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The 1954 French flap:

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October 15 or 16, 1954, Digne-les-Bains, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence:

Reference for this case: 15-16-Oct-54-Digne-les-Bains.
Please cite this reference in any correspondence with me regarding this case.


In his 1958 book on the 1954 French flying saucers wave, Aimé Michel reported how a high-altitude balloon launched by the University of Padua had caused observation reports that, although they were sometimes called "flying saucer" reports, nevertheless gave descriptions without exaggerations of the device and its behavior.

Among the places he indicated where the balloon was observed on October 15 and 16, 1954, he quoted, without giving details, Digne-les-Bains.


[Ref. aml1:] AIME MICHEL:

Aimé Michel indicates that October 15 and 16m 1954, were highlighted by a curious experience, while the weather over the whole of France was very clear, the visibility excellent, the prevailing winds at low altitude and oriented east-west on the southern half of the country.

The case began in Saint-Vincent-les-Forts, in the Basses-Alpes, 45 kilometers from the border with Italy, towards the end of the afternoon of October 14, 1954, with a testimony of Joseph Michel, former telemetric observer of the Navy, brother of Aimé Michel, who wrote to him the following day:

"Yesterday evening, October 14th, at 5:30 p.m., we discovered a very large luminous object in the northwest direction and appearing at a very high altitude. Apparent size at the beginning: half of the full moon. To the naked eye, it looked like a big phosphorescent ball. Seen with the binoculars, the appearance was of a luminous disk on the periphery and darker at its center. We observed it for about an hour, moving slowly towards the west (thirty degrees in one hour), at first perfectly circular and very luminous, it became more and more oval while changing from yellow to orange color, then to red. Around 6:20 p.m., when the sun was gone and that the first stars were showing (Saint-Vincent-les-Forts is at 1,300 meters above sea level), we lost sight of it."

Aimé Michel says he thought it was "a very nice sounding-balloon that comes from Italy on a clear day", and expected it to cross all of southern France at very high altitude, visible everywhere.

He said to himself "We're going to see the psychosis" of the flying saucers "in action, God knows how this harmless device will be turned into."

Michel indicates that indeed, it was seen the next day (October 15, 1954) and the day after (October 16, 1954) in almost all of the southern half of France, in Lyon, in Murat, in Puy, in Saint-Céré, in Toulouse, in Tulle, Digne, Briançon, Grenoble, in the Aveyron, the Tarn, the Haute-Loire, the Lozère, the Drôme, the Ardèche, the Bouches-du-Rhône.

It was photographed at the observatory of Haute Provence, it was painted in watercolor by an observer from the Aveyron.

Michel notes that many witnesses called it a "flying saucer", but the surprise was the astonishing detail which plunged into a deep perplexity all those, among which he was at the time, who attributed 95 percent of the "saucer" observations the last two months to a phenomenon of "collective psychopathology": all the witnesses without exception, even those who thought to have seen a flying saucer, had given a rigorously faithful description of the phenomenon. The sketches he received immediately from a witness from the Aveyron, Mr. Elie de Vézins, who declared himself convinced of the existence of the flying saucers and that it was what he had seen, "were so accurate that they overlap in every detail with the photo of the observatory of Haute Provence."

Michel tells that he had shown the sketches of Mr. de Vézins to a military personality he did not want to name, and that this man of science looked at them with despondency, sighed, touched his forehead, and said:

- Better and better. It's delirium. But where the hell are they getting all this from?"

Michel then suggested to him: "Maybe it's a balloon." But the scientist replied:

"- No, it's just delirium, they're all crazy, I tell you."

Michel indicates that the newspapers found no outlandish description to publish, and that he has not received any whimsical letters. The descriptions were so unanimous and so precise that before any investigation, and well before the photo of the observatory was known, the true nature of the phenomenon was no doubt for anyone in informed circles.

It still took many days to establish the exact origin of the balloon. It was only much later that the Prefecture of the Hautes-Alpes contacted the Italian authorities, and had learned that a gigantic sounding-balloon had been launched by the University of Padua, Italy, for the study of cosmic rays in high altitude.

Michel indicates that the Italian scientists had perfectly recognized the photo taken at the Observatory of Haute Provence (photo which, Michel said, by the way, had earned one of his authors, who was preparing a doctoral thesis on the high atmosphere, petty remonstrance from his superiors, who accused him, wrongly, of sacrificing to the saucer craze).

Michel concluded: "... a superb sounding-balloon crosses France and lets itself be seen by all these stupid brains. And what did the stupid brains describe? A sounding-balloon..."

[Ref. gqy1:] GUY QUINCY:


October 15 [, 1954]

[... other cases...]

jaytime: Southern France:Briançon,Digne,Le Puy,Lyon,Murat,Saint Céré,Toulouse,Tulle,Ardèche,Aveyron,Basses-Alpes

[... other cases...]



High-altitude balloon of the Padua University. See also the note about it by Raymond Veillith in 1968.

The photograph of the balloon by the Observatory of Haute-Provence:


(These keywords are only to help queries and are not implying anything.)

Digne-les-Bains, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, balloon, high-altitude-balloon


[----] indicates sources that are not yet available to me.

Document history:

Version: Created/Changed by: Date: Change Description:
1.0 Patrick Gross August 5, 2019 First published.
1.1 Patrick Gross May 12, 2022 Addition [gqy1].

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This page was last updated on May 12, 2022.