Despite an extensive investigation by Canadian authorities at the time and periodic studies since, the incident is officially labeled as unsolved.
The event started in the early evening, when passengers on board a nearby Air Canada flight spotted a series of lights attached to what they thought was an object headed for the waters off Shag Harbour. Numerous witnesses on the shore saw the lights, as well. Canadian Coast Guard and civilian fishing boats set out for what many thought was an airplane crash. But all that was found was bubbling, yellowish foam on the surface of the water. No debris field existed as would be expected if an aircraft had crashed there.
Once it was ascertained that no scheduled flights had been declared missing, the immediate search and rescue operation was suspended. A day later, divers belonging to the Royal Canadian Navy searched the sea floor but found no hint of a craft of any kind. The case was officially ascribed to an Unidentified Flying Object. Conventional explanations such as aircraft, meteors, or flares were ruled out.
Conspiracy Theories Abound
Naturally, in common with other unexplained UFO incidents, Shag Harbour has attracted conspiracy theories. Chris Styles and Don Ledger, two UFO researchers, have published a story that explains why nothing was ever found. Two submerged craft were escorted by Royal Canadian Navy vessels away from the area some 70 kilometers to HMCS Shelburne, a small US Navy support facility for an offshore sonar array for anti-submarine warfare. The operation was also monitored by the United States Navy and a Soviet submarine that encroached into Canadian waters. The two craft eventually emerged from the ocean and flew away.
So, was this well-documented incident the best proof of alien visitation ever recorded? Not so fast, according to Brian Dunning, who runs the Skeptoid podcast(3), which deals with phenomena such as UFO incidents from a scientific, skeptical perspective.
Dunning goes to the original sources of the event, those being the newspaper reports at the time and notes that, while the eyewitness accounts differ on some details, they all have in common that a series of lights fell out of the sky into the waters off Shag Harbour. Later accounts, he suggests, “grew in the telling,” adding in details that did not exist when the incident initially took place.
Likely a Meteor
Dunning concludes that the incident is likely either a meteor that broke up in midflight before hitting the water or a series of flares. In the latter case, he speculates that someone out on the water late at night was, perhaps in a state of inebriation, playing with a flare gun. When the rescue boats showed up, the hypothetical boater clammed up, embarrassed at what he had caused.
It goes almost without saying that Dunning regards the story of unidentified submerged objects being escorted around the North Atlantic Coast by Navy ships to be pure, unsupported fantasy.
For those readers who may be inclined toward the idea that not one but three governments were involved in a cover-up of an alien visitation, we need to refer you to the work of Dr. David Grimes(4) of Oxford University who proved, mathematically, that the more widely spread a conspiracy is, the more difficult it is to keep it a secret.
So we are stuck with either a light show caused by some conventional event or alien spacecraft concealed by an international conspiracy. Let the reader decide which is more plausible.