The Belgian UFO wave was a series of purported sightings of triangular UFOs in Belgium, which lasted from 29 November 1989 to April 1990. Months after the event, many people claimed to have witnessed the object, but no pictures, videos or any other type of proof was ever provided.
The Belgian UFO wave began in November 1989. Reports were filed, most many weeks after the events. No witnesses managed to take any photographic evidence of the event. Many of the reports related a large object flying at low altitude. Some reports also stated that the craft was of a flat, triangular shape, with lights underneath.
The Belgian UFO wave peaked with the events of the night of 30–31 March 1990. On that night, one unknown object was tracked on radar, and two Belgian Air Force F-16s were sent to investigate, with neither pilot reporting seeing the object. No reports were received from the public on the date. But over the next 2 weeks reports from 143 people who claimed to have witnessed the object were received, all of them after the event. Over the ensuing months, many others claimed to have witnessed these events as well.
Following the incident, the Belgian Air Force released a report detailing the events of that night.
At around 23:00 on 30 March, the supervisor for the Control Reporting Center (CRC) at Glons received reports that three unusual lights were seen moving towards Thorembais-Gembloux, which lies to the southeast of Brussels. Glons CRC requested the Wavre gendarmerie send a patrol to confirm the sighting.
Approximately 10 minutes later, some later reports stated that a second set of lights were seen, moving towards the first triangle. Traffic Center Control at Semmerzake tracked one object only on its radar, and an order to scramble two F-16 fighters from Beauvechain Air Base was given. Throughout this time, in reports after the event, some people claim that the phenomenon was visible from the ground, describing the whole formation as maintaining their relative positions while moving slowly across the sky.
Over the next hour, the two scrambled F-16s attempted nine separate interceptions of the targets. On three occasions, they managed to obtain a radar lock for a few seconds, but these were later shown to be Radar-locks on each other. The pilots never reported seeing any of the claimed sightings, saw none of the claimed manoeuvres, and never got a lock on any objects apart from the other F16. The other contacts were all found to be the result of a well-known atmospheric interference called Bragg scattering
After 00:30, radar contact became much more sporadic and the final confirmed lock took place at 00:40. Following several further unconfirmed contacts, the F-16s eventually returned to base shortly after 01:00.
Members of the Wavre gendarmerie who had been sent to confirm the original report, describe four lights now being arranged in a square formation, all making short jerky movements, before gradually losing their luminosity and disappearing in four separate directions at around 01:30. They also reported that a low engine noise was heard and that it seemed to have a stick coming out one end with a turbine on it, which many have claimed shows it was a Helicopter they saw.
In April 1990, a hoax photo of a triangular object upon which three lights are visible at each corner was taken by an anonymous photographer. Since then, a man named Patrick M. publicly said that it was a hoax picture by him.
Experts say there is no background in the photograph and no element that would allow calculation of the object’s size or distance from the camera. Wim van Utrecht has reproduced a copy of the photograph with devices. A computer graphics simulation method to reproduce the photograph was developed by a Belgian mathematician, Thierry Veyt at The University of Liège Laboratory of Astrophysics, wherein the apparent “shake” motion, that results in the lights of the craft appearing blurred or out of focus in the photograph contradicts eye-witness statements. This, along with the anonymity of the photographer and fact that the image was not produced publicly until 4 months after the alleged event, brings the authenticity of the image into question.
For 20 years, the ufological organization Société belge d’étude des phénomènes spatiaux (SOBEPS) claimed that this picture was genuine. But on 26 July 2011, in an interview for RTL, a Belgian TV channel, Patrick M. explained that it was a hoax.
In his September 27, 2016 Skeptoid podcast episode titled “The Belgian UFO Wave,” author Brian Dunning discussed the photographic evidence and reported that the single photograph turns out to be emblematic of the quality of all the evidence that characterized the Belgian UFO Wave. In 2011, a guy named Patrick Maréchal invited Belgian reporters to his home to show them what he and some buddies had done at work one day when the media hype had been at its peak. They took a sheet of styrofoam, cut it into a triangle, painted it black, embedded a flashlight in each corner, then hung it from a string. Maréchal still had tons of photos that they’d taken trying to get that one that was just right, and that fooled the world.
