Area 51: UFOs - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

Area 51: UFOs

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Chuck Clark, Area 51 author Chuck Clark, Area 51 author
The Little A'le'Inn, Rachel, Nevada The Little A'le'Inn, Rachel, Nevada
Extraterrestrial Highway 375 Extraterrestrial Highway 375

(May 7, 2005) -- It's hard to believe now, but not too many years ago, few people outside of Nevada had ever heard of Area 51, the secret military base that turns 50 years old this month.

All of that changed in 1989 when KLAS-TV aired a series of reports about alleged alien technology being tested in and around the Groom Lake facility. The UFO stories changed Area 51 forever, and spawned all sorts of spin-offs.

I-Team Investigative Reporter George Knapp is the guy who first broke the UFO tales back then and is here now with an update.

For better or worse, those Channel 8 stories did put Area 51 on the map. The first time George Knapp read about UFOs at Area 51, it was in the pages of the Las Vegas Review Journal back in the mid '80s. The paper reported it as a mere rumor.

KLAS-TV reports a few years later made quite a splash, even internationally, and Area 51 has never been the same. The reason for all of the attention is a  man who said he worked on flying saucers.

Dennis said, "There were 9 flying saucers, flying discs..." A live interview with the shadowy Dennis in the spring of 1989 was the beginning of the end for Area 51's anonymity.

Dennis, a pseudonym, claimed to be working on a top-secret project involving flying saucers of extraterrestrial origin. In November of '89, the true identity of Dennis was revealed. Bob Lazar, former government scientist, said, "Physical contact with another intelligence could be the biggest event in history. It's real and it's there."

Bob Lazar said he was hired by the Navy to work at a facility called S-4, adjacent to Papoose dry lake, south of Groom Lake. Several hangars were built into a mountainside, he said, and inside each hangar was a flying saucer. Lazar continues, "They were all different, as if they got the assortment pack."

The story set off a stampede. UFO enthusiasts took bus trips to the outskirts of Area 51, staged saucer watches, told even wilder tales about alien beings running amok at Groom Lake.

Media outlets poked fun at the so-called saucer nuts, and at Lazar, but in the years that followed, every major news organization in the world visited or wrote about the base. TV specials aired in many countries. Tens of thousands of visitors trekked to the base to see for themselves.

In nearby Rachel, Nevada, the town closest to Area 51, residents recognized a good thing. The Rachel Bar and Grill became The Little A'le'inn, plastered its walls with UFO photos, put a few clever doo-dads and eye catchers outside, and began selling alien merchandise.

Pat Travis, owner of The Little A'le'inn, says, "I have candles, patches, pins, coffee cups, badges, licenses, shot glasses..." -- along with post cards, posters, cookie jars, and alien spoons -- "mini playing cards, guitar straps, sunglasses. You name it, we've got it."

They have books too, including this one by Area 51 gadfly Chuck Clark. Clark says, "Yeah, it still sells. I keep it up to date with changes as necessary."

The Las Vegas Stars baseball team became the Las Vegas 51's. There's an Area 51 rock band, video game, dance troupe, and fireworks company. Oh, and alien jerky stands.

The base has been featured in numerous TV dramas and a movie or two. Area 51, the base that didn't officially exist, has become a household name all over the world, to the chagrin of the so-called cammo dudes who have to keep trespassers out.

The notoriety inspired the State of Nevada to dedicate the Extraterrestrial Highway, the only one of its kind on this planet, anyway. While critics think its all nonsense, a lot of people have seen glowing objects over the base. True, some of the photos are probably secret craft made in the USA, but a few look and act like, dare we say it, flying saucers.

The vantage points once used to look at the base have been seized, but skywatchers still catch a glimpse now and then of something strange. Chuck Clark said, "Every once in awhile there'll still be a sighting, one of the weird objects moving in that air space."

Several other people have come forward in the years since Lazar and have told the I-Team bits and pieces of the same story. But after Lazar's reputation was so thoroughly pummeled, none of the other witnesses were willing to appear on camera or let us use their real names.

These days, Lazar is alive and well in a western state and still stands by his story.

If you're interested in Area 51, or want information about the 50th anniversary activities later this month, check out some of the links above.

Contact I-Team Investigative Reporter George Knapp

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