A Spanish close encounter
Every UFO researcher knows that the dazzling planet Venus is the single most
common culprit in UFO sightings, yet it has still caught out people who should
know better. I found the following notable example in The Encyclopedia of UFOs, edited by Ronald Story (1980), where it appears under the heading ‘Serena Encounter’. It is presented as an example of a genuine close encounter of the first kind
in which (according to the case investigators) the UFO seemed to exhibit
intelligent control and produced electromagnetic and physiological effects.
Their report takes up two and half pages of the Encyclopedia, more space than is devoted to such celebrated cases as the Travis Walton
abduction and the Tunguska event. Clearly, the researchers rate it very highly
In brief, Mr and Mrs Antonio Serena plus their three daughters were driving home
one evening from a visit to friends near Valencia, Spain, when they noticed an
intense white light that chased their car along 40 km of road for an hour.
After being visible to the right as they drove southwestwards, the UFO then
zig-zagged in front of them before it finally descended to an estimated height
of 7 or 8 metres and extended landing gear. As the UFO came closer, the car’s lights began to fail, and the engine experience ignition problems after one of
the children became violently sick. When another car approached from the
opposite direction the UFO moved away, and eventually it disappeared.
This case was investigated by Willy Smith (then professor of physics at Lycoming
College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania), in conjunction with two Spanish
ufologists, Miguel Guasp and V. J. Ballester Olmos. The three researchers
assigned this case to the ‘high-strangeness’ category. Although it is relatively old, the case is so instructive that it
deserves to be better known.
By chance, I discovered that they had previously written up the story in more
detail in UFO Phenomena vol. 3 no. 1 (1978/79), an annual review of ufology published in Italy. This
earlier paper contains an important clue to the identity of the UFO that is not
given in the Encyclopedia article. The authors note that on the date of the sighting (1977 February 22)
the planet Venus was approaching its maximum brilliancy in the evening sky. Yet
they rejected Venus as an explanation on the grounds that it had set at about
9.30 p.m. on that date, whereas the UFO sighting did not begin until about 9.30
and lasted until 10.30.
Reference to a simple planetarium-type computer program confirms that the
setting time of Venus at the location of the sighting was indeed about 9.30
p.m. GMT. However Spain, in common with most of western Europe, keeps time one
hour ahead of GMT, and the investigators clearly did not take this additional
hour into account. Therefore Venus was, after all, visible as the Serenas drove
home, and its setting time of 10.30 p.m. matches the time at which the UFO
vanished. Indeed, when the light was first sighted at 9.30 Mr Serena told his
daughters “It is the evening star” (the popular name for Venus) – confirmation that its initial appearance matched that of Venus and that only
one such object was visible.
The ‘chase’ of a car by a bright celestial object is a familiar theme in ufology. A map and
photographs of the event given by Smith, Guasp and Ballester Olmos shows that
at the point where the UFO appeared to descend in front of them the Serenas
were heading west, towards the direction of setting Venus, and the road was
winding, which would cause the planet to appear to zig-zag, as they reported
the UFO to do. The UFO stopped moving when Mr Serena pulled up the car for his
teenage daughter Carmen to vomit by the roadside. A mixture of travel sickness
on the winding road and nervous tension over the UFO seems a plausible
explanation for Carmen’s stomach upset.
There does seem to have been something genuinely wrong with the car’s electrical system, for the following day Mr Serena found that his car battery
was dry. Smith, Guasp and Ballester Olmos attribute this to the UFO, for they
do not think that Mr Serena, whose job is that of a bus driver and who
maintains his car conscientiously, would let his battery run dry. However, that
is what must have happened – unless, of course, UFOs are now given to topping up their own batteries from
In short, all aspects of this ‘high strangeness’ case can easily be attributed to prosaic causes. The original failure to solve
the case stems from an elementary error in the setting time of Venus. It
demonstrates that even the endorsement by three experienced investigators (one
a professor of physics) of a close encounter involving electromagnetic and
physiological effects is no guarantee that a genuine UFO is involved.
© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved