Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Boca Interview: Bobby Hewitson

When asked if he had had any personal encounters of high strangeness that led him to becoming the gatekeeper for UFO reports in Florida, Bobby Hewitson demurs. “I would love to be able to sit here and tell of an amazing experience I once had.”

But seconds later, Hewitson continues with a personal account that would make many UFO enthusiasts envious. While driving in Clearwater in 2003, “I witnessed a bright blue light,” he recalls. “It was moving as fast as a meteor. It moved across the entirety of my windshield, from left to right, and then it took off at a 90-degree angle, and that was it. I knew it wasn’t a meteor; I knew it wasn’t a plane.”

OK, so he wasn’t beamed onto a flying saucer. He never engaged in telepathic communion with one of our space brothers, as some of the wilder accounts of ET contact assert. But this encounter, if only subliminally, may have steered Hewitson on a path toward becoming the Florida state director for MUFON, the largest civilian UFO reporting agency in the United States.

Hewitson, 51, lives a Clark Kentian dichotomy. By day, he’s a mild-mannered insurance underwriter in the greater Sarasota area. Off-hours, often sporting MUFON-branded apparel—and driving a blue Bronco with a custom MUFON plate—he’s the first point of contact for all Florida reports submitted through mufon.com. And as he reveals in our conversation, he’s been privy to some truly inexplicable events in just the past year alone.

Historically, it’s a good time to be in Hewitson’s position. When he experienced his own sighting, some 21 years ago, UFOs were still a fringe topic, and “contactees,” as the UFO community has christened them, risked ridicule, and their jobs, and maybe their marriages, if they came forward with extraordinary claims. But when the New York Times published its landmark front-page feature “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious UFO Program” in December 2017, it kicked off a sea change whose ripples are still felt today.

Among the article’s revelations was that the Pentagon had been officially investigating anomalous phenomena in our skies since 2007 as part of its unpublicized Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). UFOs were no longer a sideshow; they were a national security concern, and Navy pilots, the soberest of witnesses, went public with accounts of propulsion-less craft straight out of science-fiction, with some of the videos released to the public.

UFOs are now a common discussion on mainstream media and on Capitol Hill. There’s even a new government agency called AARO, created in 2022 with an official remit to explore what it calls unidentified anomalous phenomena using “a rigorous scientific framework and a data-driven approach.”

Along the way, MUFON’s mission hasn’t changed. Short for Mutual UFO Network, the civilian-based research organization launched in 1969 (not coincidentally the same year the U.S. government shuttered its own UFO probe, Project Blue Book), and for most witnesses, it remains their point of contact when they observe or experience a supernatural happening in the sky. Almost all of MUFON’s “employees,” including Hewitson, volunteer their time, content that the pursuit of a new scientific paradigm is its own reward.

Bobby Hewitson, photo credit: Alan Cresto

How and when did you become interested in MUFON?

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been interested in the unknown. I started out as a paranormal investigator. I had a friend who had converted from a paranormal investigator into MUFON, and suggested one day that I attend a meeting and look into becoming a field investigator. That was back in 2015. I stayed for about a year, and left, and came back last year.

So prior to this, you investigated hauntings, with tools like electromagnetic field detectors?

I would set up the old school way, where you’re setting up cameras, and you’re there for hours, and then you go home and review all those cameras. And you’re staring at a video of a dresser for four or five hours, seeing if you see something, and then you go on to the next room.

There was a little bit of guilt when I went to a seminar once, and a guy said, if you’re not doing it for the people, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. I am completely doing this so I can see books move off shelves. [Laughs.]

How does someone submit a report to MUFON if they’ve seen something unusual?

They would submit a report to mufon.com. That goes into our case management system. They’ll be asked a series of questions, very similar to a police report. And that gets sent to each state director, and then it’s my responsibility to make sure it gets assigned to the appropriate investigator, to perhaps visit the site and visit the witness in person, to get a better idea of what happened.

Are you able to explain away as prosaic a lot of the reports?

Yes, if we know, for example, it’s a space launch, we can go ahead and close it out and say it’s Starlink. [the satellite internet constellation launched by SpaceX in 2019—Ed.] Other times we’ll have a good idea. If we get a video and there’s orange lights, and they start rising slowly, and they’re going with the wind and start flickering and leave, chances are it’s Chinese lanterns. As long as we have a high percentage of certainty that it’s manmade, we’re able to close it out.

Are witnesses disappointed when their case can be explained away, or are they relieved?

It’s both. Some of them, just like with hauntings, really want it to have been something. I try to explain that, ‘I wasn’t present when you had this sighting; I’m just going based on the evidence that you’ve provided, and based on my investigation.’

