Mysterious Island: Catalina’s facts, folklore, and fibs





Editor’s Note:  Jim Watson is the author of “Mysterious Island: Catalina,” available at Amazon, Kindle and in stores in Avalon.




Editor’s Note:  Jim Watson is the author of “Mysterious Island: Catalina,” available at Amazon, Kindle and in stores in Avalon.


On July 8, 1947, a remarkable headline splashed across the front page of a small town newspaper in the dusty, relatively unknown town of Roswell, New Mexico. It seems that the crew at the public information office of the nearby Roswell Army Air Field reported they had recovered wreckage from a “flying disc” that had crashed near a ranch outside of town.  

The Roswell Daily Record duly reported it, sparking an event that the world would come to know as “The Roswell Incident.”

The following day, General Roger M. Ramey of the U.S. Army’s Eighth Air Force, stated that—rather than an exotic disc-shaped craft—his men had, in fact, recovered the debris from a wrecked radar-tracking balloon.  

A press conference was held—complete with a display of the alleged wreckage—and, satisfied with this, the press went on their merry way.

Not as widely reported at the same time, however, were a number of other “disc” sightings both before and after the Roswell incident.

On the evening of June 26, 1947, U.S. Army Major George Wilcox of Warren, Arizona, reported a series of “eight or nine” disc-shaped objects traveling near his home and at an altitude of about 1,000 feet above the nearby mountains.

That same evening, a Captain E.B. Detchmendy reported seeing a “white disc glowing like an electric light bulb” passing over Pope, New Mexico, a sighting echoed by several local townspeople.

Dozens of other sightings—many by military officers—were reported in the region in the coming days and weeks.

But the Southwest wasn’t the only venue.  

Similar sightings were reported throughout much of the western United States as far north as Washington State and as far west as California—including Catalina Island.

 On July 8, 1947, the very same day that the Roswell Daily Record was reporting the initial “flying saucer” story, a remarkable incident reportedly occurred in the skies above Avalon.  

An article on the front page of the week’s issue of the Catalina Islander details an alleged sighting by three visiting Army veterans of six “flying discs” traveling at high speed from the northeast and passing directly over Avalon before disappearing over East Peak.

According to the story, the six discs appeared at about 1 p.m. and flew in a formation of two sets of three and were witnessed not only by the veterans, but by “hundreds” of others as well.

 Alvio Russo, one of the reported witnesses and an Army Air Corps veteran who had flown 35 bombing missions over Germany with the Eighth Air Force, estimated the velocity of the discs at “850 miles an hour,” according to the story.Bob Jung, listed as a “former aerial photographer” agreed with this estimate and said they were flying roughly as fast as the U.S. Navy’s “Tiny Tim” rocket, which he had photographed numerous times for the Navy.

As impressive as the written accounts are, the story takes a head-scratching turn from there with regards to an associated photograph.  

The article points out that Jung had his camera handy and snapped two photographs of the discs before they went out of sight, however there are no photographs accompanying the story.

Only a day before the Islander story—the same day as the reported sighting over Catalina—the Los Angeles Examiner printed a photograph of a glowing disc-shaped object flying above none other than the S.S. Catalina.  

Problem is, the photograph appears to have been taken at night, complete with stars in the background.

Whether or not this photograph is supposed to be one of Jung’s two photographs and the Examiner felt obliged to “enhance” the disc-shaped object by contrasting it with a night sky (not uncommon in those days) is unclear.

The notion of the S.S. Catalina being in this night-time photograph only adds to the head-scratching.  July 8, 1947, was a Tuesday and it’s highly unlikely that the S.S. Catalina would have been out at the Island.  (The ship normally only made overnight trips to Avalon on summer weekends.) Were the original photographs confiscated by the Army?  

Were they ever even taken?  Did the Examiner pull a 1940s-style Photoshop and concoct the photographs with or without Jung’s knowledge?

In the coming months, the sightings of discs around the nation waned, at least for the time-being, and public interest in them faded as well.  

Even the Roswell Incident was largely forgotten until 30 years later when famed ufologist Stanton Friedman began fielding what he claimed were eyewitness reports from civilian and military personnel of REAL flying saucer wreckage and alien bodies.

No mention of the Catalina incident was ever made again in the Catalina Islander nor, apparently, in the Los Angeles Examiner.

As far as the local hub-bub was concerned, the aliens-over-Avalon story seems to have faded as quickly as those inexplicable discs disappeared over the vast Pacific Ocean.

Mysterious Island: Catalina’s facts, folklore, and fibs