What Caused the Alert?
The primary unanswered question that still seems clouded in mystery is what caused the alert at Kinross which resulted in the F-89's mission over Lake Superior?
There are three main possibilities which are referenced in the historical accounts.
According to the report documenting the USAF Official Accident Board's Investigation, the alert was caused by an RCAF C-47 flying 30 miles off course from its flight plan in an easterly direction over Lake Superior.
A second explanation is referred to in Donald Keyhoe's book "The Flying Saucer Conspiracy". According to the Keyhoe, a PIO (Public Information Officer) working at the Pentagon told him that the cause of the alert was "a Canadian DC-3" which was "over the locks by mistake".
The third explanation is the basis of Keyhoe's main storyline within his book, this being that the cause of the alert was not a DC-3 in restricted airspace over the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, but rather this was a UFO that was never identified.
Cause 1: Off Course RCAF C-47
The "official" cause of the alert is documented in the USAF Official Accident Board's report prepared in December 1953 in the statement provided by 2nd Lt. Douglas A. Stuart. At the time of the alert, he was monitoring the intercept from "Pillow" GCI, a USAF radar station near the tip of the Keweenaw Pennisula which juts out into the middle of Lake Superior from Michigan. Lt. Stuart opens his statement with the following explanation for the alert:
When A-27-T was picked up by Pillow (P-16) it was believed to be VC-912, but because the aircraft was off the flight plan course by about 30 miles, it was classified as "Unknown". Word was received from Naples (P-66) that Horsefly wanted a correlation check on the track."
The aircraft is more specifically referenced elsewhere in the official accident investigation report, in Form 14 No. 52-11-23-5, paragraph 6:
The unknown aircraft being intercepted was a Royal Canadian Air Force Dakota (C-47), Serial No. VC-912, flying from Winnipeg to Sudberry, Canada. At the time of the interception it was crossing Northern Lake Superior from west to east at 7,000 feet. This flight was approximately 30 miles south of the intended flight path.
Over the past decades, there have been a few statements made by the RCAF with respect to the alleged intercept of the "off course RCAF C-47". Some UFO investigators have interpreted the statements as indications that there was no such flight on the night the F-89 disappeared over the lake.
One example of written correspondence concerning the alleged encounter is a letter from a flight lieutenant writing on behalf of the Chief of the Air Staff at the Department of National Defence in Ottawa in April 1961 to a Jon Mikulich of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The letter states the following:
Thank you for your letter of April 4 requesting information regarding an 'Unidentified Flying Object' on November 23, 1953./
A check of Royal Canadian Air Force files has revealed no report of an incident involving an RCAF aircraft in the Lake Superior area on the above date.
May we point out that if an aircraft fails to answer a radio request to identify itself it would normally be assumed that its radios are not functioning, or that the aircraft has suffered a complete electrical failure.
The correspondence does not state that there was no flight of an RCAF aircraft over the lake that night. It merely states that there is no record of an incident in RCAF files for that date. The letter does cast some doubt on the necessity of an intercept under conditions where the aircraft fails to respond to a radio request to identify itself. This does raise a question of why there is no mention of any attempts made to contact the unknown to identify itself, particularly if it was already suspected that the aircraft was an RCAF aircraft, allegedly flying off course. My best guess on the reason why there is no record of any attempt at radio communications with the unknown, is that USAF personnel at "Horsefly GCI" had decided to use the RCAF C-47 in a mock intercept as a test of USAF response and/or a training exercise for the crew at Kinross.
A member of NICAP also sent a letter to the RCAF in 1963 requesting information on the alleged intercept. The Acting Director of Public Relations for the RCAF stated in his letter written June 24, 1961:
we have been unable to come up with any information regarding an intercept of an RCAF C-47 by a USAF F-89 on November 23, 1953. Any further information on this subject would have to come from the USAF, as they were the agency controlling their aircraft. Also as you stated, the C-47 was traveling on a flight plan taking it over Canadian territory. This alone would seem to make such an intercept unlikely.
This correspondence is a more specific denial that the intercept incident involved the RCAF C-47, although it does suggest that an RCAF C-47 was on a flight over Lake Superior the night of the F-89's disappearance.
Following these clues, I decided it was important to obtain more specific information concerning the flight made by the C-47 on the night of Nov. 23, 1953. The Accident Investigation Report states that this C-47 was identified as having serial no. VC-912. I was to discover that this is not the manufacturer's serial number for the aircraft, but was rather the identification code assigned for identification purposes of aircraft.
After some research, I was able to determine that this aircraft was flown by the RCAF 412 Transport Squadron which was based in Rockcliffe, Ontario in 1953. Through a Access for Information request to the Canadian government, I was able to obtain flight records for the 412 squadron for that year. The records are simply a summary of each flight made by the squadron's aircraft. I was able to locate the closest entry for C47-912. The mission departed on November 21st, 1953 from CFB Rockcliffe. Its purpose seems to be to convey passengers "Mr. Merrifield and party". The flight stopped overnight at CFB Uplands before departing for other airfields on Nov. 22nd. The plane did not reach Winnipeg until 12:20 EST. It departed Winnipeg at 15:55 EST reaching Rockcliffe at 22:10 EST, about 3 hours after the F-89 was lost over the lake. Through the flight records, I was able to find that the crew on this flight was F/O Fosberg, F/L Edwards, F/O Penhold, F/L Scharf and Sgt. Lynch.
