Video evidence of UFO activity is something we’re all accustomed to, but how often do you hear an unidentified craft’s propulsion system going into high gear?


The year was 1981. In the early hours of a cold March morning, Sergeant Russell Yokum of the St. Helens, Oregon Police Department was in his patrol car, driving along Highway 30, just west of the Columbia River.

At 4:03 a.m., his regular duty was interrupted by a presence that has yet to be explained. A bright light appeared from behind, following the river course towards the Portland Airport, some 20 miles from Yokum’s position. He knew airplanes regularly flew along this trajectory but his gut told him this was no airplane. The light was much too bright, illuminating the river as it moved at a phenomenal speed.

Convinced that he was witnessing something truly spectacular, Sgt. Yokum radioed HQ to notify them of the incident. He switched on his siren as he floored it towards the St. Helens county courthouse. Located on the banks of the Columbia River, the courthouse would prove to be a great vantage point.

Columbia River UFO Sgt. Yokum Position

Map of the area. The red dot represents Sgt. Yokum’s position when he first saw the UFO.

When he got there, Yokum met up with fellow law enforcement officers Ricky Cade and Tom McCartney of the Oregon State Police. The commotion had also attracted a few locals who were eager to see the bright object. Over the radio, they were joined by CB enthusiast Donald Askins who had bunked down in a rented house across the river. Askins had picked up the unusual conversation and was keeping his eye on the bright light since it came to a halt over the river. He confirmed that the object was illuminating the entire area as if it were day. It was so bright it woke up birds and, believing it was morning already, they even started singing.

Askins also reported the strange object appeared to try and conceal itself in what appeared to be dense fog. On a side note, the Columbia River UFO incident occurred just three months after the Cash-Landrum episode, a close encounter of the second kind that left three witnesses shaking on an isolated road near Dayton, TX. A bright light (that was emitted by a diamond-shaped craft) had followed their car and eventually came to a standstill in the neck of the woods.


Betty Cash, who had been driving the car, stepped out and was met by the craft’s immense heat. Later on, she would suffer symptoms consistent with radiation poisoning. The radiologist’s report read:

We have strong evidence that these patients have suffered secondary damage to ionizing radiation. It is also possible that there was an infrared or ultraviolet component as well.”

If the object mentioned above was the same as the one witnessed by Askins and the others, it is possible that the “fog” it emitted was actually the result of microwave radiation heating up the ice and snow in the area.

Being much closer to the UFO than the others, Askins was able to hear the chillingly loud sounds it made. Knowing they’d need audio evidence, the officers drove to a higher point and set up a portable tape recorder near their police radio. At the same time, Askins dangled his CB microphone out the window. What followed constitutes one of the most fascinating pieces of evidence towards confirming the reality of the UFO phenomenon. The human factor also needs to be taken into account; the palpable drama of a group of people trying to make sense of what is happening underlines and supports the veracity of this incident.

The tape was also submitted for analysis to the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) and deemed genuine. (Full collection here.)

At approximately 4:29 a.m., the bright UFO began emitting the strange noise once again and the police officers were lucky enough to record it.

[Skip to the 2 minute mark for the weird noise]

Here’s a short transcript of the interesting parts:

[Askins] “I think it’s moving out, you guys?”

[St. Helens PD] “Well, we’re watching. We’ve moved to a higher vantage point. So you tell us what it does.”

[A] “Well, listen.”

[A] “It sounds like it’s revving up its engines. Can you hear it?”

[SHPD] “I hope. Because it sure is cold out here.”

[A] “I hope you’re taping this, you guys.”

[SHPD] “Yes, we are.”

[A] “It sounds like a power plant diesel motor and a screeching noise in between it there, or with it.”

The UFO then began to dim the lights and the roaring sound it made subsided into a low hum. For another 14 minutes it remained visible and at 4:43 a.m., it disappeared. One of the officers noted that it “made a funny whistling sound before it went out.”

During the incident, Oregon State Police contacted Columbia Airport personnel, who confirmed their radars had picked up the unusual presence. When the UFO vanished from sight, it disappeared from radar screens as well.

During the ensuing CUFOS investigation, the officers’ and other witnesses’ statements supported each other and described a similar object: a reddish-orange sphere with no noticeable structure, about 30 feet in diameter. It hovered approximately 80 to 100 feet above the river and inundated the entire area in an otherworldly orange glow. Investigators ruled out the Moon as the source of light, mainly because it was in another position in the sky at the time of the event. A weather balloon (!) or a collective hallucination was out of the question due to the multiple witnesses’ objection to such scenarios.

More than 35 years later, the incident remains unsolved. But, despite its strangeness, it is not unique. For years, Native Americans from the Yakima Indian Reservation in Washington have been submitting reports of similar spheres with nearly identical behavior. The proximity alone is enough to suggest a connection between the objects.

Judging by the UFO’s behavior, it’s hard to discern its exact nature and origin. Needless to say, we have our suspicions.

[youtube id=”QfgvqlCG3tc” align=”center” mode=”normal” autoplay=”no”]