Area 51: 20 Years of Intrigue - 8 News NOW

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Chief Photojournalist Matt Adams

Area 51: 20 Years of Intrigue

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The oh-so-secret facility, the place that did not officially exist for decades, is the rock star of military bases, literally. The oh-so-secret facility, the place that did not officially exist for decades, is the rock star of military bases, literally.
There's an Area 51 video game, an Area 51 bar, a lot of Area 51 gifts shops, jerky stores, a dance troupe and fireworks company. There's an Area 51 video game, an Area 51 bar, a lot of Area 51 gifts shops, jerky stores, a dance troupe and fireworks company.
When it first opened in 1955, the government sent out a news release with KLAS-TV on the list of recipients, saying this was just a temporary atomic energy runway and dormitory, no big deal. When it first opened in 1955, the government sent out a news release with KLAS-TV on the list of recipients, saying this was just a temporary atomic energy runway and dormitory, no big deal.
Mainstream news organizations scoffed at the claims made by Bob Lazar, but since 1989 every major news organization in the world has covered the Area 51 story. Mainstream news organizations scoffed at the claims made by Bob Lazar, but since 1989 every major news organization in the world has covered the Area 51 story.
The businesses are bookends on the world's only Extraterrestrial Highway, dedicated back in 1996 by savvy Governor Bob Miller. The businesses are bookends on the world's only Extraterrestrial Highway, dedicated back in 1996 by savvy Governor Bob Miller.
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It's been 20 years this month since Eyewitness News began reporting on a then-obscure military facility now known all over the world as Area 51.

Not many classified Pentagon bases can claim the status of cultural icon, but the one out there near Nevada's Groom Lake certainly qualifies.

In the movies, the folks at Area 51 save the world from an alien invasion. In real life, their work on such amazing projects as the U2, SR-71, and Stealth Fighter helped to win the Cold War. Even without the space alien angle, it's quite a story. But add in some ET's, and you've got a legend.

It would probably take an Indiana Jones-sized warehouse to stash all pop culture references to Area 51. The oh-so-secret facility, the place that did not officially exist for decades, is the rock star of military bases, literally.

Eyewitness News has compiled close to an hour of material from the years of reports that will be make available on DVD.
Contact Mary Mercado for more information.

There's a rock band named Area 51, and another named Element 115, which is supposedly the fuel for flying saucers. There's an Area 51 video game, an Area 51 bar, a lot of Area 51 gifts shops, jerky stores, a dance troupe and fireworks company.

How many classified military bases are the namesakes of a Triple A baseball franchise -- one with a space alien mascot?

Of course, the X-Files show featured Area 51 in several episodes. It's a highlight of more than a dozen books and countless magazine articles, along with reams of editorial cartoons in the Review Journal and other papers, some of which poke fun at saucer chasing reporters.

Mainstream news organizations scoffed at the claims made by Bob Lazar, but since 1989 every major news organization in the world has covered the Area 51 story.

Emboldened by this openness, employees and their survivors stepped forward in the 90's to reveal massive environmental crimes that led to sickness and death, and a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It wasn't always this noisy. "You never heard of Groom Lake in those days, or Area 51," said former Area 51 radar specialist T.D. Barnes.

Barnes worked as a radar specialist for the CIA at Area 51 starting in the 60's. Today he heads an organization of ex-employees called the Roadrunners. The group holds occasional reunions and speaks more openly than they once did about the place known as Dreamland.

When it first opened in 1955, the government sent out a news release with KLAS-TV on the list of recipients, saying this was just a temporary atomic energy runway and dormitory, no big deal. Then poof, Area 51 vanished from the map and no one could talk about it.

The Roadrunners say they didn't see any saucers but admit they weren't privy to everything. "Some guys I knew stayed there all week with them. To this day, I don't know what their specialty was. We didn't ask. To this day we don't ask," said Barnes.

Area 51's anonymity ended in 1989 when Bob Lazar claimed to have worked on alien saucers hidden in a hangar south of Groom Lake.

From the beginning, it was tough to prove Lazar's story. But long before the news broke, he knew when and where test flights of glowing discs would take place. The tests were witnessed and videotaped.

Lazar's tale set off a stampede. In nearby Rachel, the bar and grill became the Little A'Le'Inn and its owners have capitalized on the public fascination with all things ET.

Miles to the east nearby Hiko, there's a rival alien research center which has its own line of otherworldy merchandise. The businesses are bookends on the world's only Extraterrestrial Highway, dedicated back in 1996 by savvy Governor Bob Miller, who combined his marketing event with the unveiling of the blockbuster film Independence Day, wherein Area 51 saves the world from an ET invasion.

It's become big alright, but for Lazar, it was too much. He grew tired of being trashed and left the state. He stands by the story but doesn't know it if was worth the trouble. "I can't say I would do it again. I would probably keep my mouth shut this time," he said.

Aviator John Lear, who like Lazar says his phones were tapped for awhile after the story broke, doesn't expect people to believe it. "I was there. I went through it with Bob. I was there every single day, so to me it was real, but somebody coming in 18 years later and hearing about a guy who can't prove he worked on flying saucers, they're not going to believe it period," he said.

Back in 1989 when Lazar first talked about Element 115, it didn't exist. Now it does. It was created in a lab four years ago, though the particular isotope wasn't stable.

His statements about work on antigravity propulsion have come true, in a sense, since its been acknowledged our government is pursuing that breakthrough technology on several fronts.

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