This turned out to be a lucky break, as my search of telephone directories on the Internet revealed that there were not very many Fosbergs living in Canada. I mailed the following letter of inquiry to each Fosberg I found.
I am writing to you as I am trying to locate relatives of a Mr. Fosberg who was a pilot with the RCAF and served with 412 Squadron in Rockcliffe, Ontario in 1953.
The reason I am trying to locate anyone who knows this man, is because I am conducting historical research on the disappearance of a USAF F-89 and crew, which disappeared over the middle of Lake Superior, on an air defense mission from a USAF base near Sault Ste. Marie, on November 23, 1953. The official accident board report on the incident stated that the F-89 was sent to identify an unidentified aircraft which later was identified as an RCAF Dakota C-47, VC-912. The RCAF later denied that this aircraft had been in American airspace and was not at all involved with the incident. I have recently learned from documents in Canadian Archives that the pilot of the VC-912 that night, which was flying from Winnipeg back to Rockcliffe was a Flight Officer Fosberg.
If you know any information about this man, I would be very appreciative if you could contact me by telephone, mail or email. While it has been many decades since the incident, I think it is possible that Mr. Fosberg may be able to furnish information that would shed light on this ongoing mysterious disappearance.
A few weeks later I received this reply from a Gerald Fosberg who now lives in Ontario.
I'm your man! I was at the time indeed serving with the 412 Sqn. At Rockcliffe, doing what I loved best – flying aeroplanes. At the time I was a flight Lieutenant, married with our first of three children on the way. Served 28 years and retired in May 1974 as a major. Continued flying Corporate Jets for another twenty years.
I remember the flight reasonably well, and just checked my log books to confirm the date. It was a night flight. We were probably at 7,000 or 9,000 feet over a solid cloud deck below and absolutely clear sky above.
Somewhere near Sault Ste. Marie, and north of Kinross AFB, I think a ground station (can't remember whether it was American or Canadian) asked us if we had seen another aircraft's lights in our area. I do think I recall them saying at that time that the USAF had scrambled an interceptor and they had lost contact with it. We replied that we had not seen anything. A few days later I received a phone call from somebody at Kinross who was carrying out an investigation on a missing aircraft. I could only tell them that we had seen nothing. That was the last I ever heard of the incident.
Sorry! However, if the mystery is ever solved please, would you let me know the answer.
Fosberg's letter confirmed that he had been the pilot of the C-47 flying over Lake Superior that night and it also confirmed that he had been radioed by GCI after the F-89 went missing. They had asked him if he had seen the F-89 and he replied he had not.
This does partially confirm some details in the Accident Report, as it states the following in paragraph 6 of Form 14 No. 53-11-23-5 about the C-47:
The pilot stated that he was on top of a 5,000 foot undercast and at the approximate time of the interception he was flying in the clear and visibility was unlimited. He also stated he did not know he was being intercepted and that he did not see the F-89.
In further conversations with the pilot, it was not clear that he was aware that the F-89 was allegedly trying to intercept his aircraft and the radar return from the F-89 was observed to merge, allegedly with his aircraft just before all contact was lost with the F-89. In addition, Fosberg was quite clear that there was no possibility that his plane was off course by 30 miles at any time during this flight. He told me that because of the radio navigation system used, he would be quite aware if his plane veered off the flight plan.
I asked him if he could recall the flight path they took that night. He indicated to me that his flight took him directly over Fort William airport (now Thunder Bay) and Sault Ste. Marie. To the best of his recollection, he thought the flight path over the lake was a straight path from Fort William to Sault Ste. Marie.
Analyzing what was revealed by Fosberg, it seems to me that the USAF allegation that the C-47 was 30 miles off course is most probably false. Examination of this evidence suggests the following possibilities regarding the official explanation:
One possibility is that the C47 was never off course, but that the order for the alert was made because USAF officers at Horsefly GCI wanted to perform a mock intercept of the RCAF craft as it provided an opportunity to test interceptor response to a potential threat.
A second possibility is that the C47 was off course, and that the pilot simply was unaware of this or had forgotten about this.
A third possibility is that the C47 was not the cause of the alert, but was merely the most convenient scapegoat for a failed intercept attempt for another aircraft or unknown.
The first possibility suggests that parts of the Official Report contain erroneous information that must have been deliberately placed into the report for perhaps political reasons. It is difficult to see the motivations for deliberately placing this sort of erroneous information into the report.
Was the USAF trying to avoid blame for the loss of its plane and tragic deaths of its pilots in an unnecessary training mission? This may be possible but highly unlikely since many USAF planes and crews were lost during routine training missions in that time period. Did the USAF want to avoid an embarrassing admission that it flew a mission into Canadian Air Space without permission from Canadian authorities? This may also be possible but also highly unlikely because Air Force planes of both countries flew into each others air space on many occasions, sometimes just for fun or on missions to test each others response.