What are the most interesting cases that have wound up on your desk?

Florida receives 500 to 600 reported sightings each year; last year, we had two that stuck out. The first one was a metal sphere that was found hovering and moving at the Sarasota airport. This was right by one of the terminals. The witness was able to capture a photo of it and provided detailed information.

One of the findings was that this metal sphere was not floating or exhibiting any behaviors of a balloon. It also moved in the opposite direction that the wind was blowing during that date and time. The field investigator attempted to make contact with the proper authorities at the airport, the FAA and local business owners—anything to find out if anyone had documented or witnessed the event. What I found interesting is that the airport authorities never temporarily shut down airspace for whatever it was, and referred our investigator to contact AARO. Even if it was a balloon, wouldn’t they have shut that down?

The more interesting case was last December, near Ocala National Forest. The witness was on a rural two-lane highway. It was about 12:45 p.m. The witness was an Air Force veteran driving with their dog northbound behind a tractor-trailer, with another vehicle behind them. There was another oncoming vehicle coming southbound, when all of a sudden, they heard a screeching metal sound, so much so that the dog started wailing. Then all four cars died—it sounds like a movie, but it’s not.

Everyone got out of their vehicles. None of their cell phones were working. Soon after, a 30-foot black triangle craft flew overhead and took out part of a pine tree. A few seconds later, two F-16s flew by, as if in pursuit. The witness described this as pretty traumatic. The truck driver’s ear was bleeding. A few minutes later, while still shaken up, everyone’s phone was working, and their vehicles were able to start.

Three of our investigators were able to meet with the witness in person the following day. They conducted a magnetic survey on the vehicle with a digital magnetometer and were able to compare readings to a random vehicle that was the same year, make and model as the witness’s. And what they found was the readings on the driver’s side of the vehicle were much lower in microteslas than the other side of the vehicle and compared to the other test vehicle.

There is a naval bombing range in that area, which may explain why F-16s were in the area. The three investigators spent much time driving up and down the 10-mile stretch of highway but couldn’t seem to locate the exact spot where the event took place or where the treetop had been sheared. Unfortunately, none of the other drivers have come forward.

Does MUFON host meetings?

Florida MUFON is in a bit of a rebuilding phase. Membership meetings had come to a halt during the pandemic and didn’t gain the momentum they once had. When I was promoted back in August as state director, meetings became a top priority. Meetings are generally held for MUFON members, and depending on where the meeting is held, it’s open for the public as well. The meeting is usually held by one of the state section directors, who will talk about historical sightings and some of the most recent sightings in the state. The last half of the meeting will usually be audience participation, and that’s where it gets really interesting.

Do people come forward with abduction claims?

Yes, and that is where I find the most value in MUFON, when you hear people come out for the first time in 10, 20, 30 years, and had never told a single soul their story, and they start crying, and tell their story from start to finish as to what had occurred. Sometimes you’ll hear three or four stories as you go around the room. It’s so crazy how consistent so many stories are.

How do you handle these claims?

Our Experience Research Team, or ERT, at MUFON, is really there to help folks who’ve had these experiences. If someone decides they want to formally report their experience, we ask them to complete a report using MUFON’s case management system and an “Experience Questionnaire.” This helps our members of the ERT gain a better understanding of the person’s experience before making official contact, and also helps us in MUFON understand common patterns among abduction experiences and provide valuable insights.

The assigned ERT member will really become that person’s point of contact for weeks, months or potentially years. Then, for those who’ve been through some really tough stuff and need professional help to cope, we can connect them with qualified therapists who specialize in this kind of thing. Many times, people just feel really isolated after these experiences. So we help them find support groups where they can meet others who understand what they’re going through.

In 2023, Florida came in second only to California in the number of reported UFOs. What accounts for the state being so high on this list?

Florida, California, and Texas are consistently the top three states. … My feelings are that the majority of it has to do with population. These three states are the most populated in the U.S. But if you start thinking about other theories, all three states combined have over 2,500 miles of coastline. So is there a relationship between UFO sightings and the water?

A 2022 survey found that 57 percent of those polled said that aliens definitely or probably exist. Do you feel some validation in that this topic has become more accepted?

I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a part of me that wants to say “I told you so.” I think people are waking up to this. But when you have people all over the world still risking their jobs, their pensions, their relationships, and potentially their lives coming forward to share their truth … there’s something to be said about that.

For more of our conversation with MUFON Florida State Director Bobby Hewitson, check out this Web Extra from the May/June issue of Boca magazine.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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