In 1992, about three years after the first sighting, which occurred on 29 November 1989, in Eupen, Marc Hallet wrote an essay about the Belgian UFO wave criticizing the work done by the SOBEPS: La Vague OVNI Belge ou le triomphe de la désinformation, arguing that this UFOlogical organisation was spreading misinformation in the media. Hallet’s thesis is that the Belgian UFO wave was mostly a mass delusion, boosted by the work done by the SOBEPS. This mass delusion would have followed Philip J. Klass’s law: Once news coverage leads the public to believe that UFOs may be in the vicinity, there are numerous natural and man-made objects which, especially seen at night, can take on unusual characteristics in the minds of hopeful viewers. Their UFO reports in turn add to the mass excitement, which encourages still more observers to watch for UFOs. This situation feeds upon itself until such time as the media lose interest in the subject, and then the « flap » quickly runs out of steam.
In 1993, Pierre Magain and Marc Remy published an article in Physicalia Magazine, in which their conclusions don’t match those from the SOBEPS. They also state that the Belgian UFO wave would be better studied by people in the human sciences than by physicists.
In The Belgian UFO Wave of 1989–1992 – A Neglected Hypothesis, Renaud Leclet & co. discuss the fact that some sightings can be explained by helicopters. Most witnesses reported that the objects were silent. This report argues that the lack of noise could be due to the engine noise in the witnesses’ automobiles, or strong natural wind blowing away from the witnesses.
In his article The Beginning of the Belgian UFO wave, Jean-Michel Abrassart argues that the beginning of the wave does not contradict the psychosocial hypothesis, contrary to what the SOBEPS claimed in his work. In an article published on his website in 2011, The Belgian Wave and the photos of Ramillies, Auguste Meessen replied to several criticisms (by Roger Paquay and Jean-Michel Abrassart) and argues that, according to him, the Belgian UFO wave is completely unexplained. Roger Paquay and Jean-Michel Abrassart both wrote rebuttals to the Belgian physicist’s article.
In “The Belgian UFO Wave” Skeptoid podcast episode, Brian Dunning discussed the F-16 chase and reported that
The pilots also got intermittent contact with objects, but they appeared and disappeared and moved up and down too fast, including going underground. The pilots never saw anything at all. SOBEPS reported that they obtained radar lock on targets nine times; but the Belgian military only reported three such locks, and upon analyzing the data, all three radar locks were on each other. The other contacts were all found to be the result of a well-known atmospheric interference called Bragg scattering.
Regarding the “wave” of eye-witness reports and lack of photographic evidence, Dunning concludes
You read a story in the paper that a UFO was seen flying over your town a night or two ago. You remember that you saw something you took for a bright star or an airplane, thought nothing of it at the time, but this amazing new story makes you realize that what you saw must have been this UFO. You and I might not necessarily make that connection, but it’s perfectly reasonable that a lot of people will; and so they follow the instructions in the newspaper article and send a report to SOBEPS. With so many articles over a period of years in a small country, it’s no great surprise that SOBEPS reported they eventually received as many as 2,600 in all. The 143 reports Meessen claims for the original November 29 incident were indeed received, but only after more than a week of aggressive and repeated solicitation in the mass media. It is only much later retellings of the story that wrongly assume all 2,600 were reported as people were watching the F-16s chase the UFOs, or that all 143 initial reports came independently on that first night. All the reports were after the fact, and were only made after prompting and solicitation by SOBEPS and the media.
It was simply a psycho-social phenomenon, which is why there is no evidence and only the one questionable photograph. If 13,500 people did all actually see something that they took for a UFO at the time, I guarantee you that more than just a single photograph would have resulted.
Vague OVNI sur la Belgique (UFO wave over Belgium), written by the defunct SOBEPS organisation. Sekret Machines: Chasing Shadows 1, Written by A.J. Hartley and Tom Delonge (2016).