERE IF I SHOULD HAVE TO TURN,

I'M GOING TO BE TURNING TO
THE LEFT TOWARD LOWER TERRAIN.

Narrator: STEVE FOSSETT WAS
NO STRANGER TO THESE DOWNDRAFTS.

BUT ON THAT PARTICULAR DAY,
HE WAS FLYING TOO LOW

AND TOO CLOSE TO THE MOUNTAINS,

AND THAT WAS
A DEADLY MISCALCULATION.

DOWNDRAFTS ALSO EXPLAIN
THE MYSTERIOUS FORCE

THAT CAME OUT OF THE BLUE

AND SO NEARLY TOOK THE LIVES OF
JIM NOWLIN AND HIS PASSENGERS.

Nowlin: IT'S ALMOST LIKE A HAND
IS PUSHING ON YOU

AND STEALING AWAY YOUR AIRSPEED.

IN SPITE OF ALL THE HOURS
I'D SPENT FLYING

OVER AND AROUND THE SIERRA,

UH, I HAD NEVER ENCOUNTERED
THAT KIND OF A DOWNDRAFT.

I PROBABLY USED UP 99%
OF MY LUCK IN THAT ONE TIME.

THE HEAD OF THE CIVIL AIR PATROL
CAME AND SOUGHT ME OUT.

AND HE'S BEEN INVOLVED
IN SEARCH AND RESCUE

FOR I THINK HE SAID 45 YEARS,

AND HE SAID HE WANTED
TO SHAKE MY HAND

BECAUSE IT WAS THE FIRST CHANCE
HE EVER GOT TO DO THAT,

TO SHAKE THE HAND
OF SOMEONE WHO'D GONE DOWN

IN THE SIERRA LIKE THAT.

IT'S THE ONLY TRACE
THAT ANYTHING EVER HAPPENED.

AND I, I HAVEN'T TOUCHED IT
TILL NOW,

BUT IT'S, UH, I WOULD SAY
THIS PROBABLY CAME OFF

ONE OF THE, UH,
WINGTIP MOLDINGS.

AND, UH, YEAH, THIS
IS THE ONLY SIGN

THAT ANYTHING
EVER HAPPENED HERE.

NO SENSE LEAVING IT HERE.
[LAUGHS]

Narrator: BUT UNTIL ALL THE
MISSING AIRCRAFT ARE DISCOVERED,

KNOWING THE LIKELY CAUSE

IS COLD COMFORT
TO SURVIVING RELATIVES,

LIKE WILLIAM OGLE,

WHOSE FATHER DISAPPEARED
OVER THE SIERRA NEVADA RIDGE.

Ogle: I'VE BEEN DEALING WITH IT
FOR 40 YEARS,

AND THEY MAY NOT FIND
HIS WRECK,

AND I'LL CONTINUE
TO DEAL WITH IT.

BUT THAT'S JUST SOMETHING
THAT I'VE ACCEPTED.

Narrator: THE NEVADA TRIANGLE
HAS BEEN HOME

TO THOUSANDS OF LOST AIRPLANES
OVER THE LAST 60 YEARS.

THE MISSING EVIDENCE CONCLUDES

THAT SOME
OF THE AIRPLANE CRASHES

CAN BE ATTRIBUTED TO THE TESTING
OF MILITARY AIRPLANES.

BUT FOR STEVE FOSSETT
AND HUNDREDS OF OTHER PILOTS

WHO HAVE CRASHED
IN THE SIERRA NEVADAS,

THE CULPRIT IS
MOTHER NATURE HERSELF.

AND ALTHOUGH
TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES

HAVE MADE FLYING
SAFER THAN EVER,

THE SIERRA NEVADAS
WILL ALWAYS POSE A THREAT

TO THOSE WHO FLY THROUGH THEM.

Schroeder: YOU REALLY HAVE TO
TREAT THE WINDS IN THE MOUNTAINS

WITH RESPECT.

Narrator: THE WINDS IN THESE
MOUNTAINS DON'T DISCRIMINATE

BETWEEN THE MOST EXPERIENCED
PILOT AND THE NOVICE.

Schroeder: REGARDLESS
OF HOW PROFESSIONAL,

HOW MUCH TRAINING,
HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE A PILOT HAS,

THEY CAN STILL GET IN TROUBLE.

AND SO WE HAVE TO BE
VERY VIGILANT WHEN WE'RE FLYING,